SAN FRANCISCO – Filipino American supporters of Pres. Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney, decked in blue and red, met in the battlefield of the Redwood Shores studios of ABS-CBN on October 18 in the 2012 Balitang America town hall presidential debate. In a battle of female CEOs, Obama was represented by TLC Beatrice CEO Loida Nicolas-Lewis while Romney was championed by Mission Hope Day Program CEO Nimfa Yamsuan Gamez.
Balitang America first sponsored this town hall presidential debate in 2008 when I was picked to speak for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Rudy Asercion batted for Republican challenger Sen. John McCain. The stated goal of the televised debate then and now is “to provide Filipino American voters a venue to discuss issues in the forthcoming elections that matter to the community, thereby encouraging more Fil-Ams to vote.”
In the TV audience watching the reds and the blues passionately root for their presidential candidates were the “undecideds” wearing whites. In the format of the town hall debate, the jury of “undecideds” would cast their secret ballots at the end of the debate, the result to be announced on Balitang America on the day before the November 6 general elections.
In the televised debate, Lewis and Gamez answered questions on immigration, the economy and health care that were posed by Balitang America anchor Gel Santos Relos while co-host Henni Espinosa fielded questions from the audience and third co-host Nadia Trinidad read the on-line comments and questions from the livestream Internet.
While the TV audience was divided between FilAm Democrats and Republicans, most were united by their common membership in US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) and had participated in rallies in front of the China Consulate in San Francisco to protest China’s encroachment in the Scarborough Shoal. USP4GG is non-partisan but bi-partisan.
Lewis is the USP4GG national chair while Gamez is an active member of its Nor-Cal chapter where Asercion and I are also members. Among the “undecideds” in the audience were several USP4GG members and participants in protest rallies in front of the China Consulate including Rad Abarrientos, Victor Barrios, Ramon Bunag and Bradley Roxas.
Not surprisingly then, one question from the audience came from Charito Benipayo, a Romney supporter who is the USP4GG treasurer. She asked Lewis and Gamez to explain their candidates’ positions on China’s encroachment on the sovereign Philippine territories of the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands.
Lewis said that the U.S. government under Pres. Obama will stand by its Mutual Defense Treaty to defend the Philippines if it is attacked by China. Gamez stated that while she was not aware of Gov. Romney’s position on the issue, she expressed confidence that he would also abide by the Treaty.
An extended discussion of this subject would have drawn sharp differences between the candidates on this issue.
One difference is that Gov. Romney has identified Russia as the “No. 1 geopolitical foe” of the U.S., a position he reiterated in his October 22 presidential debate with Pres. Obama on US foreign policy. In that debate, Pres. Obama identified Al Qaeda and its allied Islamic terrorists as the US’ top enemy.
But Obama sees China as the more strategic foe of the US. “After almost two decades of neglect of its interests in East Asia,” William Engdahl wrote, “in 2011, the Obama Administration announced that the US would make “a strategic pivot” in its foreign policy to focus its military and political attention on the Asia-Pacific, particularly Southeast Asia, that is, China.”
When he visited Australia in December of 2011, Pres. Obama explained that “with most of the world’s nuclear power and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation…As President, I have, therefore, made a deliberate and strategic decision — as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.”
While the US is officially “neutral” on the Scarborough Shoal dispute, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has openly sided with the Philippines in its call for multilateral talks to resolve the territorial dispute.
There is also the concern that in a Romney Administration, Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson may wield great influence. Adelson has already pumped in more than $100 million to the “super PACs” supporting Romney. Adelson, whose personal fortune is estimated at $25 billion and is most known for advocating for Israel, is also the largest casino owner in China, with his four casinos in Macau accounting for half of his income.
Because Adelson can not operate his profitable Macau casinos without the backing of the rulers in Beijing, there is concern that under a Pres. Romney, the US will turn its attention away from the South China Sea towards Iran and Russia.
Aside from their common agreement on the Scarborough Shoal, both Lewis and Gamez share another similarity. Both are willing to go against their own personal economic interest in support of their presidential candidates.
Lewis, the CEO of TLC Beatrice, a multinational corporation with worldwide business interests, would greatly benefit from Romney’s pledge to extend the Bush Tax Cuts to everyone including those making over $1 million a year. Romney has also pledged to add another 20% cut in taxes to everyone including the top 1% which Obama believes will result in a loss in government revenue of $5 trillion over 10 years.
Gamez .is the CEO of Mission-Hope Day Program, a business that deals with the developmentally disabled, which is funded by the California Department of Developmental Services, which receives more than $1 billion a year from the federal government. This federal subsidy will be eliminated in the Ryan Budget Plan adopted by Gov. Romney in order to pay for the tax cuts to people in the income bracket of Lewis.
The Balitang America Presidential Town Hall Debate will be aired on November 1 and 2 on cable or on www.TFC.tv on the same days. The entire uncut version of the town hall debate can be viewed on www.balitangamerica.tv on Nov. 5.
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