By Mong Palatino, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Raymond “Mong” Palatino is a member of the House of Representatives in the Philippines. This is the latest in a series looking at how the U.S. presidential election is viewed from abroad. The views expressed are his own.
The Obama phenomenon that swept the world in 2008 didn’t end that year. Well, at least in the Philippines anyway, where it continued to inspire my compatriots to look for national leaders in the Obama mold.
Indeed, the 2010 Philippine presidential election was quite surreal, what with all the candidates presenting themselves as a kind of Filipino Obama. They all offered hope, they promised change, they tapped the power of the ubiquitous new media, and they mobilized young voters.
But there could only be one winner in that race: Benigno Aquino III, the son of former President Cory Aquino and democracy icon Ninoy Aquino. The similarities between Aquino and Obama were evident to many. Both were young senators before becoming presidents of their respective countries. They were catapulted to power at a time when there was a huge clamor for change amid the various challenges facing the two nations. The United States was reeling from the Wall Street financial mess, which also affected smaller economies like the Philippines. Both Aquino and Obama inherited the presidency from very unpopular presidents. In short, there was an expectation among the people in both countries that their new leader would deliver results fast, with substantial reforms in governance.
After four years in the White House, the Obama presidency seems secure, although critics say it has failed on many counts, such as reversing the downturn in the economy. Some have also accused Obama of merely expanding the policies of his much-loathed predecessor.
But Obama has remained a popular figure in the Philippines despite some U.S. criticism of his allegedly weak leadership. Many Filipinos are aware of Obama’s domestic troubles, but this doesn’t seem to put them off. Maybe they agree with Obama’s excuse that the country’s problems were caused by the mismanagement of the previous administration. (An argument, incidentally, used by Aquino who, after only two years in power, is already accused of reneging on his numerous campaign promises).
Regardless, Obama’s enduring popularity in the Philippines is not entirely a mystery. The Obama magic may have waned, but the leader of the most powerful nation in the world still has widespread appeal here. And believe it or not, there are still many Filipinos who consider the half century of American colonial rule as a benevolent episode in the country’s history. Most Filipinos are proud of their special ties with the United States, and they expect American politicians to honor this friendship.
In many Filipino eyes, Obama has done more than maintain good relations with the Philippines – he has taken bold action on affirming the earlier commitment of American leaders to protect the security and defense of the Philippines against external aggressors. Filipinos interpreted Obama's pledge to "consult closely" with Manila as a declaration of support for the Philippines, which is currently embroiled in a maritime dispute with China. They are grateful also for the steady arrival of U.S. military assistance. In other words, the U.S. under Obama is still a Big Brother for many Filipinos.
As for Mitt Romney, he is also relatively popular in the Philippines, but he is known simply as the political rival of Obama. Unlike John McCain, who spent time at the U.S. military base in the Philippines during the Vietnam War, Romney seems to have no special connection with the Philippines. Yet if he wins, he will still get the support of Filipinos in the same way that George W. Bush was still warmly welcomed here despite his disastrous foreign policies. No American president has been rejected by Filipinos since the country gained its independence from the United States in 1946.
One issue that has the potential to influence the opinion of Filipinos with regard to the U.S. elections is business process outsourcing. Some Americans complain that U.S. companies have been outsourcing some of their services to other countries. Next to India, the Philippines is a leading outsourcing destination, meaning Filipinos are naturally wary of policy statements from American politicians favoring the reduction of outsourcing investments to other countries.
As a result of all this, expect Filipinos to be watching what the candidates say very closely.