Long-quiet Asian group starts to mobilize. FILIPINO-AMERICANS
New York — The Aquino government and American congressmen are trying to create a lobbying force of Filipino-Americans to secure more economic aid for the Philippines. ``We hope to create a kind of unity among Filipino-Americans that will continue to substantially help the Philippines in terms of legislation in the United States Congress,'' says Rolando S. Gregorio, a political attach'e who monitors Capitol Hill for Philippine President Corazon Aquino.
On May 7, Reagan administration officials proposed a $10-billion multinational assistance plan for the Philippines that would last for five years. Congressional aides and Philippine diplomats believe grass-roots support from the estimated 1.5 million Filipino-Americans would help sustain the campaign for what is being called a mini-Marshall Plan for the Philippines.
``We need them because this is something of political significance to different members of Congress,'' Mr. Gregorio says. ``We know the mini-Marshall Plan will be facing a tough time in the US Congress, considering the budgetary constraints....''
Devised by Rep. Stephen Solarz (D) of New York and Sen. Alan Cranston (D) of California last November, the aid package would rebuild the ravaged economy of the Philippines, as the original Marshall Plan transformed postwar Europe.
From his office just a few blocks from the White House, Gregorio commands a network of seven consulates throughout the United States. He sends instructions to these diplomatic posts when important legislation is pending in Congress, asking consuls general to generate support and letters to lawmakers from Filipino-Americans.
New York Consul General Francisco E. Rodrigo Jr. describes Filipino-Americans as ``a sleeping political giant.''
According to the 1980 census, the Filipino-American community is the second largest Asian group in the US with 774,652 people. Aquino officials claim 1.5 million Filipinos are now living in the US, mostly in California and Hawaii. By the year 2000, they are expected to replace the Chinese as the largest Asian community with well over a million.
The population explosion of Filipinos in the US is a recent phenomenon, due in part to the dictatorship of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and to a deteriorating economy. In the last 20 years, more immigrants have come to the US from the Philippines than from any other country except Mexico.
With a command of English, light brown skin, and Spanish-sounding names, Filipinos have few problems assimilating into American society.
``If acceptance means forgetting their identity, then they will drop it,'' says Antonio J.A. Pido, a Filipino-American author. He explains that assimilation is viewed by many Filipinos as the only road to success.
With the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship, however, Filipino-Americans recently have identified more visibly with their homeland, says Ernesto Parial, New York bureau editor for the Philippine News.
``With Aquino we found self-respect,'' he continues. ``Before we were ashamed to be Filipinos because of Marcos's excesses.''
Author Pido, however, warns that this pride does not necessarily translate into political activism. He says many Filipinos are too busy working to have time for politics.
Sources agree a silent majority of New York's 85,000 Filipinos support Aquino. But small groups of political activists openly support the communist New People's Army or a restoration of the Marcos dictatorship.
Faced with grave economic problems and increasing demands for social reform, Aquino officials are appealing to Filipino-Americans for help. They hope that professionals will go back and that others will invest money in the Philippines.
Filipino-Americans support the Philippines in many ways. Most important, they contribute money to the country's economy by paying income taxes, if they are not US citizens. For example, $515,000 in taxes were collected in New York last year - the highest figure among Filipino-American communities.
In recognition of the importance of Filipinos living in other countries the Aquino government allows two legislators to represent them in the National Assembly.
Federico Marcaranas, an economics professor at Manhattan College and a prominent anti-Marcos leader, says the power of Filipino-Americans to influence events should not be underestimated.
``The resources needed to overthrow Marcos came from Filipino expatriates in America,'' he says.