POSTSCRIPT / September 29, 2016 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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How will Fil-Ams vote in US polls?

NEW YORK – The obviously better prepared Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton snatched Monday night Round-1 from her Republican rival Donald Trump in their first-of-three presidential debates in Hofstra University on Long Island.

It remains to be seen, however, if any points garnered can help her recover from her slide in the previous weeks’ surveys and to finally clinch the Nov. 8 elections. The two followup debates next month will firm up either candidate’s lead in the tight race.

In their 90-minute debate, Clinton and Trump fielded questions on foreign policy and security, race, sexism and violence, jobs and taxes, and other top issues in the minds of some 81 million TV viewers.

Harsh statements of Trump on race and immigration have raised concern among non-white minorities, especially Latinos and Muslims. However, his threat to build a 2,000-mile wall on the US-Mexico border to keep out illegal entrants was not brought up in the exchange.

The estimated four million Filipinos in the US, many of them well settled in the West Coast and the eastern seaboard, do not seem to feel as threatened by Trump’s tantrums.

Most Fil-Americans I have interviewed since June give me the impression that the debates will hardly alter their early choices. Creatures of TV bombardment and word-of-mouth, many of them are poised to vote according to long-chosen party lines.

They are not representative voices, but a number of them are wary of Clinton, because, according to them, she is not trustworthy, is corrupt and prone to lying. But they concede that she is a “strong” woman, which to them is a plus point.

Trump is likened by most Filipinos to President Rodrigo Duterte in his propensity to talk rough and change his statements. Those who dislike the GOP bet describe him as unstable, brash, a bigot, and quick to blurt out anything just to squirm out of a situation.

Based on our interviews, who between Clinton and Trump has the edge among Fil-Ams? It looks like a toss-up. In fact, a few of them might just stay away from the polls – if we interpret correctly their lack of enthusiasm for either candidate.

• Better Clinton preparation pays off

COMING out of the debate disturbed but trying not to show it, Trump criticized the moderator’s fact-checking and the microphone’s alleged malfunctioning. To me, those lame excuses were signs he knew he had lost that round.

In contrast, Clinton in her fighting-red blazer managed to exude a triumphant air. Her pre-debate preparation – and experience — paid off.

When Trump commented that the former First Lady and Secretary of State did not have the stamina, she bent back the remark and replied that her rival may be insinuating that she (having just emerged from a bout of pneumonia) was not ready for their televised encounter.

She said in measured tone, so nobody could miss her every word, that she did not only prepare for the big debate – “but you know what?, I’ve prepared to be President!” Against an impression that Trump was ill-prepared for the presidency, Clinton’s clincher reverberated.

While Trump boasts of a skill in making billions in property development, Clinton is an old hand in top-level public administration, with wide-ranging exposure. (I am ready to believe Hillary was doing half of Bill’s presidential tasks when they were in the White House.)

As Clinton kept jabbing, Trump missed raising the Benghazi coverup, the lost State emails, and the Clinton foundation. Trump interrupted Clinton more times than she did him, but failed to raise those issues. His reality TV background failed to pull him through.

• Can strained Phl-US relations wait?

ASIDE from immigration and jobs issues raised, most relevant to Filipinos are discussions on the foreign policy outlook of the contending candidates.

Trump, much like Duterte, does not seem to be steeped in good old diplomacy. He probably thinks it is all right to follow a zigzagging foreign policy as long as he can find a rationale for it.

Like Duterte, Trump talks of jumping out of international agreements entered into in good faith. Samples are US trade pacts with its allies and neighbors. Trump thinks he can simply wake up a partner one morning with a notice that the relationship is over.

Citing negative effects on American business and jobs, Trump thinks nothing of disengaging from (or revising) an arrangement that his predecessors had ascertained to be beneficial to US interest over the long term.

Same banana with Phl-US contracts such as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that Duterte wants to terminate after seeing that it could pose a problem with his developing relationship with China.

As a transient occupant of Malacañang, Duterte may have no remorse dismantling alliances and diplomatic networks built painstakingly over the decades. Such wrenching decisions could damage the well-being of innocent Filipinos and the Philippines’ standing in the world community.

The timing of Duterte’s budding extra-lateral relations is unfortunate. Citing century-old American perfidies, he drags the nation with him in his search for solace and sustenance in the house of the Chinese neighbor.

Engrossed with a transitional presidential election already in the homestretch, Uncle Sam is not able to react quickly to the straying away of its partner into the embrace of another.

We assume that the Obama administration’s priority at this critical point is domestic survival. To be able to move forward, it must first retain the White House and make inroads into the Republican domain in the Congress.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 29, 2016)

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