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Focus on Election : Filipinos in U.S.: Both Sides Lobby

January 16, 1986|DAVID HOLLEY | Times Staff Writer

A manacled brown fist dangling a broken chain is raised triumphantly, supported by black and white hands, in a wall poster at the Philippine Resource Center, a left-leaning Berkeley information office directed by Marxist scholar Joel Rocamora.

"Oppose the U.S.-backed Marcos Dictatorship--Support the Filipino People's Struggle for Justice, Freedom and Democracy," declares the poster, one of many that mark this as a place where 1960s-style radical activism has not died.

Across San Francisco Bay, at the offices of the Philippine News in South San Francisco, publisher Alex Esclamado--a fierce anti-Communist who is so pro-American that he talks in favor of ultimate U.S. statehood for the Philippines--also wages battle against Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

'Love Your Country?'

"Do you still love your native country, the Philippines?" asks an advertisement placed by Esclamado in his own newspaper to urge Filipino-Americans to visit their homeland and serve as poll watchers in a presidential election scheduled for Feb. 7. "Within five years, if Marcos or his political machine continues to rule . . . the Communists will take over the Philippines! Democracy has its last chance to be resurrected. . . . Join the Filipino Freedom Watch."

Against a background of bitter electoral politics, street demonstrations and jungle fighting in the Philippines, Filipinos in the United States are waging an escalating battle of slogans, demonstrations, publishing, political organizing, fund-raising and lobbying geared to the election and beyond.

Rocamora and Esclamado stand at the left and the right within the range of opposition Filipino views in the United States. They--and the entire spectrum of opposition activists between them--are united in fighting for a cutoff of U.S. support for Marcos.

Marcos Backers Active

Marcos supporters have launched a nationwide lobbying group, headquartered in San Francisco, called Friends of Marcos in America. The president's critics, however, have generally dominated Filipino political activism in the United States, according to people on all sides of the struggle.

"We have had bad public relations over here," said Larry V. Zabala Jr., information attache at the Philippine consulate in Los Angeles. "Our supporters are not very active. . . . It's in this portion of the battle that we are losing. . . . These opposition groups are more dedicated."

Activists on all sides acknowledge that they comprise only a small percentage of the roughly 1 million ethnic Filipinos in the United States, who generally are much more concerned with their work, families and personal lives than they are with the politics of their motherland. Although the 1980 U.S. Census counted 358,378 Filipinos in California, making them the largest Asian ethnic minority in the state, political rallies typically turn out no more than a few hundred people.

Nonetheless, the activists believe that they can influence the destiny of their homeland through direct lobbying in Washington and by winning increased support from Filipino-Americans and the general public. Opposition forces believe that they have already helped soften U.S. support for Marcos and have spotlighted the importance of a fair ballot count.

Some believe that the greatest Filipino political effect in the United States will come in future years, after more immigrants have become U.S. citizens, especially if the crisis in the former American colony turns into a full-scale civil war.

Rocamora is part of a leftist coalition that has rejected the Feb. 7 election as an exercise designed to pave the way for increased U.S. aid to Marcos. These groups are already promoting an anti-interventionist movement in the United States reminiscent of the movement against the Vietnam War.

"The Philippine issue, I'm confident, is going to become a bigger issue in American foreign policy than Central America or South Africa has been," Rocamora said. "I think it would be a real tragedy for both the United States and the Philippines if a Vietnam-type intervention happens. . . . In general terms, we hope to reach both the Filipino community and the broader American public. If we're going to stop direct U.S. military intervention, it's only the American people who can do it."

Backing Aquino

Most anti-Marcos groups, despite divergent long-range goals, are backing the presidential candidacy of Corazon Aquino, widow of the assassinated leader Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino.

"The common thing we have to do now is dismantle the dictatorship," said Tessie Aquino Oreta, Ninoy Aquino's sister, who maintains residences in both Manila and the San Francisco area and has become a spokeswoman for the U.S.-based Ninoy Aquino Movement.

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