SAN FRANCISCO – About 30 Filipino-American seniors from all over the Bay Area gathered Thursday morning at a community center in a largely Filipino enclave in the heart of San Francisco’s South of Market district.
Along with their regular breakfast and a mental health workshop, Rudy Asercion, who directs the West Bay Pilipino Multi-Services Inc., also served up a good dose of politics, rallying them to register and vote. He also invited them to the center that evening to watch the vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan in their first and only televised debate.
A recent national survey of Asian American voters found that Filipinos show the highest level of support for GOP presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney. But, at this local debate-watching party at West Bay, opinions are split among supporters of him and Pres. Obama , with some voters still undecided about whom to support.
Watching the debate, Asercion says Congressman Ryan hammered two key issues that resonate strongly with the Filipino electorate: the economy and health care.
Asercion is the chair of the National Organization of Filipino-American Republicans and an elected member of the San Francisco Republican Party Central Committee.
“[The economy], to Filipino-American Republicans is key,” says Asercion, who is one of the highest-ranking Filipino-American Republican grassroots leaders in the nation. “We want a team that is committed to turning the economy, turning the country around in the right direction…”
During Thursday’s debate, Ryan reiterated the GOP ticket’s five-point economic plan, which focuses on: energy independence; improving education and job skills training; getting the deficit and debt under control; curtailing unfair trade practices; tax breaks for small businesses and overturning Obamacare.
Ryan said that if elected, his and Romney’s plan would “strengthen the middle class and get the economy growing at 4 percent, creating 12 million jobs over the next four years.”
Asercion said many Filipino Americans were hit hard by the recession, including many of the West Bay center’s clients, making the economy the most important issue for the community in this year’s election.
“Everybody’s having a hard time; they know the country is not headed to the right direction,” he says. “That’s what many Filipino Americans are waiting for, that the country gets back on track. So that’s why I believe Filipinos want a change in the administration. Personally, I think the Obama administration has run out of ideas.”
Asercion adds, “There’s an intensity right now with this presidential race, there’s a buzz for Romney [among the community], which I didn’t see for McCain. It’s completely different now because people, Filipinos are hurting.”
Juanita Nimfa Gamez, while viewing the debate at West Bay, says she’s planning to vote for Romney because the current administration has failed to deliver on its promises.
“The Obama administration was given four years to change things around,” she says. “They keep saying that they’re for the middle class, but right now as we speak, the middle class is getting poorer and poorer.”
Gregorio Ferrer, who calls himself a long-time Democrat, says it was Obama’s poor performance during the first presidential debate that has shaken his confidence in the president. The 85-year-old Filipino World War II veteran says he was impressed with Romney’s delivery and articulation of his plans to turn the economy around. But Ferrer notes that he is waiting for the next two presidential debates before he makes a decision.
Rodel Rodis, a Filipino-American community leader and Democrat, supports the president’s actions to lift the country out of the recession.
“President Obama is getting us back on track with 43 months of steady growth, unemployment is down, the stock market has doubled and the economy is on its way forward,” Rodis says. “But what the Romney-Ryan team want to do is bring us back to the Bush era.”
He adds, “The very same people that drove the economy to the ground by creating two wars that cost trillions of dollars on a credit card as Vice-President Biden said in the debate; by deregulating Wall Street and which Romney now proposes to do…they are looking at the numbers without looking at what caused that big recession.”
On the health care front, which many Filipino American voters are closely watching, Ascercion and Rodis have divergent views, especially when it comes to Medicare.
Ryan wants to turn it from the insurance plan it now is that directly pays medical bills for the elderly, into a voucher plan, under which seniors will be given a fixed subsidy to buy their own insurance. Critics say that seniors will be forced to pay out of pocket when their insurance plan maxes out.
Asercion defends Ryan’s plan, saying that it will keep Medicare from going bankrupt. “It’s important to put a new plan in place,” he asserts.
But Rodis says that Romney’s remarks earlier this year that 47 percent of the U.S. population are “moochers” living off of government handouts is insulting to his community, many of whom depend on Social Security.
“Many Filipino Americans are living off of Social Security ...... and these are the people Romney looks down upon in complete disdain,” he says.
And, he adds: “Obama has always committed to look out for everyone, especially the most vulnerable in our society. It truly is dangerous for Filipinos and everyone receiving these benefits, if people like Romney and Ryan (were) to be elected.”
Asercion says he believes the outcome of last night’s debate between Biden and Ryan is a wash. He called Biden “a skilled debater,” but notes that, “what’s important now will be the outcome of the next two presidential debates.” Those debates are scheduled for Oct. 16 and 22.
Meantime, the Filipino-American community in the Bay Area will be holding a town hall meeting http://www.balitangamerica.tv/fil-am-vote-2012]:Fil-Am to discuss the two presidential candidates on Oct. 18. It is hosted and organized by The Filipino Channel [TFC] TV network at their studios in Redwood Shores.
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