President Duterte may be enamored by China and may make overtures towards Russia, but there is no denying, the trust and confidence of the Filipino people belong to the United States. This was validated in a recent survey conducted by the Social Weather Station which showed that Filipinos’ trust quotient towards China was at an abysmal -33 points while the US enjoyed a +72 point rating.
One of the champions of US-Philippine relations is Trevor Neilson. Neilson served under the administration of former US President Bill Clinton and attended the APEC conference in Subic back in 1995. This was when his relationship with the Philippine began. He married a Filipina, the beguiling Evelin Weber, and they have one son together. Subsequently, Neilson worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and was the President of G2 Investment and the Global Philanthropy Group. He recently co-founded the i(x) Investment Group where he is CEO — the company is making large investments in the Philippine industrial sector.
I have known Neilson for several years and have observed, with amazement, how he honors the deep relationship that exists between the United States and the Philippines. Neilson often talks about how our forefathers shed blood together in wars against common enemies. We share the same values, the same educational system, and many aspects of our culture, he says with a sense of pride. Unlike the Trump administration whose relationship with the Philippines is distant, unengaged, and uninvolved, Neilson embraces our brotherhood and works tirelessly to hone the relationship, whether it be in the realms of business, philanthropy, or issues relating to the environment. Neilson is raising his son to be American and Filipino in culture and values.
Last week, Neilson sent me a beautiful tribute to Filipino frontliners. It is too beautiful not to share. He honors our kababayans (countrymen) so eloquently, as America’s unsung heroes in this COVID war. He notes, with reverence, how more Filipinos have died caring for American COVID patients than Americans themselves.
While our very own government fails to recognize the contributions of our healthcare workers around the world, it’s refreshing (and gratifying) to hear someone from abroad giving our countrymen the honor they deserve. This is what Neilson wrote.
“In the terrifying war against COVID the incredible sacrifice of frontline workers has been frequently and appropriately noted.
“But, within the statistics, a startling fact in the United States has been largely ignored. Filipino Americans are dying at a 40% mortality rate, significantly higher than the overall 3.7% mortality rate in the US, according to research by Johns Hopkins.
“Serving as nurses and healthcare workers, and too often without appropriate personal protective equipment, Filipino Americans have been on the front lines of this war and have paid a terrible price. More Filipino’s have died fighting COVID in the United States than in the Philippines.
“Where I live in California, 20% of all registered nurses are of Philippine ancestry.
“In New York, 34% of all Filipinos serve in the healthcare industry.
“Almost 16% of nurses in the United States are immigrants, and nearly a third of them are Filipinos.
“If your American friends or family have had COVID, there’s a good chance that a Filipino-American nurse has been at their bedside, providing care and comfort at great personal risk.
“For many of the 163,000 American’s who have been killed by COVID, it was a Filipino American nurse who was their only companion in their final moments. The last person whose hand they held, the person who held the phone for final goodbyes.
“These nurses have by all accounts performed miracles — innovating their way through a mysterious disease, working endless shifts without effective medicines or clear scientific consensus and doing their best to calm distracting political fights and a public consumed by fear. They have worked around the clock in overflowing emergency rooms and intensive care units, collapsing for a few hours of sleep before returning to the fight.
“Far too often they have become victims themselves.
“A Los Angeles base website called Kanlungan has tracked these deaths in powerful and painful detail. Beautiful tributes to the workers who have lost their lives are posted by those who knew them — smiling, hopeful faces of people who are gone too soon.
“Celia Yap Banago… Kenneth Lambatan… Maria Guia Cabillon… as you scroll through the photos you see the kind, calm and competent people that all of us want to meet when we walk into a hospital full of pain and fear. To many American COVID patients, these are the faces of hope.
“The service of Filipinos in American healthcare is no accident. In response to a critical shortage of healthcare workers, the United States’ Immigration Act of 1965 changed a system of country-based quotas to a new system whereby immigrants with nursing degrees were given preference for visas. Filipinos seized on the new opportunity, enrolling in nursing schools (often paid for by their extended family), moving to the US and sending billions of dollars back in the form of remittances.
“Now, over four million Filipinos live in the United States and the Los Angeles area has the second-largest concentrated population of Filipinos in the world. Healthcare workers from this community are the army in the war we are fighting against this terrible disease.
“But it was another war that first forged this special relationship between the Philippines and the United States.
“Ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. American and Filipino forces were overwhelmed. On March 11, 1942, General Douglas MacArthur left the Philippine’s upon orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. MacArthur had resisted leaving and promised the men and women of the Philippines in a statement, ‘I shall return.’
“A brutal Japanese occupation followed with over 500,000 Filipinos killed and millions of others abused and exploited.
“But MacArthur kept his promise.
“On Oct. 20, 1944, MacArthur waded ashore at Leyte with Filipino military leaders. That day, he made a radio broadcast in which he declared, ‘People of the Philippines, I have returned!’ Fighting alongside Filipino forces, MacArthur ended the horrors of the Japanese occupation.
“America helped the Philippines win its most important war. Now, 75 years later, Filipino Americans are on the frontlines in the war against COVID and hundreds, if not thousands, have paid the ultimate price.
“Once we have won this war, America must not forget their sacrifice — and the special relationship between our two great nations.”
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist