MANILA — When a Filipino immigrant was brutally attacked this week on a New York City sidewalk, the Philippine foreign secretary went on Twitter and advised his compatriots in the United States to fight back.
“The answer to racism has to be police/military; not understanding,” the foreign secretary, Teodoro Locsin, said in another Twitter post on the attack. “Racists understand only force.”
Mr. Locsin’s aggressive response, which echoed the bombastic populism of his boss, President Rodrigo Duterte, reflected how Philippine officials often see the welfare and interests of the country’s overseas labor migrants as a domestic issue. In the Philippines, many people view those migrants — whose remittances account for nearly a tenth of gross domestic product — as being part of their own community even if they’ve made their home somewhere else.
“Every Filipino family has an American relative,” said Renato Cruz De Castro, a professor of international studies at De La Salle University in Manila, the Philippine capital. “The assumption here is that the Filipina who was attacked in New York still has relatives here.”
“We sympathize with her because she’s still part of the family,” he said of the victim, Vilma Kari, 65, who emigrated from the Philippines decades ago.
The attack on Ms. Kari was one of at least two in recent months on a person of Filipino descent in New York City. In early February, a 61-year-old Filipino-American man was attacked with a box cutter on the subway after he confronted a stranger who had kicked his tote bag.
Both incidents were covered extensively by the Philippine news media. The Philippine government has paid attention, too.
About a month before the latest attack, it urged its citizens in the United States to “exercise utmost caution,” and called on American officials to ensure their safety amid rising anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic.
“The U.S. authorities should undertake effective responses to the racially motivated hate crimes, including their root causes,” Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., a Duterte ally in the Philippine Congress, told a local newspaper at the time.
Some of Mr. Duterte’s prominent critics have called his administration’s response to anti-Asian violence in the United States hypocritical, saying that his government has a long history of human rights abuses at home.
The United Nations has accused the Philippine government of systematic killings and arbitrary detentions in the service of a bloody campaign against drugs. The U.N. said last year that more than 8,000 people had died since Mr. Duterte began his antidrug campaign in 2016.
“It is just for a homeland government to condemn racist attacks on its overseas people,” Ninotchka Rosca, a Filipina novelist who lives in New York, said of this week’s attack. “It is also hollow when the same government makes it a policy to kill its own people in its own territory.”
Separately, Mr. Duterte has a spotty record on championing victims of abuse. He has joked about rape, made anti-Semitic remarks and admitted to sexually assaulting a housemaid when he was a teenager. Mr. Locsin, the foreign secretary, has used anti-Semitic language and defended Mr. Duterte’s decision to pardon an American marine who had killed a transgender woman.
- A torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the U.S. began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Community leaders say the bigotry was spurred by the rhetoric of former President Trump, who referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus.”
- In New York, a wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
- In January, an 84-year-old man from Thailand was violently slammed to the ground in San Francisco, resulting in his death at a hospital two days later. The attack, captured on video, has become a rallying cry.
- Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in the Atlanta massage parlor shootings on March 16. The suspect’s motives are under investigation, but Asian communities across the United States are on alert because of a surge in attacks against Asian-Americans over the past year.
- A man has been arrested and charged with a hate crime in connection with a violent attack on a Filipino woman near Times Square on March 30. The attack sparked further outrage after security footage appeared to show bystanders failing to immediately come to the woman’s aid.
Richard Heydarian, a political scientist at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila, said that Mr. Locsin’s response to the New York attack is “just the latest case of arbitrary sympathy” from his administration.
Mr. Locsin’s outrage over racism in the United States makes strategic political sense, he added, because the Filipinos who work abroad represent an important vote bank for Mr. Duterte’s presidential campaigns.
Mr. Duterte’s general antipathy toward the West “makes it easier for his lieutenants to highlight the profound crisis of racism in places such as America, especially when it targets the overseas Filipino community, a major constituency,” said Mr. Heydarian, the author of a book about Mr. Duterte’s rise to power.
The Philippines is also considering whether to maintain a military pact with the United States, one that Mr. Duterte has previously threatened to terminate. Herman Kraft, a political scientist at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, said it was important to view Mr. Locsin’s comments against the backdrop of those geopolitics.
“Locsin probably wants to send a signal to the U.S. before President Duterte commits the Philippine government on a policy direction that would be difficult to backpedal from,” he said.
Mr. Cruz De Castro, the professor, said that Mr. Locsin’s Twitter storm was a “knee-jerk” reaction that reflected his personality more than specific policy priorities in the Philippines. But the response to the attack from people across the Philippines, he added, illustrated the country’s strong connection with its diaspora.
“It’s a reflection of our attitude of, ‘When we send people abroad, they’re still linked with us,’” he said, “ignoring the fact that they’re under private motive and have basically adopted the culture and citizenship of their host country.”
Jason Gutierrez reported from Manila and Mike Ives from Hong Kong.