Let’s imagine then, not just California, but the entire world, waking up one day to discover Filipinos have disappeared. I’m talking here about the six or seven million Filipinos currently working
overseas in countries with names that run the entire alphabet, from Angola to Zimbabwe.
Let’s not worry first about why or how the Filipinos disappeared; in fact, it becomes academic whether it’s a day or a week. Just imagine a world without Filipinos.
Think of the homes that are dependent on Filipino housekeepers, nannies, caregivers. The homes would be chaotic as kids cry out for their nannies. Hong Kong and Singaporean and Taiwanese yuppie couples are now forced to stay home and realizing, goodness, there’s so much of housework that has to be handled
and how demanding their kids can be and hey, what’s this strange language they’re babbling in?
It’s not just the children that are affected. The problems are even more serious with the elderly in homes and nursing institutions, because Filipino caregivers have provided so much of the critical
services they need. When temporary contractual workers are brought in from among non-Filipinos, the elderly complain. They want their Filipino caregivers back because they have that special
touch, that extra patience and willingness to stay an hour more when needed.
Hospitals, too, are adversely affected because so many of the disappeared Filipinos were physicians, nurses and other health professionals. All appointments for rehabilitation services, from children with speech problems to stroke survivors, are indefinitely postponed because of disappeared speech pathologists, occupational and physical therapists! Eventually, the hospital administrators announce they won’t take in any more patients unless the conditions are serious. Patients are told to follow their doctors’ written orders and, if they have questions, to seek advice on several Internet medical sites. But within two days, the hospitals are swamped with new complaints. The websites aren’t working because of missing Filipino web designers and website managers.
Service establishments throughout the world — restaurants, supermarkets, hotels — all close down because of their missing key staff involved in management and maintenance. In Asia, hotels complain about the missing bands and singers.
In the United States, many commercial establishments have to close shop, not just because of the missing Filipino sales staff but because their suppliers have all been sending in notices about delays in shipments. Yup, the shipping industry has gone into a crisis because of missing Filipino seafarers.
The shipping firms begin to look into the emergency recruitment of non-Filipino seafarers but then declare another crisis: They’re running out of supplies of oil for their ships because the Middle Eastern countries have come to a standstill without their Filipino workers, including quite a few working for the oil industry.
Frantic presidents and prime ministers call on the United Nations to convene a special session of the Security Council but Kofi Annan says he can’t do that because the UN system itself is on the edge, with so many of their secretarial and clerical staff, as well as translators, having disappeared from their main headquarters in New York and Geneva, as well as their regional offices throughout the world. Quite a number of UN services, especially refugee camps, are also in danger of closing down because of missing Filipino health professionals and teachers.
Annan also explains that he can’t convene UN meetings because the airports in New York, Washington and other major US cities have been shut down. The reason? The disappeared Filipinos included quite a few airport security personnel who used to check passengers and their baggage.
Annan calls on the World Bank and international private foundations for assistance but they’re crippled, too, because their Filipino consultants and staff are nowhere to be seen. Funds can’t be remitted and projects can’t run without the technical assistance provided for by Filipinos.
An exasperated Annan calls on religious leaders to pray, and pray hard. But when he phones the Pope, he is told the Catholic Church, too, is in crisis because the disappeared include the many Filipino priests and nuns in Rome who help run day-to-day activities, as well as missionaries in the frontlines of remote posts, often the only ones providing basic social services.
As they converse, Annan and the Pope agree on one thing: the world has become a quieter place since the Filipinos disappeared. It isn’t just the silencing of work and office equipment formerly handled by Filipinos; no, it seems there’s much less laughter now that the Filipinos aren’t around, both the laughter of the Filipinos and those they served.
I know, I know, I’m exaggerating the contributions of Filipinos to the world but I’m doing what the producers of “A Day Without Mexicans” had in mind: using a bit of hyperbole to shake people up.
As their blurb for the film goes: “How do you make the invisible, visible? Make them invisible.”
As I wrote this column, I did realize I was doing this not so much for the Hong Kong Chinese and Taiwanese and Singaporeans and Americans who don’t appreciate us enough, than for us, who as Filipinos, are pretty good at putting ourselves down, at making ourselves invisible.