The author was a Young Leaders Program/Mombusho scholar at the Kyushu University in Japan where he took his Master of Laws in 2005-2006. He thereafter worked in research and legal consulting. He is now an LL.M-candidate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and undergoing a cross-disciplinary program at the Wharton School. He is an on-leave Associate in one of the country’s biggest law firms in Makati City.
PHILADELPHIA, US — Though it is true that a fierce form of nationalism flows into the lifeblood of any Filipino in any part of the world, not every one is willing to engage in revolution. Not many will go to the hills to organize communities, bear arms or maintain links with the activist ranks. People will have different ways of expressing disgust and disempowerment.
Filipino Diaspora – the voluntary and involuntary dispersion and immigration of Filipinos worldwide – is one powerful way.
It seems that, on the average, not many Filipinos have had siblings or forefathers who joined underground movements, resistance groups and activist fronts (if not being actual participants themselves) during the centuries of foreign autocratic rule or in response to today’s elitist rule. As recent revolution-type incarnations, not everybody agrees with the Oakwood Mutiny or the wisdom behind the foiled Manila Pen siege of Sen. Trillanes and his so-called Pen 50 band.
Simply put, not that very many Filipinos believe in bloodshed or revolution. But neither are the masses irrationally apathetic, eternally pacifistic or non-engaging. More often than not, Filipinos see the need for change but do not necessarily equate that with radical uprising. This has resulted in the calmer and dramatically bloodless Edsa I and II revolts, the aftermaths of which produced results not necessarily in the interest of the people.
There is a saying: if you can’t beat them, join them. Unfortunately, some have taken to mean that if you can’t beat government inefficiency, then just join the ranks of government and contribute to the metastasizing inefficiency itself.. Others, however, have chosen a different yet relevant path: seek better opportunities abroad, send money back home and help the country in the long run.
The search for greener pastures is not easy; it is plagued with uncertainties and unimaginable difficulties. Job security is elusive, for one. According to a recent Inquirer article, wedding rings in fact serve as “visas” for continued stay of some Filipinos abroad, in order to earn more. The US, Japan and Canada are critical jurisdictions for marriages of convenience. The mail-order bride system of the 80s has given way to more sophisticated Internet-based meeting rooms.
As a foreign student in Japan some years back, I had the opportunity to visit the Philippine Embassy in Osaka for “consularization” (a.k.a. notarization) purposes. In my long 3-hour wait, caused mostly by an unexplainable delay in service even if there were only a few people around, I noticed an extremely thick compilation of papers on the wall. Possibly numbering nearly a hundred papers, they were applications for marriage by Filipinas with very much older, grandfather-like Japanese men.
It quickly hit me then that these younger Filipinas want to stay beyond their visas and contract periods, and therefore had to resort to marriages by convenience. Having nothing to do in my long wait (having finished all the Filipino-in-Japan magazines lying around), I noticed several Filipinas with their advanced-in-years Japanese husbands, all waiting for their documents to be processed. Of course, they were smiling and radiant: they get to stay on in Japan. Marrying a Japanese man means being able to continue to work, earning hundreds of thousands of yen. No one could blame them.
One older Filipina in the room seemed to be giving advice to a younger Filipina whose Japanese husband appeared to be totally bored and uninterested. This fateful scene at the Osaka Philippine Embassy is replicated in many other areas -just look at the long, ensnarling lines at the Japanese Embassy on Roxas Boulevard and you would know.
Filipinas in Japan and OFWs in other developed nations, or even in poorer countries like Nigeria, all want the same thing – better futures, better lives. The flipside to that is the candid though indirect admission of the lack of a better life and future back home. Staying, living and working abroad for the most part is a subconscious protest, a mini-revolt of sorts against the people, politicians and circumstances that ail the Philippines.
The general message being sent by the millions of OFWs getting out of the country each year is simple: the country is cancerously sick and hope is dim for it’s getting better, even in the face of the appreciation of the Peso vis-à-vis the US Dollar. Subliminal though it is, this message is directed to those in the seats of power to implement meaningful changes. Greed, corruption, tainted pork barrel funds, patronage politics, kickbacks, debts of gratitude and governance inefficiency all block progress.
The Filipino Diaspora is also sending an indirect message to the masses – not necessarily to follow their footsteps by leaving the country and unwittingly contribute to the exasperating brain drain. Rather, the message is that, other than government reforms there must also be an incremental change in the attitude of the Filipino. Bad governance and wrong people attitudes have all contributed to the country’s illness.
All these amount to a mini-revolt. People who leave just can’t take it anymore. Pernicious greed, electoral farce, grinding poverty – people can’t be mere witnesses and do nothing about all that. Something must be done, but since not everyone believes in radical uprisings, bloodletting revolutions or going to the hills, the option of millions is to go to other countries – risking lives and families for employment that will generate blissful remittances, for opportunities unseen or unheard of in the Philippines.
Filipino Diaspora is a strong statement calling to be heeded.. It is a powerful statement not only against the sitting government or the preceding ones. It goes far back. While munching a Quarter Pounder with fries, I recently bumped into two elderly Filipino siblings in Philadelphia. The elder lady mentioned, in more than an hour’s lament, that she went to the US some thirty years ago in protest against the palpable greed that marked the Marcos-Imelda dictatorship. In the late 70s to this day, she can’t take the fact that the dictatorship had literally robbed the country of its future and buried us under heavy debt which our progeny is paying. Filipino Diaspora goes way back.
Should the government continue to encourage foreign deployment or create more adequate jobs back home? Tricky to some, but the answer ought to be that it must do both. The Filipino Diaspora is a phase that’s bound to continue for more decades for as long as life and work are better abroad. More jobs and better living conditions should be stimulated so as to bring back these Filipino, not only in their retirement but at the peak of their working strength. The Philippines must fiercely compete with other nations to retain Filipino brain and talent.
The United States is currently experiencing a pompous presidential campaign. The Republicans have debated on how they should campaign against Democratic contender Barack Obama, with one of them admitting that he has, for better or worse, excited the American audience about the possibility for change. Is there anyone in politics in our country who can truly excite the people with the same message that change is coming?
Any Senator or Congressman or Governor who can inspire OFWs to come home on a more permanent basis, or at least to substantially invest in real property or in the Philippine securities market? The horizon is sadly unclear. Meanwhile, a lot more Filipinos are “mini-revolting” – individually, by poring through foreign job ads, lining up for visas and packing their bags.