By Erika Caleja
It is surely a rare occasion where I get to know a person who can let me have a deeper understanding about forced migration here in our country. That’s why it’s so nice to meet Mr. Ramil Batas, the case officer of a progressive organization Migrante International. Mr. Batas gave us (interns here in Bulatlat) a brief and very informative discussion about the history of forced migration (that started way beyond Spanish Era), and the current situation of our very own Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).
Bulatlat,com provided us with this migrant sit and gave us the opportunity to learn while doing our on-the-job training. By the way, the talk was very helpful to us, so that when we write stories (like some issues regarding migration and other related topics) we have an idea or a little bit background on the topics that we are writing about.
So, what can I say about our OFWs? Before, I couldn’t care less about it, all I know is that they go abroad because there’s work waiting for them with a higher wage. But, I’m also aware that they do that because they can’t get work here in our own country that can be able to sustain and provide for their family’s needs. Little did I know (during our discussions) that migration is rooted in our history and that even some of our ancestors during the Spanish period have become labourers in cargo vessels in galleon trading. We can also say, some Illustrados or “learned” Filipinos that came from rich families back then who travelled to Europe to study are also what we call migrants, just like Jose Rizal.
Who can we blame for the widespread forced migration? I thought there should be one, well I guess it’s our government, if only they would promote and improve the Industrial and agricultural sectors here in the country, then a lot of Filipinos would have a job and won’t need to go abroad–leaving their families, and their children without a mother or a father to guide them as they grow up. I remember when we tackled about migration in the time of Marcos; the government started this “Labor Export Policy” where it simply treats migrant workers as a commodity rather than a “human being.” When the government learned that they could get a lot of money to flow into the country (which is by the way through remittances) just by sending pinoys abroad, now the program has become permanent. I’ve learned that LEP has a big contribution to the Philippine economy: it provides a systematic migrant “trading” and offer Filipinos with work, when unemployment hits the country during the time of Marcos and carry on up to now.
When Pres. Corazon Aquino took over the reins of government from the dictatorship of Marcos, the labor export policy (LEP) was included in the 5-year economic recovery program, calling the migrants as “Bagong Bayani”. I remember Mr. Batas said that forced migration is rooted in the country’s semi-colonial and semi-feudal character, which is also the root cause of the suffering of the Filipino people.
Until now, OFWs remittances are the number one source of foreign exchange earnings in the country, through it the government earns billions of dollars a year. If that is so, the government should return the favour by taking them seriously and provide sincere assistance to “Bagong Bayanis,” but unfortunately there are still a lot of cases of OFWs landing in death row, human rights violations, discrimination, racism that our fellow Filipinos encounter everyday yet still unsolved by the Philippine government. Recently, the government implemented a budget cut in the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) legal assistance fund, seriously, how hypocrite could the Aquino administration be when it says that “they are putting a lot of efforts to help our distressed OFWs?”
There are 11-million documented and undocumented migrant workers around the globe, I thought what if they would all go back here in the country due to political uprisings in their host countries, just like what happened to repatriated OFWs in Libya, or there is a decrease in the demand for workers in other countries? What would happen to Filipinos? Can they have work here in the country when they come back? What would happen to the economy? Can the government handle this kind of situation? – These are some questions that bug me, the government should act now and create jobs for Filipinos. And now I wonder what would happen to me after I graduate, will I be part of newly grads who can’t find a job? Will I end up being a call center agent just like the rest of Filipinos (not that I’m discriminating against it, though it will pay me well) who can’t get a job according to their finished courses?
Almost all of us have their loved-ones abroad including me. And though I hope they would all go back here for the better, it’s impossible for it to happen so soon, maybe when they retire. Filipinos innately loving characteristics give them the strength to go through all these, even if it requires them to be apart from their loved-ones, for months, for years, even for decades.