Overseas Filipinos Caught in Distant War Zones

Arab News 

Overseas Filipinos Caught in Distant War Zones

by Manuel L. Quezon III

MANILA, 19 July 2006 — It is said that so long as the dollars flow in, and people flow out, the Philippines can be spared the true consequences of the folly of its leaders, the moribund nature of its economy, and the essentially directionless and imaginatively bankrupt nature of Philippine society itself. But force the Filipinos overseas to come home, deprive the country’s coffers of their dollars, and take away from millions of dependents the income that supports them in their joblessness, self-chosen or not, and the country would crack apart.

I have often heard it said, that as long as a world war or serious regional conflict could be avoided, somehow or another, the Philippines would muddle through. Not only that; society at large would be spared the consequences of an increasingly discredited political system at home, and the lack of anything to really show for generations of sacrifice by Filipinos overseas.

Indeed, the salvation of the country, I have increasingly found myself believing, lies in having so many Filipinos from all walks of life, working overseas. Those that might have been condemned to a life without social mobility at home, with enough hard work and dedication, could build up enough capital to raise their children up a notch in the social ladder — if not leapfrog past the limitations of society completely. The son or daughter of people who’d been workers on feudal estates for generations could, within a generation, achieve middle class status: Propertied, with possessions, and most importantly, a raised level of self-awareness, dignity, and thus, a refusal to settle for the old, limiting ways at home.

Not that the process would be swift, or certain. Too many Filipinos who’ve gone abroad have had their hearts broken by relatives at home content to live off their earnings without engaging in productive enterprise on their own; too many others have had their hard-earned capital dissipated not only due to the demands of relatives, but a lack of assistance and support in conserving, and increasing, their earnings.

Still others have had their consciousness — and critical thinking — raised by exposure to other cultures, but have failed to insist on local and national governments at home matching the efficiencies they often admire overseas.

However, both the old urban, cosmopolitan society composed of the traditional political and business classes (and the middle class created in their image), and the new society composed of the provincial warlords and previously marginalized sectors such as the military and nontraditional entrepreneurial types that came to prominence during the Marcos dictatorship, are in decay. They are slowly having to give way to an entirely different kind of Filipino only beginning to express itself outside Metro Manila. These old and no longer new societies sense that something different, something unsettling is taking place; they are reacting to it in different ways, but they are reacting.

But how do competing groups compete in turn with something that hasn’t even been defined, because it is still being born? The new Filipino is still so similar to the old that neither the new nor the old are distinct enough to either join forces or permanently part ways.

And so you have a vague urge in some quarters for federalism, but great divisions on what it actually means; you have a kind of common perception the way Filipinos govern — and are governed — must change, but different attitudes on how this should take place. For example, the traditionalists believe it should be by depriving an increasingly uncontrollable electorate of its power to select the national leadership, restoring virtually unlimited power to provincial power blocs while they still have a chance to protect their dominance — and this tactic is proclaimed as “modern.” Others reject this, but are less sure as to how a more responsive, and responsible, government, can be built on the corrupt and inefficient mess that is the existing one.

Then again, there was always the hope that time, somehow, would lead to things being sorted out. Perhaps not as neatly and clearly as Filipinos a generation or two ago would have wished — back then, in the 1960s, Filipinos could still be optimistic about the country getting better and wealthier; today, hopes for the future are too limited by the sad realities of the present. The Filipino diaspora had somehow kept that hope alive; but then again, the mass migration of Filipinos to find work was anchored on their being something better to come home to, somehow, sometime.

As the world, however, confronts developments in the Middle East, and the acceleration of troubling trends that began to emerge with Sept. 11 and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, so too must Filipinos wonder if there remains the luxury — or saving grace — of time.

The Philippine government maintains that at present, only a handful of the 30,000 or so Filipinos in Lebanon are in danger. That is possibly, in the strictest sense of danger, true.

Not every Filipino in Lebanon is either in Beirut or near the fighting taking place. But there are already over a hundred Filipinos said to have been abandoned by their employers.

Were things to escalate, not every Filipino could be assured of even having the means to reach an evacuation zone.

And were things to deteriorate militarily and economically in the region, Filipinos would be among the first to feel the effects of limits on travel, and overseas employment.

To go home would be a great, but not their only, problem. Presuming they make it home, there would be a series of frightening realities to confront: A market incapable of hiring them, much less offering them employment in keeping with their experience; families so dependent on them that they have become unwilling or unable to take up the slack; a state dependent on overseas remittances and unable to provide the safety nets and benefits citizenship should provide; a society suddenly in a kind of no man’s land between the crumbling past and a future that hasn’t been fully built. Then where would Filipinos be? And their country?

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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