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Archive for October, 2008

There is this email chain going on to encourage Filipinos to protest against BBC for the insulting treatment of a “Pinay” in one of their TV shows. I have to be honest, I am a bit ambivalent, though my patriotism is screaming within me to be heard as well. So, I’ll go to that first. Yes, the producers really showed their lack of good taste for allowing such insulting portrayals to go on air. The way the show’s main characters barked orders at the “Filipina maid” to do indecent things reminds me of medieval practices. Yes, this country’s aristocrats of long ago used to treat their servants in such inhumane manner – barking their orders, treating them as “lower” than themselves. In this particular case, they are at it again.

What is more disgusting is the fact that they made the character do those things willingly, as if it was just “ok” for her. This shows their ignorance about the chastity and high moral values of most Filipinas. While we cannot claim that all Filipinas are above reproach, most of us still hold to such old-fashioned beliefs and morals that one cannot typecast us into such a shameful caricature.

Or, are the show’s producers, writers, etc. implying that the “Filipina maid” is just too desperate to earn money that she would do anything to avoid losing her job? If that’s the case, then, again we can see how ignorant they are. Here in the UK, majority of Filipinos are professionals – nurses, radiographers and care-givers mostly, to whom they entrust their elderly and their sick who need our loving care and high professional skills. These health workers form the backbone of this country’s state-maintained health system and if they are honest about it, they need our people here.

Obviously, it is stretching the imagination too far to pick a Filipina to play the role of an idiotic maid in their show. While there are Filipina maids here in the UK, and I am not ashamed of them nor am I putting them down, they are here to care for homes and families and not to be portrayed on national television as idiotic and dumb! They do their jobs well, by the way, and so deserve every sterling they are paid.

I mentioned at the start of my ambivalence to protest. Well, here is why. I think a politician started this protest and I salute them for that. My main concern, though, is instead of spending time and resources on protests like this, government should work double time to improve the economic standing of the Philippines so that our professionals who go to other countries to work as maids need not go anymore and thus, avoid such insulting treatment. Respect is earned and the way the country is run, it does not say much about our own leaders respecting the citizens of the Philippines.

Yes, we are a nation proud enough to label our OFWs as new heroes, but this particular case is the other side of the coin. Our economy is afloat because of remittances from these new heroes but the price we have to pay, both as a nation and individually for every person and family concerned, is astronomical. We have to endure this kind of treatment and wear this “label” wherever we are in the world: Filipinos are desperate to go out of their country to seek greener pastures and it is alright to treat them any way we want. Of course, we offer protestations against this insinuation but come on, let’s be honest. Isn’t this what’s happening in countries like Singapore and those in the Middle East?

I think, the BBC portrayal, while utterly disgusting and reflects individuals who are ignorant and racist, is only a milder version of how other fellow OFWs in other parts of the world are treated, and that is what I want to throw to the leaders of our country, especially those who are protesting: Please do your jobs well and stop graft and corruption so that our country will be great again and we, your people, will not have to be treated this way anymore.

Below is the link to the footage of that disgusting BBC show:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3c2sI5_G4RU

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I am an OFW, one of the group of brave Filipinos who the Philippine government is so keen on calling “the new heroes”. We left the country to look for a better life, look for better opportunities and challenges that equal the drive for life and success we hold in our hearts in great abundance. More than anything, to provide for a better future for our families, something that is next to impossible if we remain in the country, considering the inept, corrupt, greedy and totally disgusting leadership and governance (at all levels) that we have.

Before this post degenerates into a rant against Philippine politics, I’d like to share my personal perspective about life as an OFW – how it is to work and live in the midst of an alien culture away from everything familiar, to be humbled and at times humiliated, to be challenged and one’s resilience (a Pinoy trademark) put to the severest test.

Being a UP graduate (by the way, my Alma Mater is a hundred years old this year), I had no plans of going abroad to work for “foreigners”. For me, my place was at home, to serve its people and re-pay government for my education (Iskolar daw po kami ng Bayan). That’s why I worked for more than a decade with projects (on health and local governance) that have direct impact on communities so that I could see for myself how government investments really improve people’s lives.

Through the years, my idealism persisted but my belief in government (at least its effectiveness) eroded gradually but steadily, especially when then President Ramos appointed a chain-smoking, sickly politician from the South as his Secretary of Health just because he was a party-mate, and when Erap got elected and even now that our Harvard-educated economist of a President refuses to acknowledge the strong link between population and economic development just for the sake of (her own) political survival.

Meanwhile, I married a man who is highly-skilled in his field but could not get a decent pay for the type of work that he did while in the Philippines. He placed No. 7 in the board exams and is really very good at what he does. While I was enjoying my job and getting relatively high salary, he was working longer hours but getting only something like a third of what I was earning.

I then made the difficult decision to let him apply abroad so that he could grow professionally and earn the kind of pay he deserves for his skill and dedication to his job. Providentially, he found a job online and the next thing we knew he was UK-bound. He now earns in a year what he would for five or more years if he stayed in the Philippines.

My kids and I joined him here a year later and so we are now putting down roots in the UK. It was difficult for me to give up my career and accept the fact that I might never ever put to good use my education (complete with a Master’s degree) again, but marriages survive only because of compromises between the couples. I am determined to make the most of this chance and forget about my own pride.

At first, I was very eager to work because single-income living does not make for a “greener pasture” existence. After months of praying and searching, I was hired as a part-time Medical Records Clerk in the big hospital in our area, where most if not all of Filipinos here work as well. For three hours everyday, I labour among tons of patient records – pulling them from file, tracking, preparing them for clinic and then, just before I go home, file some more of them back to the library. It is a very simple job, but requires vigilance, speed, accuracy and a lot of muscle. I would consider it a mindless task, once one gets the hang of it and becomes very familiar with the hospital lay-out and the medical secretaries who sometimes have some of the patient notes.

Once, during my second week, I was treated rudely by one secretary, who eventually became a good friend after I made effort to be nice despite her behaviour. For a week, I could not sleep thinking of that humiliating treatment. I almost resigned and feared meeting that person again. Eventually, she saw I can be worthy of respect as well so we now get along fine.

For months, I though that there was no way I would ever learn everything I needed to. I got lost in the big and convoluted lay-out of the hospital countless of times. I committed quite a few booboos on the job. I could not remember the names of the people I met and I seldom talked with anybody at work, except for three Filipino colleagues who were hired way ahead of me.

Being used to jobs a lot more “cerebral” back home, this job is a training ground for me on humility. I am just thankful that my supervisors are very nice and considerate when I commit mistakes. I know most OFWs are not as lucky. One acquaintance of mine (a Filipina who gained British citizenship) just arrived from Abu Dhabi, where she was lured by a huge pay (given her British citizenship) but came home abruptly because she could not tolerate the way her superiors talked down to her and all the other Filipino staff in their hospital. Lucky her she is a first world citizen and thus have choices. My hearts goes out to those fellow countrymen who had no choice but to endure such humiliating treatment.

So anyway, aside from lessons on humility, my being an OFW also made me realize how so wrong I was on my concept that Filipinos working abroad have it all so easy. My brother and brother-in-law are both seamen (both attained the rank of Captain very recently). When I was still in the Philippines, I could just see how well-off they are. They have luxury vehicles and millions worth of residential houses. That was all I saw. It did not occur to me how hard they work to earn their wages. I now know better and I feel more proud of them.

Being an OFW also makes me all the more desperate for my own country to attain economic development and to provide its citizens with abundant opportunities in life. Here in Britain, people keep on complaining about how government fails to help them. If they only knew how the Philippine government fails its people. At least here, even if there is heavy taxation, I can count on the fact that my boy can have his asthma medication free of charge while we are here and that both my kids can be educated up to high school by the state. I know that my husband can get to his work faster and safer knowing that the roads and highways are efficiently maintained and that police is vigilant against traffic offenders.

I wish that our medical professionals will not be undervalued in our country anymore, so that our doctors (who are far better than those I have seen here) need not be forced to become nurses and our nurses need not be made caregivers in elderly homes. I wish that radiographers will earn in the Philippines even just half of what my husband earns now so that we have an option to go back and re-settle in the Philippines.

Coming to this country gave us a better chance at improving our lot. At the same time, it has made my longing for a better Philippines deeper and more desperate. It gave me a chance to see what the Philippines can also achieve. If only I know how to fix my country’s problems and cure its ailments…

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