In college, I was one of the very few students in my class who did not have a desire to live the "American dream". I faced a lot of ridicule from my peers and my family. How could I not want that? "Malaki ang kita doon. Sayang ka talaga!" (You will make a lot of money there! You're such a waste.) Well, I have always been "the weirdo" in class anyway so it did not really affect me. To every weird kid out there, stay weird.
One of my best buddies then asked, "Bakit pag nakaalis na sila 'no, wala na tayong naririnig sa kanila?" ("Why is it that after they leave, we never hear from them again?"). In our last Zoom catchup, I asked my friend again, "Nasagot mo na ba yung tanong mo noon?" ("Have you answered your question back then?", "Oo, mahirap ang buhay dito eh. Pag sinabi mong wala ka nang pera,wala namang maniniwala sayo. ("Yep, life is hard here. Even if you say you don't have money anymore, no one will believe you.") That was the response.
I respect Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). A lot of my family members have been working overseas for a better future. All of them already have new passports. Their kids get free education, they don't worry about hospital bills, they have a special lane at the airports and can just live off their pensions. I love all of them. I just don't think that future is for me. I also don't expect them to understand me because that is what worked out for them. That is their truth. It isn't mine. Neither is better than the other. They are different paths.
Knowing many OFWs all my life and actually making four failed attempts to follow that path, (which fortunately did not work out) I have gathered enough anecdotal evidence to put together a summation of their plights. Here is a rundown of some things they have shared:
1. They are in debt. Whether it's a student loan for their bridging program, mortgage for their beautiful house and car, the carabao their parents sold to loan them the money for their downpayment to the manpower agency, that is on top of the other carabao they sold to put them to a good school in the city, they are in deep debt. Carabaos are expensive. All of those meals they buy for you when they visit, they pay it back when they work again. All of their family's problems that they try to solve because they are the ones "who have the means", they sleeve up to work double, triple, quadruple shifts for. All those perfumes, gadgets and shoes they buy you, they had to look for the best deals so they can pay for their flight to see you.
2. They have to work at least two jobs. Out there, it's a level playing field, they get money for every hour of work. Unlike the Philippines where they would work indefinitely, endure 4 hours of traffic, are expected to answer emails and calls anytime and get paid a fixed amount minus the government mandatories (SSS, Pag-ibig, Philhealth) that the government officials just steal from the people. In the PH, they need that Starbucks coffee for the boost. It's actually expensive if you are paid in pesos! Where they are now, it's not as presigious anymore. The barista probably earns the same money as the OFW, or more.
3. They share rent with another Filipino. They sleep in bunk beds with 8 other Filipinos. All of them share the same story. They lend each other money when someone in the Philippines is sick. When they get promotions, they move up to bigger apartments and can start having individual rooms. When they get bigger paychecks, they can afford a mortgage. That's the time they start posting on Facebook again. It's been a tough ride hey!
4. They are not treated fairly. They are paid less than their local peers. They are intimidated to ask for a raise although they know that they are paid less and deserve more. They are treated differently in shops. The look, the tone, the body scan and the whispers. They have to put up with it so they can buy you your trendiest thing.
5. They have been abused. Whether it's a hospital that used them for years of free labor in exchange for a "Certifcate of Employment", their recruitment agency that milked the most money out of them or their employers who harass them verbally, physically and sexually. Our government encourages this cycle because it takes a lot of work off their backs. Since someone else will save the family anyway, there is no need for a government that will serve its people. Our Titos, Titas, Mommys, Daddys, Lolos and Lolas, Kuyas and Ates have been continually abused in all directions.
With this knowledge now, are we also going to abuse them?