Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pinoy Diaspora

Diaspora is a term originally applied to the experience of Jews driven out of Jerusalem and politically appropriated as the background to the movement of Zionism which aspires for the re-establishment of a Jewish Nation in Palestine ( an area claimed as the biblical territory of the Jews). Today, Diaspora applies to any group who experience dispersion similar to the Jews. The beleaguered Lebanese, can likewise appropriate the term. With the thousands killed, wounded and millions rendered homeless, there effectively is a Lebanese Diaspora.

We may ask then if there is a Filipino Diaspora? The answer is quite plain. What do you call all those Filipinos and Filipinas in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, the Middle East, Europe, Canada, USA, Ireland, Australia, Poland, Russia, etc.? The Government has given them the innocuous term Overseas Filipino Worker or OFW. Every Christmas season which begins as early as September and goes beyond January, the Government makes a great leap in appreciation and extols the virtues of the OFW as hero. OFWs are no longer biting the title, “hero.” They know better than the OWWA, POEA and the DOLE. They are no more heroic than the MMDA who inhales toxic fumes and dust along EDSA while sweeping away litter every single day.

The thousands, millions of Filipinos working abroad are simply working for a living, for survival. Work and survival are basic impulses. Without work, we degenerate into the economically unproductive called the “unemployed” and the existentially marginalized called the “aimless” or the “person without meaning and purpose in life.” Productivity and meaning are basic human impulses. These aspects of life are not everything but they are fundamental to a person’s self-determination and well-being. There is nothing heroic in being productive and consequently able to earn a living. There is nothing heroic in being happy and fulfilled because one does what she or he wants to do.

There is constant dispersion of Filipinos. Every day, embassies are full. Visa applicants flock to the embassies, many as early as 12:00 Midnight to secure a slot in the application process. So many Filipinos are leaving because they are not and cannot be productive in their own country. So many are leaving because, they are no longer happy and unable to find meaning in a country with manufactured and canned solutions and explanations to every problem or question. Ordinary people talk and express their disgust and anger only to be dismissed as disruptive, seditious and unreasonable. Only those in power are reasonable, intelligent and truly concerned for the welfare of the people.

There is no arguing with the rich and powerful. They control much of media, business, the police and military and even the churches. Head on resistance is not possible without courting legal or physical harassment and even death. But people do resist. Their resistance may seem indirect and rather round-about, but they resist all the same. They resist by rejecting and leaving behind the rottenness and its stench. Diaspora is resistance.

Sometime ago, my parents spent time with me in Hong Kong. Here they witness the Pinoy Diaspora. It was a Sunday, while I pushed my father on a wheelchair around the Star Ferry Area while my mother Naty followed, they witnessed the thousands of Pinays with a few Pinoys seated along the winding corridors. My mother commented, “how happy they all seem while they eat and play tong-its.”

Earlier, after I said mass at Holy Cross Church (Sai Wan Ho) and joined members of the Apostleship of Prayer headed by Mila Bondoc for lunch, my father observed, “they are so far away from home but they still manage to join or organize Catholic organizations.” In fact the Pinoy Diaspora in Hong Kong are divided into the organized groups with some form of shelter in Catholic Parishes and NGO offices and the huge un-organized mass seated along pathways and parks all over Hong Kong.

We may conclude that the organized are better off and more secure in their shelters than the un-organized who scramble for space as early as 7:00 a.m. every Sunday. The more crucial fact is the given and undeniable fact of a most visible and overwhelming presence of thousands of Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians, etc. announcing to all and sundry, “we are here, we have left our homes, our countries, we are here!” The visual impact of a sea of OFWs literally snaking all over Hong Kong corridors, roads and parks on a Sunday could not be ignored and dismissed as a senseless, accidental and purposeless phenomenon.

I have spoken to representatives of both organized and un-organized groups. Yes there is some fulfillment in being here. They are somewhat more productive than when they were at home. They somehow enjoy a few laughs while they chat, eat and play cards. But there is a unanimous anger, disappointment and spite towards the home situation and the Government. The Pinoy Diaspora is a combination of personal and family survival and indirect resistance. There is a hidden but real and under-utilized power here.

This power has not yet coalesced and synergized, which is just as well for the Government. But what if one day, the millions of those who have left family and country wake up, turn around and decide to make the resistance more direct? The Government must surely dread that day and even now may have begun spending and wasting billions to pre-empt the inevitable…the end of the Pinoy Diaspora...

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
August 17, 2006


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