Sunday, August 19, 2007

An OFW Story



(above) An Aklanon in Hongkong

(above) Meeting in Beijing

During the last five months, I have been abroad three times. Two for business and one for semi-business. I logged in a thousand miles. Too bad I did not accumulate airline miles. But I don’t mind, the trips did not cost me a dime. Oh well, may be for the semi-business trip to Malaysia and Singapore with my wife, I coughed a few thousand pesos on a Cebu Pacific promo rate. It took in-depth travel planning to save me a couple of precious dollars. Thats me...the budget business traveler.

It was a fun experience. I always enjoy air travel despite being an avid fan of National Geographic Aircrash investigations and Seconds from Disaster. Anyway those flights are short ones – the longest is Manila to Beijing which is a five hour trip.

My trips abroad have not only enriched my legal experience but rekindled my interest in history and culture. Thanks to clients who think that their mission can be easily achieved with me in tow. And so I believe!  Well, for  as long as they fly me on the same plane, billet me at the same nice hotel and feed me with the same food they order, I am fine. But surely there was work involved. After all it was a business trip and my presence is a bonafide chargeable business expense. As such, they can bring me anytime. I don't mind being an overseas contract worker once in a while.

One of the things I have observe during my trips abroad is the sad plight of the real Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW). Unlike my short sojourn, most of them are leaving for work in a foreign land for a long time. Some for a period of 5 years or more. For an ordinary filipino family man, this means a sad and tormenting existence away from their families and love ones.

I also realized that there are a lot of Filipinos abroad. In Macau for example, almost all of the hotel employees from the door man to room service are Filipinos. Oh my goodness!   Just call Hongkong a second Philippines. There are Pinoys in every corner! Thank God I am not easily identified as a Filipino as I got chinito features or else somebody might ask me for a working permit! Whenever I greet a kababayan on the street, they would surprisingly answer with quick smile. This is a strange...a instant and strong connection between Filipinos as if we are connected by one network. But then I should clarify this observation. This may only be true with working Filipinos in Asian or Middle East countries. I had bad experience with snobbish Filipinos in New York who think snow on their heads have turned them into a different specie.  Snubbish TNTs!

It is not also hard to pinpoint Pinoys abroad. It easy to spot them. They are usually loud when in a group (usually at airports). And their dress...oh..the usual layback ensemble that foreigners would not dare wear. Just recently, heavily decorated Nokia cellphones have easily given away Filipinos. In Hongkong, it seems that those who usually send text messages from their cellphones are Filipinos. Oh well.. 

The sad thing is that Filipinos abroad are stereotyped as either entertainment, hospitality or domestic workers. Cheap labor to be blunt. I read somewhere that even the sexy Urnussa Cadness who is the model-girlfriend of Borgy Marcos had a bad episode at Hongkong immigrations. She was quizzed if she is a maid.  For goodness sake, she is not even Filipina!  Yeah, sad but it happens. Filipinas traveling alone to Hongkong usually spend a longer time at the immigration counter.  Personally,  whenever my  chinese clients introduces me as a Filipino lawyer  to a fellow chinese, the latter is amazed.  He just could not believe that there are Filipinos professionals other than hotel bellhops or domestic helpers. Sad sad...but true.

I hope the Philippine government will bolster the image of OFW and not brand them as "bagong bayani" when in reality they are not given the best care here or abroad. It would be good if there is an OFW airport with world amenities for them and their love ones where they can be given the royal treatment.  Maybe  a 24-hour emergency counseling center in countries with highest concentration of OFWs. Better yet a one stop OFW Assistance center which assists in sending of remittances, addressing labor complaints and repatriation if necessary.   Well...our government has the biggest say in the improvement of OFW's welfare. Sadly, there is more work to be done. Its good the Pinoys abroad naturally bond with each other. This somehow makes working abroad a bearable predicament.

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