OFW: Heroes or Victims?

courtesy of http://www.pinoy-ofw.com/
courtesy of http://www.pinoy-ofw.com/
courtesy of http://www.pinoy-ofw.com/

When I was a kid and didn’t know what “OFW” (Overseas Filipino Worker) meant, I only thought that it sounded uneasily similar to “POW” (Prisoner of War). Anyway, as I grew up and gained a mind of my own, I couldn’t help but notice that so many of my family and friends have made plans to become OFWs, are now working in another country as an OFW or have considerable experience in being an OFW. At the end of it all, all of them imply a simple thought: “If you want to make a good and profitable living, you should work overseas!”

Note however, that this doesn’t seem to apply to everyone. There are a fortunate few who have the considerable business sense, have the right connections or are just lucky enough to make a decent living in the Philippines. Unfortunately, these people tend to be few and far between and in order to provide their families with a decent lifestyle, majority of Filipinos still have to work somewhere else instead of sticking around the Philippines.

What doesn’t and will probably never jive with me is just as to why so many of my countrymen have to travel to another country and find work that’s potentially unpleasant, dangerous, tedious or a combination of all three. The media insists that the Philippines is a “fast-developing” country and, based on my own observations at least, a land blessed with many valuable resources. The Philippines itself is a nation blessed with considerable manpower and occasionally gifted with intellectuals but these too are sadly squandered in countries beyond the Philippines. The bottom line is that, despite all the natural blessings the Philippines possesses as well as having a considerable population with potentials up the wazoo, we remain a Third-World country with many of our countrymen mired in abject poverty.

There’s nothing wrong with being an OFW, mind you. Indeed, I laud them for their perseverance and their patience for what they do. But what really disappoints me is that in this dysfunctional country of ours, it has essentially become the only hope for many of our fellows to feed their families and provide the promise of a bright future for their children.

Anyway, it wasn’t until later however that I discovered the reasons as to why so many of our fellows have to travel outside the Philippines just to make sure that their children can eat three times a day and get a good education. Here are just the first three that I’ve come to note:

The 60-40% Deal with Foreign Companies

The thing is, while the Philippines does indeed have a lot of natural resources, if any foreign company or organization is interested in it, they have to first get past our government which is filled to the brim with corrupt politicians and professional swindlers. Even if the company in question is a fairly respectable, say like FedEx or Sony, the Philippine government will try to milk them for all their worth as they are only allowed to own so much of their profits. It is because of this that many foreign investors find it difficult to establish their businesses in the Philippines, resulting in a lack of decent jobs with promising career paths.

Note that this deal is unique to the Philippines in Far East Asia. Even a country as wealthy and prosperous as Japan allows companies from the United States and China to establish themselves with a 100% claim to their proceeds, letting them promise their employees a profitable future. The current constitution of the Philippines only allows foreign companies to own 40% of their profits, discouraging them from setting up shop here. So what about the 60%, you may ask? Well, from what I gather, the government plans to use it for funds necessary for the country. In short, politicians put the 60% they gain from foreign investors so they can build their mistresses a new house somewhere in the more scenic parts of the country and buy their illegitimate children a new PS3.

Crab Mentality

Okay wait, I know that “crab mentality” sounds overrated. On the Filipino critic site, Getrealphilippines.com, people are clamoring “crab mentaility” whenever a writer there criticizes politicians or celebrities. While I prefer to remain neutral regarding the opinions of writers on GRP (after all, a person’s opinion is their own) I can note that majority of Filipinos miss out on the true meaning of “crab mentality”.

I can tell you all here and now that the biggest crabs can be found in our government and its many agencies. The Philippine government, who are already labeled crocodiles by the common people are also part crab (making for an excellent theme of a B-horror film) because of their tendency to attack prosperous businesses here in our own country. As Bob Ong said in one of his books: “When a tree you’ve raised through hard word work grows and bears fruit, envious people will throw rocks at your fruits until they fall and are rendered useless.” Using a combination of red-tape and legalized bullying with both lawyers and police officers, the government either extorts local companies that they deem too prosperous without their consent or shut them down altogether when they refuse to cooperate.

In the end, our countrymen are often forced to leave the country and establish themselves somewhere where the business sector is not ruled by a criminal syndicate.

The Profits from Revenue

Another contributing factor as to why there are so many OFWs is because it also has some benefit for the government. That’s right, thanks to the heavy taxes that OFWs need to pay just to give enough money for their families back home, the government makes a good profit off of the hard-work of Filipinos working in unpleasant or dangerous conditions. The fact that they are often treated as nothing more than second-class citizens where they work and are sometimes abused by their employers almost never occur to the government officials who seek to take advantage of the toil of our fellows in other countries.

For every buck that an overworked, underpaid (yes, our countrymen usually earn less than local employees at where they work oversees) and unappreciated Filipino sends back to his family, the government takes about ten to improve the mansions of their mistresses. So while the families of OFWs certainly live well, it can be argued that they can live better if only the right system and mindset could be placed into Filipino society.

***

When I was in college and getting my degree in nursing, there were countless people (I suppose you could include me among them, as well) who longed for a chance to work overseas and earn big bucks. However, there was always the nagging question of as to why it seemed that the only hope the common Filipino had for a promising career and a decent living lies beyond the borders of the country. Why so many of us have to leave our homes and our families behind at the mercy of fate when there is so much potential to be had in our beloved Philippines has always been some of the bigger disappointments I’ve had with our country.

The media insists to us that the Philippines is a wealthy and developing country. Again, I will not deny that the Philippines certainly has plenty of potential as a nation. Unfortunately, whatever potential we have is squandered and whatever benefits that can be gained from them is monopolized by the oligarchs that run the major institutions in the Philippines.

The media also insists to us that our OFWs are our heroes as they keep our economy afloat. If so, why can’t we honor these “heroes” and bring them home to be with their families? Why can’t they establish their own prosperous businesses or start up their own careers here in the Philippines where they don’t need to go far? Instead, they have to go to other countries, far away from their spouses, children and other family members. In that time, they could be maltreated by their foreign employers, or worse, killed through injustice. In that time, their children, without the guidance of their parents, could be led astray by misinterpreted messages from the media and could find themselves living a self-destructive lifestyle, or worse, becoming involved in criminal activities. In that time, the government will be taking away more of their hard-earned money to facilitate unnecessary and often self-serving programs that will lead to further destabilization and destitution of our country.

What makes it all worse is that OFWs send money back to the Philippines to provide schooling for their children who will, more likely than not, become OFWs themselves in order to provide for their own families. In the end, our government and their greed has trapped us and many of our countrymen in a vicious cycle of semi-slavery where a lot of us must work in other countries as second-class citizens just to make ends meet.

While I am certainly impressed by the courage and determination of our OFWs, I long for the day when they no longer have to work like slaves in other countries and can secure a good living and a promising future for their children in their very own homeland.