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The truth about OFWs


Of the seven Juana Change videos that were shown last Friday during the premier, the one I liked best was about the OFW, “Bayani”. I liked it for the simple reason that it mirrored so much the typical Filipino’s attitude towards becoming an overseas Filipino worker. In the middle of the video, Juana change remarks that she does not need accolades and names referring to them as “ang bagong bayani.” “Ang kaylangan namin datung! Eh pano ba naman, kung may trabaho kami dyan sa Pinas, eh di hindi na kami lalabas pa!” (What we need is money! If there are jobs in the Philippines, we wouldn’t have to go abroad for work).

Whenever I’m asked if I want to work abroad, my usual no-drama reply is, “why not?” While I consider myself nationalistic (and the definition is broad), I still don’t think there’s anything wrong with working overseas. In fact, that to me is a badge of honor; something I can be proud of because I’m carrying my nationality with me and I’m proving all others wrong about their assumptions on Filipinos. Contrary to the belief of many, OFWs are not just DH or domestic helpers. I used to think that the moment we start sending in remittances back home, then we are considered OFWs. But that’s misinformation! All Filipinos who work abroad (professionals, skilled workers, blue-collared) are all OFWs. They work overseas.

But while I consider it noble and actually see myself working abroad, I’m very hesitant to be labeled an “OFW”. Or even to others that I know, I’m protective of what people will call them. Take the example of my sister who’s practicing Interior Design in the Middle East. When people ask what she’s doing there, I’m quick to say, “She’s an Interior Designer. She graduated from UP Diliman”, just to expel the notion that she’s a common worker. No, she’s a very bright lady who graduated from the top university in the Philippines and she is pursuing her dreams and goals in life abroad. But then I get a follow up question, “So why is she there?” and I’m always stopped short.

“Eh kasi…talented people like her…are not well compensated in our country.”

“Biruin mo yun, once she starts work, the most she can get is P—-, eh when you consider how much her talent is getting paid abroad….”

I hate to admit it, but the primary reason people leave the country is to get better compensation abroad. In short, sabi nga ni Juana Change, “datung”.

Which leads me back to why that video was so appealing to me. Filipinos are always in search of better opportunities and greener pastures, so they say. I’ll tell you, from the many people I know that are working abroad, that it’s not always because they want an “expansion of territory” or because they consider it “a noble dream” where they can gain new knowledge and develop their expertise. It’s not even because it’s their dream work. The truth is, we have no jobs to give our fellow Filipinos, and the jobs that we do have cannot even provide for us a good and decent living.

OFWs are not heroes. They don’t work abroad so they can help ‘alleviate’ our country’s economic status by their remittances. They don’t send remittances and think, “wow, the Philippines is going to stay afloat with this money I’m sending to my family.” What do they care if the remittances hit $13.5 billion for the year? What do statistics and figures mean to them and to us if not to tell us just how bad our situation is back home. There are very little jobs that can sustain an ordinary Filipino and I bet if he had a choice, he’d rather be working here than elsewhere.

I don’t want to be a hypocrite and pretend that my desire to work abroad is not influenced by the lure of better compensation. True: I want to experience working in a different country, get assimilated in a different culture, gain a wider and deeper perspective in terms of my career goals. But let’s not separate the fact that a big chunk of why, if I had the opportunity, I would work overseas is because I’d get compensated better than when I’m here in the Philippines.

Yan ang totoo, mga kapatid. Gusto ko din makapagipon, be able to sustain myself, and also help out with the expenses at home.

This is the noble and ‘real’ reason of many Filipinos.

Kaya wag natin pangalanan silang mga bagong bayani, dahil hindi sila nagpapakabayani. Nagpapakatotoo lamang sila. They need money to make a decent living –the kind that our country cannot provide for us. Yan ang katotohanan.


10 thoughts on “The truth about OFWs

  1. Haha. Thanks for the mention. I would like to point out as well that one other thing that drives people away like me is the level of security back in the Phils. I’ve been around many places but they dont feel as scary as Manila – where just simply walking on the streets can be your last walk. It may not be as bad as Baghdad but its still not relatively safe. We usually link the middle east with thoughts of terrorism, etc etc but the fact is – in Dubai and Bahrain anyway – it’s a hundred times safer than Manila.

  2. But KZ, can it not be both? Although it is not always the case, there have been instances where one might think that a better compensation is the primary reason why one works abroad. But hypocrisy aside, being abroad is nevertheless a source of pride for some just for the main fact that they are able to make something out of themselves and provide a modicum of support for their families back home. In a way — that captures some essence of being “heroic”. They may not see themselves as heroes of our country, but they sure do see themselves as heroes to their friends and families.

    I subscribe to the idea that not every individual decision is directly associated to the big man that is the state, sometimes its simply about individuals.

  3. You’re right, af. There are many Filipinos who work abroad not only because of the money factor. I agree with that. Like i said, I also want to work abroad and achieve this noble dream (that isn’t entirely money-related).

    I’m merely saying that when one wants to work abroad, the immediate assumption is: mas malaki kita nila dun. When you go down to the basics, when you start asking the ordinary filipinos why they want to work abroad, yun yung unang sagot.

    I also agree on your points on heroism, that they don’t necessarily consider themselves heroes to their country, but heroes on their own and to their family and loved ones. That they are called “mga bagong bayani” actually refers more to what they contribute to our country. our country labels them heroes because of the sacrifices they make for their families, but mostly because they keep our country afloat.

  4. Can’t help it to smile while watching the video. Really reflects the reality on OFWs. The message means to me two things: first, as way to pass the blame to government’s failure to provide jobs, second, to complain about endless suffering abroad to earn money just to send money back home.

    Let’s face it, it’s already a way of life. As OFW myself, never came to my mind to become a hero nor to think what others say about Ofw. But the fact is, mahirap malayo sa pamilya, and it breaks my heart if I think of my kids. I rather work during my spare time to earn extra than to complain.

    Tama lang na sabihing that the bottom line is money, and magpakatotoo.

    Ms. KZ, your blog is amazing.

  5. Hi! I would like to ask where is your sister working? I’m an interior designer too that dreams to work abroad. But my family only wants me to work in a safe country (UAE,Singapore, Hongkong, etc.)

    Thanks in advance!!!

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