ingatan ang naumpisahang pangarap sa NZ


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[Kent Espinosa, Hannah Ramoso, and the kabayan who made the supreme sacrifice, Angelo Tuyay. Lives taken too soon. So sorry we didn’t find pics of Allan Allarde Navales and the other kabayan who drowned in Whanganui River. Thanks and acknowledgment to the families of Kent, Hannah and Angelo. ]

FOR WHATEVER REASONS and despite the Philippines being an archipelago surrounded by the seven seas,  we Pinoys haven’t been that lucky in water here. Three drowning deaths  in the last 12 months and one machinery-related on a cruise ship in New Zealand waters is high enough in absolute terms, but given the strict health and safety culture and relatively small numbers of Filipinos in NZ, unacceptably high.

We know the tragic deaths were accidental, because outside of one where a middle-aged kabayan selflessly gave up his life to save others, the three remaining Pinoys were all in their late 20s to early 30s, all in the pink of health and just beginning to enjoy the fruits of their hard work in both the Philippines and New Zealand.

[A fifth accident involved a Pinay unfortunate enough to be hit on a Christchurch intersection along with two other pedestrians, and succumbed to her brain injuries less than 24 hours later.]

I have a very simple way of viewing things, going by the saying when you have eliminated all of the possibilities, the one remaining, however improbable, must be the truth. In all the accidents involving Filipinos, great care had been observed, the ones we lost were all good swimmers, and the weather wasn’t that bad. We can only surmise that in the respective environments the Pinoys were in, not enough attention was paid to the risks involved in swimming in those areas.

River currents, usually manageable can suddenly turn against you and pull you all directions. Undertows or rip currents are treacherous and can make even the most experienced swimmer disappear, even in relatively shallow waters. And almost needless to say, the sudden change in weather, that New Zealand is notoriously known for is known to play a great part in adding to the dangers of swimming outdoors.

There’s not much we can do in managing nature, but we can manage the odds when it comes to safety in swimming. Put health and safety above everything else, no exceptions and 24-7. Health and safety never takes a day off, so neither should we. No matter how safe a beach or river is, there are certain areas that are to be avoided. Let’s just avoid those areas! Like driving, we should just swim to the conditions.

Then there’s also the matter of evaluating yourself before and during swimming. Do you go ahead and enter the water after a full meal? Do you swim when intoxicated? Do you swim in adverse conditions like poor weather, nighttime or in beaches known for their dangerous conditions? If you said yes to any of those questions, maybe it’s time for a shift in paradigm. Getting to New Zealand and settling down here is hard enough , let’s not waste half a lifetime of effort and dreams by carelessly spending free time in dangerous waters.

Lastly, the tool of communicating any and all safety information before we enjoy beach and river activities is literally life-saving and therefore essential. Knowing where lifeguards and the availability of emergency services might mean the difference between life and death. The Philippine Embassy in New Zealand goes further, recommending that any kabayan coordinate and seek advice of the Pinoy community wherever and whenever we swim. In this particular situation, the spirit of bayanihan will keep us all alive and well.

Thank you for reading and mabuhay po tayong lahat!


“utang na loob,” sa pananaw ng OFW (the Filipino’s debt of gratitude, in an OFW’s eyes)

rock-climbers-helping-each-other-1[Google Translate says it all : type in utang na loob in the space for Filipino and the English translation says “indebtedness” which very insufficiently describes what you want described. Just a few of our thoughts on the matter. thanks for reading, thanks and photo acknowledgment to]

NAPAKAHIRAP IPALIWANAG sa dayuhan ang kunsepto ng utang na loob. Sa simpleng formula ng dagdag at bawas, once nakapagbayad ka ng utang, tapos na yon. Di madaling intindihin ang tuloy-tuloy at walang-tigil na pagtanaw ng utang sa katrabaho, kaibigan o kamag-anak. Kung hindi ka Pinoy or may asawang Pinoy, di makukuha sa unang paliwanag (o kahit pangalawa) ang katagang utang na loob.

What we fail to explain to many non-Filipinos (and probably to ourselves) is that although the idea of utang na loob is abstract to others and particular to our culture, in my humble opinion utang na loob in itself is subdivided into different levels and degrees. A good situation in which to explain utang na loob is the OFW (overseas Filipino worker) setting, where at the outset, the OFW is almost always forced to ask help from others.

But before that, I need a working definition of utang na loob that hopefully you will agree with, that we can both use. From personal experience, what we hear, and popular culture, utang na loob for me is a debt that may or may not be financial, so massive that it may take a lifetime to pay, or a debt that can never be repaid, from the perspective of either the creditor or debtor, or sometimes both. Does that work? OK.

For a better understanding of utang na loob, the theory is that all debts under this category take a lifetime of payback, that you keep paying it back, only in different degrees. The person you borrow from may think you returned too much, or “sobra ang bawi,” and may likewise feel obligated to return some of it, therefore repeating the process of having to pay it back, and so forth and so on:

Minor utang na loob, or little things to help the OFW’s family while the OFW is away. When the OFW leaves, his wife is left with multiple kids and responsibilities. Undoubtedly she’ll need a little help babysitting and minding the household. You do this, because well you take care of your own kids anyway, what’s one more. Besides, your kumpare’s son gets along with your own. The two boys become as close as siblings, going to school together, playing after school, even having sleepovers. You look after the boy as if he was your own. Your kumpare never forgets this small kindness, and when you yourself need a little assistance when it’s your turn to go abroad, he looks after your son. Just returning the favor.

I don’t know if we can classify this as utang na loob, actually, because it’s not massive and it doesn’t take a lifetime to pay back. But it’s the unanticipated sneakiness of the transaction, for example I do this for you, you do this for me. It’s almost like an I scratch your back you scratch mine affair. Before you know it, there’s been a lifetime of doing and returning favors. But still the spirit of utang na luob is there.

Moderate utang na loob, or favors relatives would do for each other, that makes life a lot easier for the debtor. A good example for this is the newcomer or newbie OFW in a strange land. His friend or distant relative has been there ahead of the newbie, and therefore has had a chance to settle his affairs, found a place to stay etc. or even bring in all or part of his family to stay as long as he works in said strange land.

So the one ahead (let’s call him the kuya  or senior OFW) does the natural and decent thing: he takes the bunso or younger OFW in, gives him room and board, feeds him a couple of weeks, does everything for him while the latter prepares himself for living overseas. Even documentation, paperwork, getting a car, all the little (but big) things that make life so much easier, and more importantly, shelters the junior OFW from unscrupulous and the fraudsters, sadly some of them OFWs themselves, and saving him a whole lot of wasted cash, disappointment and hassle.

Because of this, junior OFW gets settle in easily, gets his family earlier than expected, and his life prospers ahead of schedule. What does he do? Years later, when senior OFW gets sick, needs to go home (he has not prepared for the uncertainties of illness and occupational hazards) and leaves everything behind, bunso or younger OFW takes in the family of the elder who have suddenly become homeless and vulnerable, filling in the gaps while all the resources are devoted to Kuya’s recovery. And when Kuya OFW’s retirement finally arrives, who else is there for the help and support while Kuya’s family gets back on its feet? Of course it’s Bunso OFW, now a manager, who hires Kuya’s eldest son to work abroad, repeating history, and paying forward the kindness he so gratefully received from Kuya years back.

Madalas tayong makakita ng pagganti ng utang na loob between our kabayan, but in reality it’s often seen between co-workers, townmates (magkababayan) and relatives. It’s a revival and extension of the Golden Rule, doing for others what you’d want them to do for you. Especially in times of need.

Major utang na loob, or massive favors that change the lives of the debtor for the better. I forgot to mention that junior or bunsong OFW even before being helped by Kuya OFW, already incurred a massive debt of gratitude from his godfather or Ninong. His godfather not only paid the recruitment fee that enlisted Junior for that precious job abroad, Ninong also lent him money for the airplane ticket, without which his first day on the job wouldn’t have been possible.

The utang (debt) was a “soft loan,” meaning pay when able, payable whenever and wherever Junior and his family was ready to pay. Loans like these are often without interest and can remain unpaid for many years if at all. No matter, Ninong never expected it to be repaid anyway.

But Bunsong OFW was and is a man of gratitude and long memory. He not only repaid the debt in full within three years (albeit without  interest), when Ninong unexpectedly died and left behind a widow, Bunso not only rushed home to take care of the funeral and post-funeral details, he also asked his Ninang (not really a godmother but out of respect a title given to his godfather’s wife) first to visit them abroad, and then ultimately to live with them. This, something Ninang’s own children couldn’t do for her.

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But Bunso, his wife or kids didn’t care. For him, it was merely a debt being repaid, although the principal was repaid many many years ago. He was merely doing what he thought was expected of him. Not only was his Ninang like family to him and considered a second mother, he and the rest of his family felt happy doing it. Unsurprisingly, his family was all the better for it, as Ninang, grateful for being needed and the company of a second family, gave all of her life and energy, until literally the end of her life.

All’s well that ends well, for such is the nature of utang na loob. For sure sometimes it’s abused, but on balance it is here to stay with us Filipinos.

What is your idea of utang na loob? Answers will be appreciated, kabayan or no.

Thanks for reading, happy Easter! Maligayang Pasko ng Pagkabuhay!

a small Pinoy community’s Russell Westbrook moment


I ENJOY WATCHING him play (like I do all basketball players), but I’m not a Russell Westbrook fan. (Westbrook is a rich, talented and oftentimes moody pro basketball player in the American NBA) However, he did something that I admired recently. Knowing : (1) he risked tipping the balance of public sentiment against him, (2) he would be fined regardless of who would be found at fault, and (3) he was already a polarizing media figure, he went ahead anyway and retaliated (verbally) against a racist taunt made against him in the course of an NBA game last month. (his response wasn’t perfect, but if you were confronted with a racist taunt against you, how perfect would yours have been?) Opinions were mixed, but ultimately he was proven right, and vindicated.

Doing the right thing, not necessarily popular thing, standing up for your race, humanity and beliefs isn’t an easy thing in this emotionally charged, hyper PC day and age. I call what he did his moment, or the Russell Westbrook moment.

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Fast forward to a few days ago, in the Ashburton area (township and surrounds) of New Zealands, Canterbury region (the cradle and hotbed of rugby union excellence). Population of around 35,000, probably a goodly portion of which are migrants, of which a lot are Filipinos.

On an Ashburton Facebook page popped up a neighborhood watch type post about an intruder spotted in a residence, fair enough for a neighborhood FB page. Unfortunately the post-er proceeded to describe the intruder as “Filipino looking.” The certainty and certitude of the poster was beyond doubt, no ifs and buts about it. The post is as you’ve probably already seen reproduced above.

The comments that followed the post , unsurprisingly, are numerous and varied, but heartwarmingly the identities are not just but mostly Filipino, the outrage palpable. If not for the unique English used, you could almost feel the anger, the incredulity and the viciousness of the responses.

It takes a kabayan (countryman) to make out and understand the comments, but the gist is this: who are you to judge firstly that your unknown intruder is a Filipino, and then to make a sweeping judgment that Filipinos are thieves or criminals?

The comments could’ve been more circumspect , made in a more diplomatic way, or the Pinoys in the area could’ve referred the matter to police, just to get the heat off them.

But no. Instead they let off steam and let known to the poster what his comments were: hurtful, indiscriminate, and for the words and context, simply racist.

There is a place for tactful and positive discussion, and there is a place for immediate response. The Filipinos of Ashburton did not have time nor patience, and for this situation they chose the latter.

This was their Russell Westbrook moment. This was our Russell Westbrook moment.

Mabuhay po kayo Ashburton kabayan!

(for the curious, here’s a capsulized version of the Russell Westbrook incident. thanks to The Guardian website.)

a unanimity of kindness, a plurality of beliefs: a migrant’s lesson from Christchurch

those who made the supreme sacrifice in the name of religious freedom.

I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it. – attributed to Voltaire.

SPENT A few weeks back home in the Philippines, so I’m getting used to looking right (instead of left) before crossing the street again. Also getting used to the weather, speaking in Kiwi English instead of Taglish (Tagalog + English), not putting tuyo (dried fish) in the office microwave or anything strong smelling like that.

But New Zealand is also back to a little getting-used-to me, your kabayan. My infectious smile, laughter and tendency to get in the middle of your daily goodmorninghellohowareyou with my concern for your daily life and issues. My funny accent and way of saying things. Generally, my being Asian, my being Filipino and admittedly my being sensitive both ways (positively and negatively).

It’s no big deal. New Zealand is famous for its tolerant, welcoming mood as regards visitors, guest workers and migrants, opening its doors to those running away from war, poverty and persecution. It may not be as much as others in the first world, but NZ punches above its weight, for its size and population, when it comes to admitting migrants refugees and people who most need the help from the cruelties of modern history.

At least, this is what I’ve seen and I’ve known. I’ve learned to trust in the warm and welcoming nature of both New Zealand and New Zealanders.

Until the middle of March, when a gunman opened fire in two Mosques in Christchurch, in what the New Zealand news media has called the Christchurch shootings, but what should more properly known as the Christchurch massacre.

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Despite the horror and bloodshed that took place, my perception of New Zealand hasn’t changed. Most of the country is rightfully outraged and horrified that such a thing could happen here, maybe naively believing that it would never happen, but still hoping that it’s a “one-off”, meaning an isolated incident that is not indicative of things to come.

Out of every 1,000 New Zealanders believing and doing the right thing, I have to admit there are one or two who believe it was something that was bound to happen, and is a reflection of the multitudes of opinions and beliefs that are part of the environment of a free and democratic society that is New Zealand.

This is the reality that not only migrants like myself but everyone must live with in one of the most open, freedom-loving and pluralistic countries in the world where all values are respected, or at least allowed to co-exist.

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Migrants, as much as anyone, must accept the reality that in New Zealand, we accept the good with the bad. Everyone (within reason) must be allowed to live according to what they believe is right, just and moral. It’s part of the deal when you live here.

Initially we are the outsiders, welcomed into the fold of a hospitable host country where eventually we become part of the family. In that family, there are ideal, average, good, objectionable, and downright bad. We may or may not like all our family members, but that is what they are : family. The family of New Zealanders.

More than anything else, this is the lesson I have taken out from the Christchurch shootings. New Zealand, yes, is the land of the free. But freedom means you always need to look to your left and to your right, just so you are aware of who your fellow New Zealanders are.

And if need be, just to be safe, to look behind your back.