“kung di tayo, sino? kung di ngayon, kailan pa?”

POLO officers and Filcom

[ Note : Title attributed to University of the Philippines Philippine Collegian editor, activist and political detainee Abraham “Ditto” Sarmiento, who died before his time. It means “if not us, who? If not now, when?” I may have used this title before, sorry ]

I MAY HAVE said this before (I won’t swear on it though) but when I was between work visas waiting for paperwork a few years ago, I answered an Auckland ad working in a “dairy” (small grocery store or supermarket). The pay was half minimum wage (don’t even ask how much), show up only when you get the call, no job description, just do whatever the eff boss asks you to do. I did it, and was none the worse for wear.

I didn’t know it then, but I put myself in a vulnerable position; it seemed harmless and just a temporary gig at the time, but I had put myself in a dodgy position of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I was just lucky to have survived relatively unscathed.

Not so lucky were kabayan in recent weeks, five tragically involved in a train accident, Pinoy workers living in deplorable conditions, and in an unpublished incident, 2 Filipinos involved in a car accident.

What I shared in common with these unfortunate kabayan? It’s the conclusion that if someone had taken the time to tell us what we were doing was (1) not right, (2) risky, (3) not asserting our rights or (4) outright dangerous, then we would be still alive or at the very least, better off now.

Luckily, we have compassionate, tireless and visionary kabayan in Wellington led by Filipino Migrants and Workers’ Trust (Wellington) director Alicat Lozano and Chona Smart, one-man post-arrival orientation team Gregguil Besa, KABAYANews Wellington publisher Matilde Tayawa-Figuracion, KASAGIP Chairman Marcelo Esparas, Filifest chairman Anita Mansell and Wairarapa community leader Ryan Erwin Soriano who as a  bayanihan group met officials from the Philippine National Government, represented by Labor Attache’ Cynthia Lamban, seeking to set up a Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Wellington (POLO) to fully promote and defend the labor rights of OFWs not just in Wellington but elsewhere in New Zealand.

Discussed were horror stories of Filipinos being forcibly repatriated without any form of insurance coverage, the unscrupulous side of “pastoral care” (post-arrival care for newly arrived OFWs), and urgent and palliative are withheld from critically injured kabayan as no one was around to decide for them.

A fine line and distinction was made between responsibilities of the Philippine government and the duty of the employer in protecting OFWs from sudden repatriation from redundancy, unexpected events like sickness and accidents, and protection from fraud and criminal activity, sadly sometimes committed by fellow kabayan.

While it’s a bit ironic that it took an orientation meeting between government reps and volunteers to find out that what’s sustained Filipino labor during the dark times has been the helping hands of kapwa Pinoys (fellow Pinoys), it’s no longer time to assign blame from the past, but to rather look forward to unified efforts in the future.

After all, no one will help us except ourselves, and there’s nothing like the present. 🙂

Thanks and acknowledgment all around for the passion and volunteerism of our community leaders mentioned above and many many others, the Philippine Embassy in Wellington led by His Excellency Ambassador Jesus Gary Domingo, First Secretary and Consul Querobine Laccay, Third Secretary and Vice Consul Feamor Tiosen, Marivic Reyes, Marc Asilom, Katrina Ciara Garcia, and embassy staff and officials, all our tireless volunteers, and of course the eternal hero of our Inang Bayan, the Overseas Filipino Worker, who makes all our dreams possible!

Mabuhay po tayong lahat!

ano naman ang ayaw nila sa ating mga Pinay? (now what don’t they like about our Pinays?)

Mixed race couple walking in a park holding hands, back view

[ Felicitations and every good wish for policy and political excellence as the first ethnic Filipino in the New Zealand Parliament, kabayan and now M.P. Paolo Garcia! Mabuhay ka! ]

Good morning Precious Reader. If you’ve followed or read this space even once before, you’ve known that now and always we’ve been positive about ourselves, our community and our identity. Specifically how it bounces back to us from friends, spouses, co-workers and other members of the migrant community we live in.

So a very slight change of pace this time. I was curious about the nega things people say about us Pinoys. Specifically, people who have, by choice or otherwise, lived up close and personal with us, spent quality time with us living, working, exercising, pursuing hobbies with or other activities where slowly but surely you get to know a person or persons. After all, those are the people who you’d expect to best know us right?

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Here are their observations, from a very small sample size. Up to you to discern any biases or obvious inaccuracies, but when you think about it, who are we to judge non-Pinoys on how they perceive us? Just a little qualifier here, most of the observations pertain to Pinays not Pinoys, for the simple reason that the respondents have had more exposure to the fairer gender:

Extended help to extended family. Nearly all of the respondents, not just the ones married to Pinays, were aware that a lot of us send money home regularly not just to immediate family (including parents and siblings) but unsurprisingly (to us) to cousins, nephews, nieces and grandparents as well.

There is no value judgment that those I asked make: it’s neither a good or bad thing, just that (1) they, the remitters (as they’re called) should think of themselves first, the money isn’t available forever , and (2) the recipients should have an appreciation of the efforts and intentions behind each remittance, specifically that it shouldn’t be an excuse for indolence and dependence.

OK, now don’t gang up on me, wag nyo po akong pagtulungan, I’m just the messenger here, accumulating a few well-meaning opinions that I solicited, nothing volunteered. And that’s that…

not a very good example for this topic, but as you can see, the guy (actor James Woods) is so much older than his girlfriend Kristen Bauguess. Easy to make wrong conclusions.

opportunism vs lovability. This actually is a very emotional and subjective observation, but some people say Asians, not just Filipinos, seek out Caucasian men especially from countries like the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in order to dramatically enhance their migration opportunities to said countries. But it’s a chicken-and-egg situation right? Did love, mutual love cause the decision to migrate to the guy’s country where, after all, life is easier? Or did a well-planned opportunity to migrate finalize itself in a decision to make oneself the prize to a lonely, lovesick guy from the land of milk and honey?

The level of bluntness in the last few sentences highlights the contrast between the love of couple who fell head over heels, and the dispassionate observations of friends and relatives with supposedly good intentions. How do you know they don’t actually love each other? How do you not know she’s not good for him? How do you know she’s not gonna leave him as soon as she sorts her paperwork? And so on and so forth.

And do you know to whom it matters , at the end of the day? Not the friends, not the in-laws, not even the best friends of both sides. It matters only to the couple, as it takes two to tango, and nobody ever forces anyone to do anything against their will. Enough said.

Timidity. This refers to both Pinoys and Pinays, and without asking for opinions and observations, I know many of our hosts think this to be true: We never complain, we never clarify, and we never tell the truth, which in this case is that we are sometimes taken advantage of at work. The common denominator here is we are afraid to speak out for fear of rocking the boat, or at worst, losing our jobs. This opens us up to potential abuse and human nature being what it is, we frequently do.

How many times have you seen Pinoy and Pinay workers doing the jobs of two people only because we never complain? How many times have you seen opportunistic bosses and supervisors asking Pinoys and Pinays to do night shift, the longest shifts, and overtime on weekends? Always and plenty. And how many times have lustful lowlifes harass their female AND male Pinoy staff who just bite their collective tongues and endure the humiliation? As they say, sindalas ng tilaok ng manok (as often as the cock crows). It’s a part of life that shouldn’t be a part of life. Because Pinoys and Pinays deserve better.

Bonus items. In the interest of fair disclosure, good and bad, I further enumerate what’s been said about us, even though in a slightly different environment, when the Kiwi visits us in our home grounds in the Philippines. Those who’ve spent a little time there love us of course (that’s why they married us), but think the following : we suffer from a propensity to gossip,  overcharge potential buyers who obviously don’t look like fellow Filipinos, and use too much of “Joe” and “sir” for white guys. A lovely observation I heard though is that Filipinas, just because they already have multiple kids, don’t stop pampering their husbands. Tutoo naman. (For sure!)

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Just because these are seen as negatives in Filipinos doesn’t mean we can’t turn it into positives. We can always send money home, to build better lives for families, for a better town, country in the future. We can continue to cultivate relationships and look for love, without getting desperate to use these relationships as a stepping stone to a better life abroad. We can learn to speak out and assert our rights without being troublemakers. We are a truly positive people, and we can’t just let negatives influence who we are.

Mabuhay, thanks for reading!