‘sang tanong kay ma’m Jacinda…

repatriated OFWs

[No medical, legal or immigration advice is offered here, and none should be taken. Thank you and thanks for reading! ]

A FAMOUS ACTRESS once said, ask the right questions if you want the right answers. To me then, the right question at this moment isn’t when is the lockdown gonna be lifted, when are we getting back to work, how long will the wage subsidy last or even when will the virus be contained? (Although that last one, if answered, would solve a lot of problems.)

The right question varies person to person and is different in every situation, but in mine, it’s kailan ako makakauwi nang matiwasay? When will I be able to go home without fear of displacement?

To a lot of migrants as well as OFWs aspiring for permanent status, while we eventually align ourselves with our adopted countries, we never lose love and loyalty for our original flag and country. We derive pride and strength, draw memory and tradition from where we were born and raised, and fell in love. ( I realize not all may share the intensity of emotion, but you know who you are, smiley face.) We may be citizens or permanent residents of the country we’re now in, but we will always be Filipinos.

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Under New Zealand’s general lockdown rules, all commercial flights out of the country are impractical and ill-advised, as any kind of non-essential travel is discouraged and people required to stay within their “social bubble” at home. Besides, although there is still international travel allowed in Auckland Airport, these would mostly be for repatriation purposes only, for foreigners in New Zealand wishing to return to their countries of origin.



Even if by some minor miracle you’d be able to leave New Zealand, Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and all Luzon airports have been closed to all commercial flights between March 17 and April 13, subject to review (which was extended to the end of April). Mahirap talaga. It’s really hard.

How long before you revisit the chaos and endless traffic of EDSA? How long before you witness another Santacruzan ? Or even the local dawn Mass (Misa de Gallo) nine straight days up to Christmas Eve?

Likelier than not, not this year. (How about next year? Iffy, malabo pa sa sabaw ng pusit.) Even if you had the chance and travel restrictions were lifted, would you recklessly leave under the cloud of so much uncertainty, especially those holding temporary visas and tenuous work arrangements?

For sure, the benefits of closing borders are universal in the time of the Virus. Health after all is wealth, and without health, work, social interaction and the simple pleasures of life wouldn’t be possible. And the migrant / OFW, above all, is in New Zealand for work and the immediate needs of his family.

But what about the long-term? We want to stay here of course, lahat na including the healers, the builders, the coders and kusineros. But at some point we need to go home, recharge and regroup.

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It might be too early to talk about these things, but for nearly three months now, the whole civilized world has been turned upside down, New Zealand included. nearly half a year’s plans have been put on hold (affecting the rest of the year, too). Schedules have been crushed and dreams have been put in limbo. in the meantime, savings have dwindled to almost nothing, incomes shrunk beyond recognition, and assets reduced to values almost unthinkable a few months back. What to do, what to do?

Going back to an almost visceral need to return to one’s native soil, I’ve a cousin whose mother suddenly died after a failed recovery from emergency surgery. The mother (my own mother’s first cousin) had daughters in Wellington and Dallas, Texas but neither daughter had a ghost of a chance kissing their last goodbyes to their mahal na ina.

Adjusting to the realities of the times, an online memorial service was held among my aunt’s five children and dozen grandchildren and extended family. No one tried physical attendance or arrangements, only prayers, testimonies and their mom’s earthly remains on Zoom was available.

Death is probably the ultimate reason for an urgent or sudden trip home, despite the lockdown. But there may be other reasons as well. Illness in the family, births, or how about the need to donate rare blood type or even an organ?

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It’s often repeated, but we are all in uncharted territory. How we manage a balance between lockdown and normal life, including business and yes, travel, will determine whether survival, now an if, becomes a when.

Stay safe everyone, thanks for reading and mabuhay!






praning much

MRT queue

[ thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to Philippine Canadian Inquirer, maraming Salamat po! ]

THERE’S A short, one-sentence version of this, if you really have no time to proceed further, just read the following kabayan and / or friend : what if, being an essential worker during the virus pandemic, you become part of the problem? For a few hours last shift, this is what I contemplated, with both near- and far-reaching consequences.

[ Where I work now in New Zealand, “essential worker” means a worker working in an industry that the rest of the country cannot do without, meaning society couldn’t continue to function if the industry stopped functioning, for example the medical professions, telecommunications and the IT industries, police and emergency, etc. ]

At work, it all started with the hot flashes night before last. I know menopause happens with the fairer gender. But because I’m in that certain age, maybe even men aren’t spared. More than hot flashes, it was like “throbbing” in the head, chest and joints. That was when my imagination started going into overtime.

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Complicating things a bit was lack of sleep the previous night, and a bit too much coffee. I was betting that these factors contributed to sore joints and a bit of tightness in the chest.

But of course you ask, Precious Reader: what if it was something else? What if it was the scourge of our generation, the plague claiming the health of more than a million across the globe and abruptly choking (literally) the lives of nearly a fifth of that massive number?

I was doing my regular and routine chores, but admittedly I couldn’t concentrate. I was on cruise control, relying on muscle memory, where my arms and limbs, coordinated by my senses, were just going through the motions and doing things they were so used to doing the last five years or so. But inside my mind was in turmoil.

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Immediate thoughts were frivolous, in view of the stakes involved, namely my health and my life. my job was in an essential business and industry, and I thought of how my need to stop work would affect everyone else. more than my absence, everyone around me would have to pause from working too and get tested. What a horrific thought that was, and just then I realized something scarier.

Being over 40, I was already in a risk group. people my age were more than 10 times likelier to become a casualty in the life-or-death war of the virus against mankind. This fact alone caused me to think things through one week, one month and one year ahead from the present time.

One week ahead: would I be bedridden in a strange hospital bed, cut off from loved ones and the rest of the world? Every breath a labored chore, every move a painful challenge?

One month ahead: would I be saying goodbye and considering my exit strategy from work, social connections, life itself? Would my mind be filled with a balance of fulfillment and regret, knowing that my actions of only a few weeks ago were the last, defining moments of an OFW far from home?

One year ahead: would I just be a distant memory, one nameless statistic among the hundreds of thousands in the war against a virus that had ravaged our modern times?

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Back to the present : I knew there was an easy way to erase my doubts and resolve my wild imaginings.

A thermometer gun nearby was used to detect early signs of overheating from our factory machines, but it would serve the purpose of removing my uneasiness. Without a moment’s hesitation, I pointed the gun on my wrist.

The digital screen read : 35 degrees.

For now, all the crazy thoughts that had consumed me were momentarily lifted.

But maybe they weren’t so crazy after all. In this uncertain world, it’s good to be praning.

Stay safe everyone!




catching up with Pinoys’ greatest gift to the NZ pandemic – kabayan health workers

[thank you, thank you and maraming Salamat sa mga kabayang nars na lumahok sa aming munting panayam, tulad ni Kristine Dianne Balatbat kasalukuyang nagwowork bilang registered nurse sa Capital & Coast District Health Board;  one of the most distinguished nursing professionals in NZ, Monina Hernandez (pink scrubs), president of the Filipino Nurses Association of New Zealand and Member of the Nursing Council of New Zealand; and Yen Canada-Wong, formerly of Hutt Hospital but now a full-time wife and mother. Yen had a personal connection to the 11 Pinoy nurses who perished in the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. They are identified below by their first names in CAPS, comments edited for brevity. Mabuhay kayo idols! ]

I DON’T THINK anyone will argue with me right now when I say that the Pinoy community’s greatest gift to New Zealand in the middle of the Covid19 pandemic is our Filipino health workers, not least the 4337 (as of 2017) nurses that heal, monitor and give comfort to those suffering from the coronavirus and related illnesses in New Zealand.

Appreciated, overachieving and brilliant as they are, our health workers are very human, and very Filipino, meaning they need love, interaction and laughter as much as anyone of us in our barangay, whether we be in North or South Island, Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, or anywhere else in Aotearoa.

I approached these most essential of the essential workers (but our supermarket workers, food industry workers, emergency services and IT workers are equally important) and asked them a few questions, their off-the-cuff feelings and remarks on their job, the situation, and fellow kabayan Filipinos :

Anyone can react to this, and the answers are rather obvious, but I need to ask: how do we Filipinos thrive in the lockdown environment?

YEN : I think as Filipino, we are used to weathering the storms. As a migrant, I’ve learned to be flexible and basically make do. It might be daunting to be stuck at home but I’ve been trying a few Filipino recipes. Even made some homemade longganisa, it’s been going good for us so far.

KRISTINE DIANNE : But as Filipinos I believe nurses like me are resourceful and cope readily with these situations. I know Filipinos are very much prepared at this time as they buy the things and necessities they need during this said lockdown.

MONINA : Generally speaking, we all know that Pinoys are flexible, resilient and tech savvy. I suppose all Pinoys are thriving well socially speaking, even if they have to socialise via social media/phone/chats. I think one thing that would be a challenge is for those who are working in essential services. I think a huge proportion of Filipinos work in this area and with that they really have to be careful with how they carry on with their work because they are exposed to the risk of getting COVID due to their work. This means that they are also exposing their families to the risk of COVID because they have to get out of their ‘bubbles’ all the time. Another risk that Pinoys have to face is the loss of income due to business closure or perhaps losing a job. In these instances, I suppose our kababayan here in NZ may need some support from government if they belong in this category.

“We don’t have the virus. Please stay at home for us

as we stay at work for everyone.”

How has Covid19 impacted your profession and work?

KRISTINE DIANNE : The current covid 19 pandemic changed our lives as healthcare professionals. Other workers are staying at home, but we need to stay outside in order to help other people, especially the sick ones. It plays a huge impact especially when you are going to  use public transport and there are times some people will discriminate against you, while some will highly respect you. Each day I wake up thanking the Lord for being alive that I can serve the people again. I know it is a difficult part of our work as healthworkers as we are the frontliners. Since NZ announced the lockdown, the biggest worry for me is how to go to work and how to go home safely as we’re allowed limited time on public transport.

As an individual who lives alone in NZ, there is also a worry as I am thinking about my family way back home. But I am very privileged we have the modern technology to reconnect to them and a videocall wouldn’t transmit the virus anyway.

MONINA : COVID has been a huge challenge to the nursing profession because of the risk of exposure and the demand for them to cover for other colleagues when they have to self-isolate or when they are sick.

The biggest challenge?

KRISTINE DIANNE : (answers the question with a request) the challenge for ourselves and our kabayan is to not to make us feel discriminated against. We don’t have the virus. We are taking care of ourselves and please, during the lockdown, stay home for us as we stay at work for everyone. Please be kind at the midst of the crisis. Let us not be selfish. Let us offer our help to our fellow kababayan.

Bonus question. The craziest or most inspiring story about your job since the lockdown?

KRISTINE DIANNE : The craziest story I’ve  heard since the lockdown is about people who try to avoid you because they think you have the virus, thinking you are carrying the virus but in fact you follow stricter safety measures compared to anyone else. But the most inspiring story I had Kuya is when people in the hospital like me try our best to cope with the stress by diversional activities like having a good sense of humor out of everything.

MONINA : The craziest? Everyone seems to want to have online meetings! Inspiring – Everyone who follows the rule in staying in their bubbles. It’s not easy and everyone is making a sacrifice. They have learned to adapt though with their creative activities at home.

Another would be all the essential workers and of course the health workers (who are of course, part of essential services), what they do and their sacrifice to make our lives resemble normality. Health workers are gearing up for the worst which builds the country’s capability to respond to very critical times, as when the numbers of Covid19 positive cases in critical condition go up. Lots of trainings, sourcing of resources, engineering work, etc. are happening behind the scenes to prepare for this. That is very reassuring, because we are ready.

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Very well said. Spare a thought please today for all our essential workers and front liners!

Do you have a story about yourself as a health professional or about someone you know as a health professional and frontliner that makes all of us Pinoys in NZ proud? Please tell us all about it via the comments section below or email us at noel0514@yahoo.com.  Mabuhay!