Release at ginhawa : dodging the latest bullet (again)


thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to turbostaff.co.nz!

[Note: Precious Reader is encouraged to read between the lines in this post, as I can’t be too direct today. Maraming salamat po! ]

FOR PRIVACY REASONS, I can’t tell you exactly what I’m quietly celebrating today, but if you’ve heard my ravings and rantings often enough Precious Reader, you’ll know it’s something that’s very important to my migrant life.

THE FEELING OF BEING LESS WANTED. For most of my decade-long gig with my present employer, every work day has been  spent in the security of my job: not many locals want my job, and even those that do, quickly run out of patience and energy training for it. It has less to do with me than the job itself.

Shift work, manual labor, tediousness of tasks and chores and sheer boredom are the main factors why after a month or two of training, Kiwis (New Zealanders) suddenly decide the job isn’t for them and mumble a quick goodbye, or worse, just stop showing up without so much as a by-your-leave.

Which, for my employer and Your Loyal Blogger (ylbNoel), was fine for as long as I showed up on time, did the job, and never complained. Which is what I’ve done to this day, just that my commitment is no longer enough, and, coupled with the current situation (which I’ll touch on below), just won’t be enough reason for me to continue doing the job at the expense of the local population.

CHANGING VARIABLES. An ideal production team, doing three shifts of 8 hours five days a week, should be composed of six workers. For the longest time, and for as long as I can remember, our team has been staffed by exactly that, six people. The very same shortness of staff that has given me a bit of security in my employment has also created the same insecurity harbored by my employer for the same amount of time, the last 10 years. What if someone decides to leave? What if God forbid, an accident befell one of us and prevented us from returning to work long-term? And so on and so forth.

Which returned Boss Employer to the original question, why weren’t we training more, and recruiting more aggressively? With the unemployment, underemployment and plenitude of workers out there, aversion to my work conditions was simply no longer enough reason to not look for potential workers, even though admittedly it wasn’t the easiest job available.

CURRENT SITUATION. Especially because it has traditionally been known as the party of the workingman, the new party in power, the Labour Party, has made it known from Day One that more jobs, better jobs and higher paying jobs are tops on its agenda. You can say it in so many words like poverty alleviation, improving the quality of life and leveling up the basic services, but it can all be summed up in that four letter word : J-O-B-S.

Now, if you wanna create jobs in the wink of an eye, just like that, without too much grief, what’s the easiest, solutions-based and cheapest formula? You don’t have to be an economist or number cruncher to answer : that’s right, take a hard look at those guest workers, jobs that are held by non-New Zealanders, and for good measure give them that waitaminute-what’re-you-doing-in-my-beloved-New-Zealand-anyways stare?

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Never mind that these guest workers have been doing jobs that most New Zealanders would never even think of doing; never mind that guest workers give their jobs the loyalty, dedication and pride over and above, many times over, and never mind that these guest workers pay taxes, do the best they can, and do their share in running the New Zealand engine of growth, day in and day out, 365 days of the year.

For these generic reasons I would have been the least surprised if it would no longer be business as usual in my personal situation. And for a while, when my paperwork was up in the air, I had a distinct feeling that my days in Aotearoa were numbered.

**********               **********          **********

My fears turned out to be baseless; a mixture of paranoia and insecurity that my host  country wouldn’t do the right thing. Skills plus lack of local interest in job, given a rational and logical rules-based society equals the privilege of working here. 

Notice I used that word privilege. For all the the pluses and good points I’ve worked hard to create, for all the work ethic and loyalty I’ve shown, it is still my host’s choice on whether or not to let me work here. I know that, and for now I embrace it wholeheartedly.

I may or may not be here forever. But I savor every day.

Mabuhay New Zealand, at mabuhay ang Barangay ng mga Pinoy sa New Zealand!

Thanks for reading!

 

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the king is dead, long live the king!


LOOK WHO HAD US FOR LUNCH. Cabeza de Barangay de los Islas Filipinas and Secretary-General elect of FIRST Union, His Excellency Amb Gary Domingo and Kasamang Dennis Maga, just orienting us about the new Labour government. Mabuhay kayo!

[ Paunawa: in my five-plus years of blogging, I’m trying something new Precious Reader, albeit just for this post only. I’ll stop “journalistic pretense” or neutral discussion of the issues coinciding with the arrival of the new Labour Government in New Zealand, and tell it like it is, how these issues affect me personally. it’s one of the few perks of blogging, which is using an exclusively personal perspective, which is after all, how we live life, diba? ]

ESPECIALLY  IN countries with a parliamentary government, change can come in an instant. Call a snap election, regret it for the rest of your life. Just ask Theresa May of the United Kingdom. I’m not 100% sure, but Bill English could’ve taken his sweet time before announcing elections, although in hindsight, the writing was on the wall.

I confess I was one of those who were concerned about the ascension of Jacinda Ardern and the Labour party to power, with a little help from Winston Peters and his friends in the New Zealand First party. The only thing worse than a bad government is fear of the unknown; to what depths  a mismanaged economy will lead us, and the backlash against migrants and guest workers that  new government brings.

On the other side of the coin, there is a bukangliwayway  (sunrise) of new initiatives, new policies and ambitious plans to uplift the standard of living of people, renew the drive to preserve New Zealand’s 100% Pure brand, and other schemes that the previous government somehow lost sight of.

No matter what side of the fence you sit on, you can’t help but give the new custodians of government the chance to do well, even though, as human nature dictates, one resists change, embraces the old comfort zones, and is wary of efforts to change the old ways in favor of the new.

Please believe when I say this, Kabayan or Precious Reader because, even with my cozy comforts in New Zealand, I’m still caught between a rock and a hard place, the devil and the deep blue sea if you want. Sure I’m comfortable with a good job, a great environment and a very peaceful host country. But without getting into too much detail, I have no permanence, no long-term status, nothing I can call truly my own as a guest worker in New Zealand. So if there’s any change, and I say I’m wary about it, you might wanna give my words more weight than usual.

Courtesy of a kabayan who now has the ear of the Labour Party and has been working for both Pinoy OFW and resident workers in New Zealand long before the Labor-led coalition, he personally wanted to clear up a few of the concerns I aired in a previous blog (nakarating sa kanya, wow!):

Raising the minimum wage immediately, and up to $20 by 2020. I’m very lucky to be receiving a little more than the minimum wage of $15.25 an hour, especially since for a 1st World nation, it doesn’t leave much after the very basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter. One of the first priorities of the incoming Labor government is raising it towards the goal of the so-called living wage of $20. Many of our kabayan in the South Island are grateful to be working in New Zealand, but are not receiving much more than minimum, if at all.

This sounds partisan, but please don’t believe titans and apologists of big business when they say that kung tataasan nyo ang sahod hanggang di na namin kaya, magsasara na lang kami (If you’re gonna raise minimum wages to unreasonable levels, we might as well shut down the business). In the first place, there is always a balance between keeping your workers happy and keeping the business viable. Wages should always be a factor in maintaining your enterprise, no make that reasonable wages. I don’t want to use my example too much, but our employer negotiates with our site bargaining unit every two years, and encourages non-union members to join, all the better to keep moving forward across the board. It may sound harsh but it’s the reality: a business who can’t pay the legislated wage rate has no business to be in business (and keep using lame puns like this) 🙂

Maintaining realities and priorities in keeping migrant numbers where they are. You will start hearing this from the party in power now, and it makes sense: You can’t stick to a hard number when it comes to net migration. In the first place, it’s the economy, not legislation, that dictates the ultimate number when it comes to how many migrants are needed. Look at Dubai, Singapore and other countries that have readily admitted the migrant reality: a vibrant and growing economy cannot survive without migrant labor. That’s the simple truth. Overall, the two priorities of the incumbents will be tweaking the Skilled Migrant visa pathways (there are many under this general policy) so that only truly qualified migrants continue to come in, and reducing the Student Visa numbers, which admittedly is the area where abuse is rampant. There’s no other way to say that last sentence, nadadamay ang mga Pinoy dahil sa ginagawa ng ibang mga lahi sa student visa, with the cooperation and tolerance of educational institutions here.

Making it easier for those who are already here. I’ve used this phrase often, but I’ll use it again.  There are more than a few guest workers in NZ who have a reasonable expectation of deserving NZ permanent residency, and yet have “fallen between the cracks.” How so ? They are useful enough to be considered skilled, and yet not skilled enough to be considered for residency. They are skilled enough to be granted work visas, and yet aren’t paid enough to be considered for permanent residency. And so on and so forth. Their jobs have disappeared from the so-called long term and short term skills shortage lists, yet strangely enough, continue to be in the rosters of their employers for years and years.

This isn’t fair for them. Because of the Christchurch rebuild, Pinoys (and other migrants) have a chance to get out of their limbo and apply for residency, but shouldn’t this privilege be granted to all who deserve it, New Zealand-wide? Pinoys are highly valued, dependable and loyal workers who in many cases have worked for their bosses, faithfully consistently, and without fail. Labour has made the right noises in this direction, and this will give many kabayan all over New Zealand, this blogger included, a big sigh of relief.

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I have to give credit to the new Labour Government, specifically my kabayan source who so rapidly told me it’s not all doom and gloom under the new order. Thank you very much Ginoong Dennis Maga, Secretary General-elect of the FIRST Union, and an acknowledged champion for workers rights, not just Pinoys, but everyone who works an honest 8 hours a day in Aotearoa. Thanks too Your Excellency Ambassador Gary Domingo for gamely providing such a filling lunch in the process!  Mabuhay kayo!

And thanks kabayan and friends for reading!

kung bakit dehado ang mga bisitang obrerong Pinoy sa pamahalaang NZ Labour*


it’s becoming harder and harder. Thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to thefifthstate.com.au!

IN A PERFECT WORLD, Pinoy guest workers in New Zealand will continue to receive the benefit of the doubt on whether or not they are still needed in the country,  potential applicants will continue to be invited to apply for permanent resident status, and the  parent sibling and other categories under the Family Category visa pathways will soon be reinstated, much to the relief of Pinoy families of both sides of the Philippines – New Zealand divide.

In the land of reality, however, you and I live with the cold, hard facts:  the crow’s feathers will whiten (pagputi ng uwak) before the closed visa pathways will be reopened, any guest workers who’ve fallen behind when the gates were shut will probably stay there under a Labour Government, and the general climate for Pinoy guest workers from today will get a lot worse before it gets any better.

[ This is not professional opinion, just a tiny voice in the roaring wilderness, not being negative but putting up a wet finger to gauge the general direction of the wind. Napag-uusapan lang po. ]

Unless you were in a cave, comatose or hiding under a great big rock, you probably heard that last Thursday the 19th, the New Zealand First party, holders of 7% of the party vote, gave its support to the New Zealand Labour Party, which won around 35% of the seats in NZ Parliament. Combined with the Greens party votes, it was (barely) enough to hold a majority, which gave Jacinda Ardern and the NZ Labour Party its first taste of power in eight years.

By itself it doesn’t mean anything, but (1) a commitment to cut student and work visas by 25,000 to 30,000, (2) a general policy to promote jobs for New Zealanders (a motherhood statement but one that Labour will be held to for sure) and (3) the focus on reducing unemployment, reducing people on the benefit and easing underemployment all point to stress and unease for Pinoy guest workers in NZ.

Let me tell you why:

Caught between the cracks. Under the Essential Skills work visa program, if an employer (1) can’t find qualified locals to work in a particular job or position, (2), finds it impractical to train New Zealanders for said position, (3) can find suitable guest workers for that position, then a Work Visa can be issued to a non-New Zealander.

Many kabayan have gotten jobs this way. It is reasonable to expect them, after a while, to be eligible or qualified to be permament residents especially if their employers continue to hire them, encourage them to apply for another work visa, or even broach the idea of permanent residence in the future.

However, to be invited to apply for permanent residence, the kabayan must qualify under specific Resident Visa pathways, two of which (there may be others, but I don’t know about them) are the Short and Long-Term Skills Shortage List, or the Work To Residence Program. These pathways are independent of the Work Visa program and require different evidence from what the Essential Skills Work Visa require.

Now, under a Labour-led coalition government, where the cutting of migrant jobs and locals-centered job generation is the centerpiece policy, do you think any Pinoys holding work visas can expect a friendlier visa regime? As my wife Mahal sez, mas malabo pa sa sabaw ng pusit.

Remuneration bands. Now, shortly before the elections, the National Party government decided to tweak the immigration policy in a vague, not to mention belated attempt to win “pogi points” (brownie points) from the New Zealand public. Among the measures were the introduction of “remuneration bands” to determine if a guest worker was skilled enough to qualify for future residency. Below a certain amount ($47,000 annually I think) you were considered unskilled. Earn in a certain range ($47,001 to $70,000), you were considered mid-skilled. Anything above a certain amount, and you were considered highly-skilled, and automatically qualified for residency.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this kabayan, but under the special Dairy Worker visa pathway in the South Island, some of our countrymen are already practically running the farms for their employers, from sunup to sundown. Their bosses love them for accepting jobs Kiwis won’t take, love them for dedication, and love them for turning up to work every single day of the year.

But you know why else their employers love them? Because our kabayan are willing to work for wages New Zealanders won’t even consider in easy jobs (farming is definitely not easy), much less in physically and mentally challenging roles. This same reasonable, bargain-basement rates that Pinoys are willing to work for are the same “remuneration bands” that will NEVER let them get within a kilometer of becoming NZ permanent residents. Sad but true.

Now, do you think anything will change in a Labour government? That crow (uwak) better get some serious reading material before it thinks it will become a dove (kalapati).

And lastly . . .

temporarily closing Parent Category. Late last year, as a means of putting its finger in the dike against overwhelming permanent residence applications, Immigration New Zealand (the government office issuing resident visas) temporarily put on hold Parent Category Visas, where obviously parents of permanent residents, three years after the latter were granted resident status, could apply for residency themselves. Word was, anytime next year, the Parent Category could and would be reinstated,

But that was under a National government. Everything changes with a change of government, that’s as clear as day. It’s becoming a tiresome refrain, but under a Labour-led coalition government, can you expect an immigrant and migrant-friendly policy, to the extent of honoring commitments of the previous administration? As they say, all bets are off. Another nice way of saying it would be it’s a very fluid situation, especially for kabayan who haven’t started anything application-wise.  I wish I could be more positive, but the reality is anything but.

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You’ve probably noticed this Precious Reader, but this is more than just dispassionate discussion for me. Blogging is an intensely personal endeavor, whether it’s about a hobby, your religion, or ideology. For me, it’s just about my life, experiences and my gut feel about certain things. It should be obvious why I have strong views about this particular issue, but telling you now would color your own views further, about the issue and about me (for sure, there are always two sides to every issue, I concede). Maybe next time.

Suffice it to say now that for a lot of us kabayan in Aoteroa, these are uncertain times.

thanks for reading, mabuhay!

*or “why it’s against the odds for Pinoy guest workers in a Labour-led government”

 

meet maricel the dreamcatcher


Maricel Holger and new PRs

Maricel (light blue shirt in the middle) with her family Holger and Katerina and just a few of the kabayan whose dreams she helped fulfill in New Zealand.

[Note: The second of my two-part padyak series, Wellington to Auckland, meeting remarkable Kiwi-Pinoy Aucklanders. First was on Cong Lito Banal, and second is Binibining Maricel Weischede.  So sorry it took so long, thanks for reading, mabuhay! ]

NO ONE will question us Kabayan when we say that the Pinoy who chases the dream of a better life abroad is the captain of his/her fate, the master of his/her soul (thanks and acknowledgment to that Invictus guy). Blaming no one for our setbacks but sharing the credit for our successes, you and I are the authors of our fate, the makers of our destiny. Given na yan (that’s a given).

But along the way, we owe little and big favors to those who help us carry our load, those who, accidentally or not, eavesdrop on our dreams and help us chase them, those who have the talent and tools to realizing our most cherished goals more realizable. Filipinos may be below-average physically, but figuratively we can always stand on the shoulders of giants who helped paved the pathway towards our rainbow’s end.

If so far you’ve indulged me in this rare mood of poetic flair, please indulge me some more. I came across a kabayan of such a description, who’s spent a good part of the last decade helping fellow Pinoys jump-start their dreams by catching the sparkle of their dreams and filtering it through the sieve of hard realities, useful advice and immigration laws of New Zealand.

If the role of dreamcatcher sounds demanding, that’s because this kabayan has demanded the utmost from herself in terms of training and professionalism. Back in the days when  immigration consultancy was a cowboy, hole-in-the-wall industry, Maricel Weischede was the first fully licensed Filipino immigration adviser in New Zealand in 2008 . Not only that, her proactive stance led her to be the only kabayan to be part of the consultative Immigration Advisers Association (IAA) Reference Group for two terms while also serving as three-term director of the New Zealand Association of Migration and Investment.

Maricel knows that the best way to bridging the gap between dreams and realities of migrant hopefuls was with two weapons: expertise and experience, so the decade-long success she has achieved has been due in part to her being the first Pinoy to obtain the qualification (equivalent to a certification) from Massey University (Certificate of Proficiency in Immigration Law and Policy) as well as the first Pinoy to obtain a Graduate Certificate in Immigration Advice from the Waikato University – Bay of Plenty Consortium.

By far however, Maricel’s signature experience as an immigration adviser is being part of the Cadbury Dream Team that, against all odds, brought a family together two years back. In case you missed it, here’s a video clip, sorry we couldn’t find the whole episode (probably for copyright reasons):


Which doesn’t take anything away from each and every success story from the hundreds of Filipinos and their families she has helped migrate to, and reunite in, New Zealand. Just as every green-lighted application has been as satisfying as her very first (way back in 2006), each denial has brought her down to earth, with a resounding disappointment that only makes her work harder.

Although no service or profession should be judged purely on numbers alone, Maricel’s consultancy has recently brought in its 1000th successful application, counting all immigration and visa categories, and she has no intention of stopping.

As if all these weren’t enough, our kabayan will add value to her services by seeking admission to the New Zealand bar next year, completing all her requirements by the end of this year.

*****     *****     *****

It sounds like a high-tech slogan, but Maricel, for the hundreds of families she has helped, has augmented their reality by adding details, comforts and possibilities that have made their lives so much more enriching, in a land of unlimited potential.

In her own words: Migration is a life changing decision. I wish to make a difference in that life-changing decision by providing immigration advice that is straightforward, with no gimmickry, and just honest to goodness options and presentation of eligibility to various visa pathways.

Duh? You have ALREADY made a difference in so many kabayan lives Maricel. Mabuhay ka!

Thanks for reading!

*It’s not a plug (actually, it is), but you may contact Ms Maricel Weischede and her immigration consultancy NZ Immigration Help Service Limited either by visiting http://www.nzimmigrationhelpservice.com or contacting her Auckland branch +6498364935, her Christchurch branch +6434218138, or emailing her directly at m.weischede@nzimmigrationhelpservice.com. Cheers!

the dirty little secret of many pinoy communities


[ Thank you and acknowledgment to YouTube poster Maypagasa for use of the video! ]

BEFORE ANY FURTHER, may I qualify that statement above, which I’ll expand into the rest of the blog, kabayan?

On the whole, and in general, Filipinos are kind, decent and caring people, who get along with anybody and everybody everywhere all over the world, with their own kind but especially among people of other races and nationalities. So much so that bukod tangi, in prosperous cities, countries, or regions where professionals, tradesmen and workers from all nations accumulate, Filipinos are popular, well-known and requested either as co-workers, colleagues or employees.

Our very own Ambassador to New Zealand His Excellency Jesus Gary Domingo likened us to “a thousand suns” that cannot shine in unison but on their own, without other Filipinos around, in order to be fully appreciated.

The “dirty little secret” refers to the lack of unity or organization among Filipinos in some if not most migrant and overseas communities, sometimes to the point of being a disadvantage to the kabayan in these communities who need it the most.

*****          *****          *****

To be sure, there will always be Pinoy orgs, clubs, interest groups anywhere abroad. Put two or three of our countrymen (women) together and you can be sure there will be talk of registering that group, for tax, financial assistance or any advantage whatsoever.

A recently departed embassy official told me that in one of her deployments in the developed world, there were 500,000 ethnic Filipinos either born in the Philippines or of Filipino descent.  Out of this massive number, there were about 5000 Filipino organizations, all of them legal entities, that their embassy dealt with regularly. So you can imagine the logistical work needed to get all of the orgs (not to mention their members!) on the same page, especially when a big project was in the works.

But that’s just one example, one situation. Imagine all over the world, Filipino communities active in their own productive lives, wanting to do the right thing for themselves and others, but not being all that effective as a group, whether strictly as Filipinos or with others. You can hazard a few intelligent guesses for this, but I’ll enumerate them for you kabayan:

Specific interest groups, usually driven by one or two personalities. You know the type. A natural leader, usually driven in his or her desire to do good, being the driving force and providing nearly all the energy behind an organization. The others are there just for the ride, the free lunches and maybe there’s something in it for them. I hate to sound jaded and pessimist, but that’s the way it goes, business organizations or otherwise. Remember Pareto’s rule, where 20% of the group does 80% of the work? That applies to most Pinoy clubs, groups or organizations.

Now what happens is a lot of groups like these ultimately burn themselves out, with a tragically short shelf life. Either the leader himself or herself gets tired, because of the failure to see that from the very start it should’ve been a team effort, or the other members (usually part of the leadership) see that the group agenda is driven by one person only. And why not? because that one person does all the work  🙂

In many cases also, Pinoy groups are founded on the common denominator/s of religion, business goals or objectives (seeking funding or deals as a single entity), or in preparation for a Pinoy-themed event (a sports fest, a cultural event, what have you). Have you ever heard of a Pinoy group formed for the general welfare of Pinoys in that community? I mean, an organization or pangkat formed for Pinoys, purely for fostering the interest of Pinoys in general? Tell me about it if you have, because I for sure haven’t.

Intramurals and intrigues. Now because in almost every Pinoy group, leadership and authority is centered in one or two individuals, power tends to stay there and perpetuate itself. Whatever the good intentions or lofty goals of the organization, as the latter evolves, membership increases and, most importantly, dinero starts to materialize, it becomes serious business (literally). It’s no longer a mom-and -pop affair : talk of allowances, per diem during meetings and how to allocate funding becomes an intensely debated topic or topics. Where before members would volunteer their services and expertise for free, now a little appreciation (of course, in the form of a little cash) becomes part of the discussion. Grumblings start to surface about how certain group policies are forgotten, how personalities get in the way, and how some members can no longer work with each other, on issues that have nothing to do with the group itself.

Before long, splinter groups emerge, the group shatters into pieces, and chaos reigns. If you think this kind of thing happens back home in the Philippines, think again kabayan, because I’ve heard it happen in Pinoy clubs all over the world, in infinite situations and countless reincarnations. Only the lyrics change, but the song remains the same throughout.

Politics. Just that one dirty word will tell you how brittle all organizations are in and out of the Philippines, no matter how pure and well-meaning the motives at the start. I refer not just to political parties but to how politically motivated intentions start to infect the friendships and united efforts of the Pinoy clubs and in the end, twist and mangle the original mission statement so much that the founders end up entirely losing sight of what they set out to do.

It doesn’t matter if one particular party or group is in the right or if another is totally in the wrong. Most of Filipino politics is personality-driven anyway, with party membership and principles a meaningless device to be used at one’s convenience. When political affiliation based on the party or personality in power (back in the homeland) starts to influence the life of the Pinoy org, then you can kiss it goodbye. It can no longer function healthily, and before long people will start to leave. That’s the reality, and it will never change. The tragedy is, politically motivated Pinoys in and out of the organizations or clubs think they are doing what is best for the group, and end up destroying it. Tsk tsk tsk, sayang lang.

Kabayan please don’t think I refer in particular to one Pinoy community or another, specially in my adopted country. As far as I know, this phenonenon persists everywhere there are Pinoys, across the seven seas. So if we are proud of our good points as Filipinos, we should also strive to do better, as regards our shortcomings.

Key words there. Strive to do better. There’s always room for improvement.

Thanks for reading, Mabuhay po tayong lahat!

 

 

what pinoys won’t tell you about pinoys


thanks and acknowledgment for the pic to eRepublik.com!

ALTHOUGH THERE IS one other Asian on our work site now (an Indian, in the engineering team), and maybe because the latter is still quite new, at work I’m usually the subject of Asian jokes and slightly race-related remarks, a fact of life I’ve openly embraced since I started working in New Zealand. Because of this, and also due to my good-natured friendliness and approachability, I get along with everybody at work. it wouldn’t be an exaggeration for me to say i’m probably the most popular staff member on site.

I wear my being Filipino on my sleeve, broach my “Pinoyness” as a subject every time an opportunity presents, and always take time to ask about any kind of personal interaction my colleagues might have with other Filipinos, and ask if it reflects positively on us. It usually ends up in a joke or anecdote, which I laugh at, in an easy attempt to make fun of myself. It nearly always lets others know they can laugh with me instead of laughing at me, which is alright in any case.

What most of my workmates don’t always realize is that like any other race in the human community, Filipinos have a good side and a bad side. We like to show our “presentable” face to the rest of the world, while naively pretending our warts and zits are invisible. Yes we are likeable, we like to think, but there are annoying aspects of our character that have become so predictable that they are just a part of our Pinoyness as our food, our skin pigment and our facility in English. These are just a few that we’re not proud of, but which our non-Pinoy neighbors are slowly beginning to discern:

Pinoys are notorious gossips. We are so gossipy and loose-lipped about our fellowmen (and women) that we hardly use the term chismoso (and chismosa) anymore, it’s such a natural thing to talk about the personal lives of other people, under the dismissive phrase napag-uusapan lang naman (we’re just discussing it in passing, or “by the way”). It’s almost as if we as Filipinos are kind and decent in every other away except in the way we trash other people who have the misfortune of not being around, and therefore unable to defend themselves when their personal lives are being discussed.

I’m no saint or angel just because I condemn this very Pinoy behavior. In fact, when I don’t watch myself, I do it without even realizing it, until I sit back after a conversation and think about, now what if instead of talking about Person A with Person B (in the most graphic detail possible) without a second thought, Person B was discussing with A about me? How would I feel?

I’m also not saying that people from other countries don’t do it, especially since the people I enjoy gossipy talk with are New Zealanders, Brits, fellow Asians, etc. But because I know my own kind, I know we are above the norm in shaming our kabayan behind their backs. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

“Keeping up with the Joneses”. The Urban Dictionary defines this phrase as “to strive beyond one’s means to keep up socially and financially with others in one’s social circle or neighborhood.” It can cover any object, trivial or massive, from buying a Fitbit sports watch to starting an entire property makeover just to show your neighbors, friends and colleagues that whatever they do, you can do just as well or better.

If you use this to do better in life, improve your situation or help you reach goals in your career, relationships and community, why not, diba? An example is to take out a student loan to join your friends enrolling in a masteral or postgraduate course.  Trouble is many of us Filipinos , upon discovering the travel, purchase or party plans of their peers, borrow money or overextend themselves just to keep up with the same. Maxing out the credit line during family weddings, town fiestas and holidays are nothing new to us, but we always have to outdo ourselves from previous gastusan (spending sprees) just to comply with the saying, para wala silang masabi (so they can’t complain). We would rather cope with material hardship and eternal debt than not keep up with appearances. Recently, Filipinos have matured in this respect, but old habits die hard.

Crab mentality. This is subject of much debate and discussion, but in my experience Pinoys do not support each other whenever one of their own is on the fast track towards success and achievement,  as compared to other nationalities (in my very limited perspective, of course). Hindi naman ito strictly crab mentality, but when you’re not happy for kabayan, what are you then? Hardly any room for being neutral here.

Among Chinese, when a member of their community is running for office, being recognized for special achievement in their profession, in the arts, or civic duty, the whole universe of ethnic Chinese (whether from the mainland, Taiwan or Hongkong) rallies behind him as a brother or sister. When a Thai, Vietnamese or Southeast Asian opens a business, you can be sure it will receive the patronage of their countrymen. I’m not so sure about parallels in the Filipino community. More so in the international sphere, when Pinoys up for high positions, awards and recognition get less than the support they so richly deserve, from kabayan and the kabayan community.

I may be generalizing, but would you disagree with my stinging assessments? On the whole, Pinoys are appreciated, across the board, by different races. It’s time that we start, on the one hand, taking a long hard look at ourselves, and on the other, start appreciating ourselves.

Thanks for reading, mabuhay!

my mother the legend


[ We hardly see Mom in formal wear, so this is a treat! Taken during the wedding of her grandson Jay Bautista to Linnel de Villa last March, Mom is the lovely lady in the center. Also in pic are family friend Miggie Isla, my brother Doc Donald Bautista, and Dr Nick Cruz, one of the couple’s sponsors. Thanks and acknowledgment to the Facebook photo library of Jude Bautista. For more pics please visit http://judebautista.wordpress.com. woohoohoo!]

IF MISTER SLASH MISS PRECIOUS READER (that’s you) has read any of our previous posts about mother, motherhood or mother’s day, you’d probably know that we’re a big fan of mothers in general,  and her special day (being Mother’s Day, besides her birthday, just where do you place that apostrophe?) is just one more reason to show her respect, gratitude, love and all other positive feelings and thoughts that affirm her place in human history.

But I also want to convey said feelings personally, about (who else?) my own mom.

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Let me balance it out first: Mom’s not perfect. She doesn’t always go the diplomatic route, is sometimes given to temperamental outbursts, and definitely, definitely speaks her mind. But it only underscores the indisputable fact that there’s not a single fake bone in her body.

Now for the good part : At 78, Mom gets up around 5.30 am most days to prepare for work. It’s not part-time work, a casual job or even volunteer, just-to-keep-busy work.  It’s a real six-day, 52-week job that she’s held in the only career she’s ever loved: retail and point-of-sale. Only because she’s had the benefit of experience, and her savings, she’s her own boss, in her own business.

During the week, she supervises her staff who mind the kilns and cure the meat (it’s a ham baking business), fills out orders and schedules deliveries. Everything is in preparation for the weekend markets (when she wakes up even earlier, hears the first Sunday Mass) in Salcedo Village Makati, Mount Carmel Quezon City and Libis Pasig, where the actual selling takes place. There’s very little inventory because all of her kiosks nearly always sell out.

The rest of her time is divided into catechism work in their parish, indulging Dad in his favorite pastime, stud poker and Texas hold’ em poker, and reading the latest romance and suspense horror novels of her fave authors. Oh, she’s also anticipating news of her first great grandchild!

Long after her years of motherhood (where she raised five sons forever grateful), she continues to be motherlike. She looks after the tuition needs of dozens of children of relatives in Bicol, will send help to a sick family member but will forget about it as soon as the money transfer is complete, most days she will send food to sick kumares and old friends who can no longer look after themselves.

(btw, you won’t hear or get this confirmed from anyone. This is the sort of thing that doesn’t get talked about, least of all by Mom herself. It just isn’t her thing.)

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I could go on and on, but it would take the rest of the day. Just one last Mommy anecdote : On my last balikbayan visit, Mom pulled me aside to tell me to get serious about work and a more stable future overseas. Before I could finish, she asked me: howz your immigration going?

I said di pa tapos Mom, inadvertently letting on that the entry fee (application fee) wasn’t cheap.

She answered : I know. This isn’t much, but don’t spend it on anything else. I’m praying for you, pushing US$500 into my surprised hands.

I was speechless for awhile, marvelling at the irony of the situation: the OFW being given a handout by his mother. The speechlessness was broken by Fourth Brother (a migrant like me), who also took me aside to ask:

Binigyan ka nya ng pera ‘no? Magkano ? $500?

I said, yes, how did you know?

He replied : Hahaha! Utang ko yan sa kanya!  kakabayad ko lang sa kanya kanina. He added that he had a feeling it would go to me.

She had paid her good fortune forward instantly!

As she has been doing and continues to do, all her life.

God bless you Mom! From all of us in Manila, Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand and New Mexico, USA, happy mother’s day! I love you always!

And Happy mother’s day to all!

 

towards an unspoken code of flatmates and flatting


[ Note: To kabayan going home during Christmas, have fun, spread the wealth around, but please take care.  Cliche-ish, but it’s no longer the same Philippines you left.  Thanks for reading, and thank you for the video ABS-CBN! ]

PRIOR TO Mahal arriving and joining me here in NZ, I was a flatmate with kabayan two out of two years.  Then after Mahal and I went flat-hunting and finally settled on a flat (apartment) we liked, we found a flatmate, then a flatmate, then a flatmate.  It was initially out of necessity, then we realized that as long as the flatmate was reasonably easy to live with, we liked living with flatmates.

We did this, knowing the usual caveats when seeking out and getting accustomed to flatmates: DON’T be flatmates with your best friends (you will always disappoint each other).  DON’T be too close with flatmates.  DON’T generalize and expect behaviors from flatmates according to preconceived notions based on regions (for example, Ilokanos are frugal, Pampangos are boastful, etc).  We based our tendency to look for flatmates on economics,  but also because we knew that Pinoys, for all our faults, liked to help each other, especially Pinoy migrants in the initial stages of settling in New Zealand.  Paying it forward, kumbaga  (so to speak).

Without further ado, here are the do’s and don’t we have accumulated while living and co-existing with flatmates in New Zealand:

DO help with the chores around the house.  On paper, flatmates  only need to clean up after themselves and look after their own junk.  But in practice, it’s always common sense to put yourself in the shoes of the owner / landlord/ flat mate-in-charge, and do whatever is needed for the betterment of the flat. You needn’t go all out, just do a little vacuuming, sweep around the place or water the plants / feed the pet if there’s a garden or house pet. A little effort goes a long way.

DO be sensitive with special needs and situations of flatmates.  If a flatmate is on night shift at least once a month, the week/s he or she is on the graveyard shift, sleeping times are obviously inverted, meaning when you’re awake, they’re trying to rest, and when you’re sleeping, they’re up and about, or just about to come home.  That means we need to be a little quieter around the house, and realize that when we’re ready to be off to work, they’re trying to sleep…

A flatmate and his/her group conducting Bible study / prayer meetings Tuesday early evenings?  Just for that one night (in fact, just for a couple hours), vacating the living room to give them a little more privacy and focus in their godly activity shows not only that you respect their faith, but that you can accommodate people with as much tolerance as possible (as long as it’s not TOO much or abusive na ha, use your own good judgment).

DO be sensitive about shared facilities, particularly toilet and bathroom, kitchen, TV viewing and computers (if the latter is part of the rent).  In most flats, there is only one toilet, and one bathroom.  It shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that where there are between four to six users of such toilet, usage must be distributed equally and sensibly according to need and the different schedules of flatmates.

The need to understand and appreciate the complexity of this reality, the reality of shared use of toilet and bath, is nearly always underestimated and neglected, to the detriment of the flatmate relationship.  For one thing, the call of nature is something that can’t be ignored or delayed, and yet because we fear loss of face, we just can’t tell someone to get out of the toilet because we just HAVE TO let our bowels or bladders loose.  This dilemma and insensitivity on the part of the current toilet user, shallow though it may sound, may later escalate into major arguments that lead to flatmates parting ways.

Use of laptops and desktops are nowadays not so much an issue because of iPads, tablets, phablets and smartphones, but there are still flatting arrangements where the flat sharing fee includes use of a common computer, especially for messaging and emailing.  Which means, the time we get around to messaging and emailing our loved ones in the Philippines, assuming our flatmates are kabayan, are roughly the same.  So you take turns using prime time.

DO recognize that activities or habits that you may consider normal may not be so for other kabayan.  This is primarily why the classifieds and notices for flatmates specifically ask whether the owner/primary flatmate minds smokers, drinkers, socializers, etc.   Pinoys in my experience are generally more tolerant and circumspect about these things but it’s always good practice to ask.  Just ask yourself:  would  non-smokers mind tobacco smoke in the flat?  How much alcohol consumption is too much, and what is considered reasonable?  A good balance of tolerance and rulemaking, being aware of the sensitivities of your flatmates, and managing your own habits is key to being a good flatmate.

DO treat your flatmate/s as decently as you would your friend, relative or co-worker, as if you’d be flatmates forever.  Let’s be honest.  “Flatting,” or renting with flatmates, as it’s called in New Zealand, is at best a temporary arrangement, a relationship of convenience designed to fill gaps, scratch an itch, keep everyone happy until better things materialize.  But it’s not like, let’s just try to co-exist and after this, we’ll never see each other again.  It simply isn’t true.  While we may not be flatmates forever, flatting and being flatmates can be the foundation of a friendship that can last a lifetime.

This becomes possible when you do the simple thing and observe the golden rule.  Do unto your flatmates what you’d want them to do unto you.  Basic things like cleaning up after yourself, keeping quiet when you know flatmates are resting, staying out of the way when flatmates are entertaining visitors, and going out of your way to do household chores, are things that will create comments like, “that Noel?  yeah he was a pretty decent flatmate before he got married,” or “Noel for a flatmate?  we could do a lot worse!

Yeah, I wish I could get comments like those.  But you get the idea.  Be a good flatmate, and ultimately, you will get good flatmates.

You won’t see any of these rules, and you won’t find flatmates talking about it.  But here they are now.

Mabuhay, Maligayang Pasko sa lahat!

a dambuhalang (giant) earthquake visits your kabayan’s night shift in Wellington


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Not me at my prettiest, but here I was cleaning  a packing bin just four days before the Big One.  Imagine if it had happened while I was cleaning the bin!  hu hu hu hu …

Dear guys :

JUST WANTED you to know, besides the fact that your kabayan (townmate, countryman) and family are safe, that just eight hours ago, I wasn’t so sure I would get out of this earthquake in one piece.  Hyperbole and exaggeration aside, I’ve gone through a few tremors in my life, but this was quite a strong one.  But as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Quarter to zero hour, that’s midnight, I was so looking forward (not!) to a week of night shifts, in unexpectedly chilly late spring weather, at work.  My focus was starting up the network of old machines struggling against wear and tear, lack of maintenance and startup crankiness (common to all old factories) in the middle of night, when everyone else was snoring in dreamland.

I was therefore lucky : the factory had responded well to my ministrations and a recent lubrication project, I was starting the shift with a low-end product, not too much stress quality-wise and production-wise and, against the odds, the ebbs and flows, air pressure, and different settings of the more temperamental machines were holding and under control.  Things were looking good.

Famous last words.  Just when I was settling down to do my chores (unshuttering the windows to cool the rapidly heating machines), across the main production area, where by pure chance a door was opened showing me the adjoining area where packing machines and pallets of finished product were situated, I saw a scene that was straight out of Poseidon Adventure (a 1970s disaster movie, for those under 40).

All the hanging halogen-strength lights were swaying 45 degrees left and right, and the pallets of product, each weighing roughly a ton and stacked four high, were doing the Gangnam Style strut and starting to fall on each other.  I swear Mom (if you’re reading this), never in my 51 years had I seen something like that.

The packer who did night shift, a katutubo (native) not in my department but of course my brother-in-arms, looked like he’d chugged a few cervezas, glugged a liter of milk, a tub of ice cream and then ridden a dozen roller coasters, was pale as the Balete Drive Lady: he was ready to bail out of the site, not even bothering to shut down his machines but alert enough to shout to me:  EARTHQUAKE!  JUST GET OUT!

Sound advice, in fact the best I heard that night.  No arguments from me…

[For the record, I remember two biggie earthquakes, the July 1990 one that killed a few thousand in Baguio and regions, and the Christchurch one five-odd years ago that killed thousands, among them 11 kabayan nurses.  None of them felt as strong as this one, mainly because I was much closer to the epicenter.]

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Two other guys were in the site, and as there were just four of us, a roll call was foolish:  my shift partner Jacob, ready to retire in two weeks (he is in fact past the retirement age, being 70 years and barya), his trainee, another katutubo, the nauseous packer guy, and yours truly.  We weren’t gonna wait for the obvious : aftershocks which on their own were scary and almost as strong as the original tremor, and even scarier, the potential tsunami, which brought to mind  the tidal waves which killed more than 10,000 in Japan half a decade ago.

But a modicum of protocol had to be followed, and we each called our respective supervisors.  The packing supervisor wasted no time : just pack up and get out of there, you’re less than a kilometer from the bloody sea, for jeez sake.  My ops supervisor was somewhat vague, so vague that my call went to voicemail.

So that’s that, I had no choice but to call the overall site manager.

She was in Auckland out of town, an hour away by plane, but I hadn’t known it yet.

Because she knew my number, this was her first sentence:

Noel?  Are you guys OK?

She already knew.  The earthquake was that bad.  The whole North Island was shaken (literally).

A few spouts popped out boss, Pallets fell on top of each other, one big machine off the moorings, but otherwise the site’s fine.

Never mind that, I mean, how are you guys?  everyone safe and accounted for?

We’re OK all of us Boss, hope you’re safe on your end.

Turn everything off and shut everything down, and get the eff out of there OK? We’ll talk tomorrow. Stay safe.

And that, my friends, is why Boss is our Site Manager.

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Less than an hour later, the inevitable tsumani alert is called by the local government, and the natural thing to do is to literally, head for the hills.  Mahal my beloved,  our two flatmates and Your Loyal Kabayan spend two hours in a car on the road up to Wainuiomata, which is the highest point on a 20 kilometer radius.  Our instructions from the Civil Defense Office are simple.

Stay off beaches.  Stay out of the water.  Do NOT go sightseeing.  And share this information.

Simple enough, but we are on a hillside, because we ALSO want to get down asap.  And hillsides are also known for landslides.  And guess what?  We just had a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, just what you DON’T need for landslides.

As soon as the tsunami alert stops wailing, we head down.  We don’t even think of passing by McDo or Burger King, as the employees have undoubtedly up and left their stores.

We stay by the radio and don’t go to sleep until 5 am.

For all its imperfections, New Zealand is razor sharp and steroids strong on safety alertness.  Which is why, if even one life is lost from this latest earthquake, it will be regarded as a national tragedy.

Which is why Your Loyal Kabayan, as long as he is wanted, will work in New Zealand.

the hardest adjustment for a migrant


[ Host Wellington and the Wellington Pinoy community welcome all kabayan participants and competitors of the Pistang Pilipino 2016 sa Wellington,  kudos to the organizers, officials, marshals and other volunteer staff.  Mabuhay kayong lahat! ]

NOPE, IT’S not communication or language.  Most Pinoys (an endearment Filipinos call themselves) treat English almost as a first language, having been taught the King’s English from nearly the very start of their lives.  In fact, I remember in Pinoy Mass (once a month, celebrated by a Filipino priest), the priest delivered his homily in (of course) perfect English, for the benefit of the non-Pinoy parishioners who insisted on attending Mass with kabayan.  After 10 minutes of a short discussion of the Sunday Gospel, he said, I now respectfully continue the sermon in Taglish, which everyone was expecting.  In both versions, Father Kabayan was outstanding (and uplifting), and considerate of  both English and Tagalog speakers.  So, adjustment to our host’s language is no biggie.

A little more complicated is the way people travel, both on the road and on the footpath (sidewalk or walkway ang tawag natin).  The New Zealand Road Code tells motorists to travel on the left side of the road, so when you cross the street (usually a two-way street), you look to the right first, then to the left when you’re in the middle of street.  It took me a while before i got used to that, and got me quite a lot of honks and four-letter words from drivers who never get used to Asian pedestrians like me.  It got a little worse when I started learning to drive, because I frequently reverted to the mindset of driving on the right side of the road, not very safe and definitely taking a little more adjustment than walking.  Still, as long as you keep focused on your walking / driving, and remember that you’re in New Zealand, not the Philippines, you should be OK.

And then there’s the work culture or culture of interaction, I can’t go any broader than that for fear of using too much space.  Kiwis or New Zealanders generally speak their mind, but are aware of the need to save face at all times, especially for Asians.  So they temper the sharpness of their tongues with subtle digs and lighthearted witticisms, sometimes using good-natured sarcasm, in short, very Pinoy, when you think of our sawikain (literary expression), salawikain (proverbs), parinig (hints) and other figures of speech that dull the kaanghangan (spicyness) of our criticisms.  Definitely, there are more similarities than differences when you compare social intercourse /s of Pinoys and Kiwis.  The key words are civility, pakisama (attitude of “getting along” with each other) and the golden rule (do unto others what you’d want them to do unto you).

Even better, as long as you let your work and your work attitude talk the talk and walk the walk, you can’t go wrong.  Kiwis may find you strange, different and awkward, but if you do your work right, work within the team concept and go the extra mile, you speak their language, and speak the universal language, the language of hard work spoken anywhere.

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No, the biggest adjustment you have to make is accepting the realization that the next time you go back to the Philippines, it’s no longer to return to your home base but as an excursion to a place you used to live in, to visit friends, loved ones and family, only as an interruption of your regular life… as a migrant.

The biggest and most lifechanging adjustment you make is a shifting of allegiance from the country of your birth to the country of your future, to the country you will soon (if not already) call home.  Loyalty is on unstable, shifting ground, no more so than for the migrant.

You will never lose gratitude for the country that gave you existence, blood and identity, but your migrant life changes everyday, and your migrant life waits for no one.  Least of all, old memories and old attachments.

You can always go home, back to the Philippines, but with different eyes, different attitudes, and different perspectives.  That is as hard as any adjustment  you can make.

In a very real sense, you can never go home again.

Thanks and mabuhay everyone for reading!