thinking of OFW & kabayan in less friendly or less christmasy places these holidays

[ Note : Maraming maraming salamat sa lahat ng inyong mga bati!  Please allow me to return the greetings soon!  Now, onward to the last few days of 2013! Thanks to Jollibee and YouTube for allowing me to repost!  Woohoohoo! ]

IT’S GREAT to be an OFW or migrant in (1) a country that knows how to treat its guest workers, and (2) a country that is (or used to be) Christian-oriented, because that usually means weary workers, including guest workers, have a Christmas break to look forward to.

But that’s in the ideal world. Often, you don’t choose the country you work in, it chooses you. And you would be quite fortunate to work in a country that is both (1) and (2) in the previous paragraph, because in reality it may only have (1). Sometimes, it has neither. And such absence you feel most acutely if one, you’re in specific situations, OR two, if it’s the festive season.

If you get pregnant in many parts of the Middle East to a man you aren’t married to, you are in very real danger of finding yourself in prison, having broken the laws of the Koran, which is often also the code of criminal statutes of the realm, as well as the latter’s holy book.

If your permit to work has expired, or worse, if you never legally applied for it in many parts of Europe, then not only your means of livelihood, but your right to liberty and travel will be imperilled, and you will be overstressed so as to affect your work (as if you weren’t already stressed in the first place).

If you are a nanny or caregiver in Hongkong, Taiwan or Singapore, God help you if something bad happens to your ward, whether it’s your fault or not. There have been too many examples of things gone awry and our yayas, helpers and sitters swinging helplessly on the wrong end of the dodgy scales of Justice those places, weighted of course against our OFW kabayan.

Back to the Middle East, unless you are willing to risk your work status and liberty, or you are totally confident in dodging the authorities, you never ever expose your Christian faith, or drink a drop of alcohol, two practices that would be entirely acceptable elsewhere but not for our working countrymen there, a place that ironically cannot function without our hard-working, stoic and forever-adapting Pinoy OFWs.

Though I’m still in the middle of my migrant journey in New Zealand, I’ve been quite lucky. My employer and managers are quite supportive of my employment, despite the fact that many locals and New Zealanders are unemployed. New Zealand’s respect for workers’ rights and interests is world-class, and workers who qualify are encouraged to seek permanent resident status.

I wish I could say the same for our kabayan in the rest of the working world. Our stalwart OFWs and migrants face a broad range of negatives from minor border inconveniences just because of the wrong skin color (it’s common to see our compatriots questioned beyond the usual how long are you staying in the First World?), to constant harrassment of Pinay OFWs often suspected of sidelining as prostitutes (is it our fault if we are slim and pretty?), to neurotic employers who refuse to release passports (believe it or not, holding our passports during our duration of employment is SOP), to oppressive labor and criminal laws that occasionally result in tragic consequences for the poor Filipino worker who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (convenient scapegoat, holder of the proverbial empty bag and having our taciturn-ness equated to submissiveness are our usual roles).

And because we tend to avoid complaining, we’re often the last man (person) standing when no one else is left to volunteer for work that no one would rather do. Juan! Because I know you won’t refuse me, I hereby volunteer you for the one-man skeleton shift Christmas and New Year’s Day! Thank you in advance! How often have you seen, heard or read about this scenario? Often enough to know that our kabayan’s inevitable answer will be thank you for your trust in me, sir/mam. And thanks for the extra overtime… (don’t mention it, snicker snicker).

*** *** ***

If there were a giant, traditional and all-encompassing national noche buena (and throw in the New Year’s Eve dinner for good measure) the surefire consequence would be the well-loved and auspicious practice to simultaneously hold a family reunion, where every member is included, in spirit if not in person, from the matriarch/patriarch to the tiniest, most junior toddler in the family.

Anyone absent would be thought of fondly, remembered and prayed for, and of course the priority would be relatives abroad, in the farthest reaches of the world, working like it was any other regular working day, particularly in countries that don’t think too much of Christmas and the birthday of the Redeemer.

Our symbolic national noche buena behooves us to think of our working-class heroes and migrants abroad, not all of whom may have a happy Christmas, what with holiday shifts, adverse weather, extended hours and lonely / one-man working conditions sometimes befouling the holiday mood.

Surrounded by the laughter of loved ones, the glitter of gifts, and the buzz of vintage wine or San Miguel Beer, let’s spare a thought for the sacrifice of our kabayan, who must work like it’s a dreary Monday, who will work because there are no others available, and who love their work because it gives them sustenance, dignity, and a future for their families, not necessarily in that order.

Maligayang Pasko po sa inyong lahat!

honoring the custodians of our pinoy culture

a rousing Filipiniana dance interpreted by children of Pinoy migrants including 7-year old Ella Cabauatan.  Seen in the background are H.E. Ambassador Virginia Benavidez, Consul Arlene Gonzales-Macaisa and Emb Finance Officer Rosalyn Del Valle-Fajardo

a rousing Filipiniana dance interpreted by children of Pinoy migrants including 7-year old Ella Cabauatan. Seen in the background are H.E. Ambassador Virginia Benavidez, Consul Arlene Gonzales-Macaisa and Emb Finance Officer Rosalyn Del Valle-Fajardo

[ Note : Awesome kudos the participants at the Typhoon Haiyan Philippine Appeal Concert last Saturday , particularly Meia Lopez and the Wellington Filipino Community Choir; congrats to the Typhoon Haiyan fundraising efforts of the Society for Southeast Asian Communities led in part by Didith Tayawa-Figuracion! Legends all! ]

WE CAN’T remember who said it, but more than a few times we have heard that culture is the soul of a collective people.  Language, the arts and music are the most visible indicators, but anything that expresses the spirit of a tribe or group of people is part of a culture which history preserves and the community promotes.

Because of this reality, a conquering nation or race, many times in history, after the physical subjugation of its enemies, sought shortly afterwards to suppress the latter’s culture and language with impunity, usually for political and emotional ends but all the better to wipe out the remnants of future dissent from the vanquished.

The burning of books and execution of scholars by the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang, and the infamous Nazi book burnings before World War II are just two extreme examples of suppression against culture.  In more recent times, prohibition against speaking the languages of natives in favor of the colonizers’ tongues are scenarios that strike closer to home.

Thankfully in our present day these things no longer happen.  In fact, even in host countries like New Zealand, migrant communities like ours from the Philippines are allowed and even encouraged to promote and preserve aspects of our Pinoy culture so that our youth may appreciate and continue what our forebears fought hard to preserve.

Basic things like the Filipino language, history and symbolisms behind the Philippine flag, the geography, ethnicities and various regions of the Philippine archipelago,  the national symbols, flowers, attire, tree, bird and others were taught to a group of Pinoy children and young adults a few months ago by a select group of Kiwi-Pinoy volunteer teachers, namely Aurea Weatherall, Zenaida Savill, Shirin Zonoobi, Josephine Garcia Jowett, Ruth Abenojar-Yee and Jun Samblaceno under the Filipino Language and Culture Enrichment Programme (FILCEP) sponsored by H.E. Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez and her hardworking staff at the Philippine Embassy in New Zealand.

The ten-day programme was to focus on the more basic aspects of Filipino language and culture, but its success has prompted the Embassy to plan more sessions in the near future, particularly in civics and the performing arts.

Last November 13, it was the turn of our FILCEP volunteer teachers to be honored as the Embassy and the Pinoy community held its first FILCEP Fun and Educational Day at Ang Bahay, the official residence of the Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand.

After the singing of the Lupang Hinirang (the Philippine National Anthem) by Mia Abenojar Yee and Samantha Samaniego and the recitation of the Panunumpa sa Watawat by Paulo Raphael Obach, festivities were immediately commenced, with focus on Filipiniana.

Tinikling, the native Filipino dance was taught and performed, palitaw and halo-halo preparation was demonstrated and the results enjoyed, storytelling about alamat and other Pinoy legends, Jose Rizal’s poems and stories and puppet making was eagerly absorbed, and various native games like luksong lubid, sungka and hampas sa palayok were demonstrated to other youths.

The Filifest Dance Group led by Queens Service Medal awardee Anita Mansell, with their performances both educated and entertained everyone present, particularly the freestyle dance of Stephanie Jowett, the saxophone piece by Gino Tapia, a violin performance by Sam Non, and Panaglangin sung by Kiwi-Pinoy couple Hazel and Mark Fryer.  Other awesome performances were Kathy Lopez (Next in Line) and Jodie Marquez (Torete).

The children’s group Munting Tinig stole the show with their heartwarming rendition of Ang Pipit and Tutira Mai.

The Philippine Embassy hit two birds with one stone, sharpening the prongs of their cultural diplomacy thrust and partnering with the Pinoy migrant community in New Zealand with their FILCEP family day.  If the most basic aspects of our culture, like love for country, family values and a fundamental knowledge of Filipino history language and culture served to inspire the youths present, then FILCEP would have been a smashing success.

Mabuhay po tayong lahat!


to look like dad & all its benefits : happy father’s day!

this is not the first time I'm using this pic but it's the best I have..  Mahal, me, my Tita Lily who recently passed away and Dad, dashing as ever!

this is not the first time I’m using this pic but it’s the best I have.. Mahal, me, my Tita Lily who recently passed away and Dad, dashing as ever! Thanks once again to brother Jude Bautista and !

[ Note :  In the Philippines, I’ve always celebrated my birthday near mother’s day, so there are two happy things to remember around then.  Now because of the happy accident of working in NZ, dad’s birthday and New Zealand’s Father’s day are about two weeks apart. Happy father’s day to everyone not just in NZ, but everywhere else! ]

IT’S UNIVERSAL that parents like to claim authorship of anything that resembles success in their kids, and more than a passing resemblance with the same, especially whenever the latter are beautiful, intelligent, gorgeous and otherwise pleasing to the mind and eye.

Among my siblings, Eldest Brother (we are five brothers, no sisters) is unsurprisingly blessed with the most leadership skills and probably the best communicator.  Second Brother is undoubtedly the smartest and the easiest to get along with.  Fourth Brother is the most athletic and attuned to business, while Fifth Brother is the most creative.

Pure luck of the draw and genetics gave me a different gift : I like to think, and more than a few people and rellys agree with me, that I was honored to be the son who resembled (resembles) our father the most.  And because my father (naturally) considered himself not a bad-looking man and a good standard with which to compare his progeny, he almost surely (neither I nor my brothers ever thought to ask him) thought that I was the luckiest one because of the way we received our inheritance in the looks department.  LOLs and smileys all around after that one. 🙂

Seriously, my father has been honorable in executing his fatherly duties in every which way possible.  He was the solid rock of stability around which the rest of the family was built, guided and counseled all of us through our maturity, and to this day serves as an inspiration for his middle-aged sons as they strive to measure up to the greatness that is their father.

But I have enjoyed as good a relationship with my father as anyone could wish for, though I don’t  claim to know enough to say it has been as good as or even better than his relationship with his other sons, my brothers.  Perhaps viewed through the prism of self-regard and self-interest, one always thinks his appearance, his abilities, and his relationships are the best, without the benefit of comparison with a superior standard.

Should you therefore ask me how I have the audacity to write the previous paragraph, I will answer with a contrast I’ve seen with him when it comes to me.

He is probably the most opinionated person I know, holding specific, and perhaps jingoist and xenophobic opinions on everything under the sun.  He is like that, and will not aggressively attack your worldview, but his Old World eloquence and quiet conviction will assure you that you will have hours and hours of debate before you get any  meeting of the minds.

With me, whenever I talk to him about my view of things, his response has almost invariably been, for him, atypical.  He will nod his head, smile knowingly, and listen to all the points I elucidate.  He will usually say ganun pala or I never knew that.

Deep down I know he is only holding his tongue and patronizing me, but because he is my dad it is approval enough for me to shut up and acknowledge his smile.  And I know he is agreeing only because it is me.

He is also, as you might expect, very old school.  In almost everything, from popular culture, religion and customs, the roles of men and women in society, and anything else you might think of.  With many people of his generation, produced by expansionist tyranny and the Last Great War, adherence to traditional values then and now are the bedrock of his core.  (Hard to fault him for that, for in the midst of uncertainty and destruction it was all they could hold on to.)  And that is what he will be to the day he dies.

And yet in my few conversations with him about the tumultuous change overcoming our world,  about explaining to him how and why I have been the only son of his to marry twice, and how when he meets his grandkids again when they return next decade from New Zealand, he will probably not approve of their ways and their appearances, he curiously declines to challenge my points.

In so many words, he pooh-poohs my alarms, soothes my concerns,  and allays my fears.  In a nutshell he tells me :  I am not at all concerned with all that, Noel. Because I trust you to do the right thing.  Not only does he go against form and welcome change, he uncharacteristically reposes a lot of trust in me.

This, to the one who is (no false modesty here) his least successful, least accomplished, least athletic and least creative son.  Truly, to inherit my father’s appearance has also given me a side benefit : to earn the most benefit of the doubt.  The luck of the draw has helped me once again.

***            ***            ***

Lest you think I’m writing this for my dad to see, he will probably not even know about it.  Father’s day in the Philippines is celebrated earlier, and even if they were on the same day, my dad doesn’t care for such things.  That’s one of the greatest things about him ; he is great without even knowing it.

My dad is very much alive today, in I hope the best health of his life, a bit slower now but fit and fighting trim nevertheless.  The only sad part is we are separated by thousands of miles of land and sea.

But if we weren’t, and he were right in front of me now on Father’s Day, I don’t know if I should bow deeply to him the way the ancient Chinese did (he is half Chinese), if I should render a snappy salute for the enormous respect I have him, or just hug and kiss him, as I owe him my life, and everything I am today.  The first, second or third?

I don’t know.  Maybe a combination of them, but most definitely I will hug and kiss him, because it benefits us both.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!  I love you always!

(and to the rest of you as well!)

ganito kasi yon : more awkward situations pinoys confront everyday

[ Note :  The video above has nothing to do with the post, just touched me in a very positive way. here’s hoping the pain and misery following the massive floods back home is minimized, and that a sea change on our pork barrel culture starts to happen.  Yeah, right.  Btw, “ganito kasi yon” is Tagalog loosely for this is the short explanation.  Thanks for reading! ]

CALL US A lot of things, but don’t call us Pinoys (also known as Filipinos) anti-social.  We smile and laugh easily, engage with other people like it’s second nature to us, are great listeners, and can easily wriggle out of a potentially embarrassing situation via diplomacy or tact.

But more than all these, Pinoys are good talkers.  We love to show our facility in English to fellow English speakers (maybe sometimes too vigorously), love to show how we can discuss government and politics, even if we sometimes don’t have the slightest idea of what we’re talking about, and even use the smallest excuse to show off our familiarity with international showbiz, cable entertainment and even socially relevant issues where our region is concerned.

Trouble is, no matter how sociable we are, how cosmopolitan or how well we pass ourselves off as citizens of the world, there will always be aspects of our culture that will remain imprinted on our collective selves.  Conversely, there will be aspects of other cultures that will grate on us, simply because, like the proverbial fingerprint, no two cultures are alike, although on surface we may seem similar.  Whenever we confront face-to-face other cultures, there will be an inevitable clash, and it will be folly for us to compare these cultures with our own.   At the same time,  when these cultures try to compare ours to them, it takes every bit of our strength not to react negatively and instead tell them, live and let live.

Below are just a few examples of how these awkward situations surface whenever different cultures clash.   They are not theoretical or abstract  scenarios but actual vignettes of what happens when what we consider questionable (or sometimes disgusting) happens to be completely acceptable in other cultures.  And vice versa.

it's just more fun ! :)

it’s just more fun ! 🙂

Unwashed hair.  Let’s talk about our hosts first.  Because it’s a temperate climate here, dreadlocks and braids are acceptable hairstyles, especially among those who pursue the so-called alternative lifestyle.  Frankly, it’s a look that fits a certain body type and personality; and if you can wear a mop on your head and pull it off, well kudos to you.

Unfortunately, it’s a style that precludes daily washing of your hair, and such lack of washing is aggravated by the volume of hair and the resulting need for grooming.  It becomes worse when the temperatures rise and the owner of the hair adds sweat to the natural oils trapped in his dreadlocks.  I think you begin to see (and smell) the picture.

Now, about us Pinoys.  Washing our brown bodies is a daily essential, and our hair is no exception.  We like to smell good not just for ourselves but especially for those around us.  We think nothing of anointing ourselves with lotions, colognes, perfumes and other fragrances twice or even thrice a day, especially our ladies.  Does it follow that we should expect others to do the same?

Sorry kabayan but the short answer is no.  I have a dreadlocked colleague who is otherwise a decent chap and pleasant enough, but even in the cold weather, his hair is beginning to reek.  I thought that it was just me being an odor-sensitive Pinoy, but a tactless workmate hit it right on the nail : he mentioned that even with a hairnet and cap, it looked (smelled) like Dreadlock Guy hadn’t washed his hair for a week.  And with winter ending soon, the warmer weather was going to make it worse.  Now the million-dollar question is : who’s gonna be the one to tell Mr Alien Predator  (of the famous braids) that the hair ain’t helping his social life??? 🙂

kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap :(

kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap 😦

Corruption and lack of honesty in public service.  As they say in all democratic countries, public service is a public trust, although in many developing countries like ours, this rule is usually honored in the breach.  In those same free states also goes the saying  Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There’s more : Graft exists in all societies, to the victors in public office belong the spoils, and if you want to avoid more trouble, think twice before reporting a crime to the police.  We’ve all known these truths to be self-evident back home, so much that a political career untainted by corruption is probably beyond comprehension, it’s simply inconceivable to us.  And yet, whenever a New Zealander asks me any detail about how pervasive corruption is in our political culture, I hasten to justify it, explain it away, or compare it to other countries where dishonesty is tolerated as much as it is condemned.

The truth is, we accept the evils of crony capitalism and the old-boy network as part of the necessary evils that make modern government work, as long as it doesn’t offend our sense of proportion or some vague moral boundary (a line which I think was crossed by that Pinay found to own 28 houses in the Philippines and several more in the USA).  But the moment people in other countries try to pass judgment or tsk-tsk the way our government  runs things, the usual instinct is for Pinoys to circle the wagons and defend ours as the Confucian way of governance (which usually means look the other way or your time will come, mwahahahaha).

digital stealing.  We like to do the right thing, watch movies as they actually come out in the moviehouses, borrow DVDs from the corner rental, and wait for the clearance sales on movies we missed.  But the temptation to go to the dark side is too strong sometimes, when people give you the latest, unreleased films on their flash drives, when they talk about the newest pictures even before the reviewers do, and when a lot of people do it, you begin to wonder if it’s worth being one of the good guys.

It’s even worse back home, where frankly speaking everything can be downloaded without paying for it if you know your way around the internet, intellectual property is a joke, and paying for licensed software is something only big companies do.

Don’t think that Kiwis don’t know that Third World countries do this with impunity, because they automatically assume that Asians use software, listen to music and watch movies without always paying for it, and that’s putting it mildly.

To them I fashion, as usual, a defensive response.  The day will come when everything on the internet will be shareware, free-to-use and for everyone to download as they please.  Besides, I like to delude myself into thinking that the world is divided into two : those who pay for stuff and those who can’t afford to pay for it, but ultimately still end up using it, I mean who doesn’t depend on gigabyte power these days?

What I mean is, those who pay for movies, music and software, unless they opt for a lifestyle change, won’t consider downloading it illegally, while those on the other side of the fence have much more important issues of survival and won’t  have the money or inclination to buy the digital stuff.

Yes, we Asians download stuff like it’s the most natural thing, without even considering paying for it.  We watch the latest movies and listen to the latest hits, and only pause to buy the movies or music as an afterthought,  And software we buy, if we buy it at all, is of the bootleg variety.  But we also have mortgages to maintain, rents to pay, groceries to shop, tuition payments to meet, and yes, bills to pay.  These, out of a puny paycheck that’s running on fumes.  Is it still a surprise then that I can hardly think of respecting intellectual property?

If it sounds like I’m justifying stealing things I should be paying for, I’m not.  But as sure as the sun rises at dawn and sets 12 hours later, movies, music and software will always be stolen (or copied, as simple as that) outside the so-called Western world.  It’s just a fact of life.

Now, how do I tell all these to my Kiwi hosts and keep my straight face on?

why independence day 2013 worked for me, thanks to our embassy in Wellington

FLAG RAISING at "Ang Bahay", the Phil. Ambassador's official residence.  Singing Lupang Hinirang in early winter cold is not an everyday experience.  Thanks to the Embassy Facebook page for the picture!

FLAG RAISING at “Ang Bahay”, the Phil. Ambassador’s official residence. Singing Lupang Hinirang in early winter cold is not an everyday experience. Thanks to the Embassy Facebook page for the picture!

IT PROBABLY wouldn’t surprise you to know that I’ve never been a fan of government-organized holiday commemorations (live or on TV).  Too many memories of giant Martial Law parades and bombastic speeches by da Apo; predictable and formulaic fill-in-the-blanks declamations sounding too much like the Independence Day address of our current president, which by the way is the typical performance that doesn’t always work  (sorry for the bluntness).  And while I’m at it, Araw ng Kagitingan and National Heroes Day, for me, asserts a more forceful narrative towards national consciousness than 12 June, 113 years ago.  The 1898 Proclamation was nice, but it didn’t stop colonial powers from shopping us around, running our country to the ground, and using us as pawns in the chess game of Cold War brinksmanship.

Which is why it was more than a pleasant surprise for me to not only enjoy, as a willing participant, the recent Araw ng Kalayaan celebrations organized by the Philippine Embassy in New Zealand.  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I was inspired, and actually stood proud of both ourselves as Filipinos and the people who represent us away from the Inang Bayan.

I actually had a ringside ticket to the celebrations, as I was invited to march as color guard prior to the symbolic flag raising ceremony traditional to our Independence Day event.  My gouty limbs, the frosty morning and a queasy stomach brought about by an unwise decision to munch stale sweets should’ve been enough to decline the honor, but I had already said yes a week before, and as you very well know, a Pinoy is only as good as his word 🙂 besides, the Pinoy-themed buffet and taho smoothie promised by the event never failed to make my day.

Apologies for the opportunistic picture above, but it captured something that I don’t do often, and in retrospect is something not many people are invited to do.  In a land far away from home, you celebrate your country’s birthday in the most solemn way possible, and help raise your national flag along with your President’s highest official representative among the family of nations.

But it didn’t end there.  The speeches I heard grasped at various themes, but the recurring theme seemed to be our new found economic freedom, brought about by a confluence of factors not the least of which was the faithful persistent homecoming of OFW and balikbayan remittances as well as the remitters themselves.  This obviously hit close to home to this overseas worker and the kabayan around him, that day of Pinoy freedom at the embassy.

The Ambassador touched on simple gestures to perpetuate the Filipino dream of livelihoods and prosperity.  Keep bringing money home.  Send a kid/s to school.  Give three kabayan seed money for a business.  Support a well-loved Philippine institution, the PGH (Philippine General Hospital), for example.

Most of these things we were already doing, she said, but moving out of the comfort zone of family and giving others a real chance in life was the growing challenge for us outside the Motherland.

As we said earlier, it’s not often that we get to beat our breast as Pinoys, but I’m happy to say that the 12th of June last Wednesday was one of those occasions.  And again you might not always believe it, we have our government, represented by the irrepressible Ambassador Gee Benavidez and her do-everything staff to thank for that.  If I had the time, I would go around town with a T-shirt saying Proud to Be Pinoy for the rest of the day.

Especially after afritada, pancit canton, pan de sal, pan de coco and taho with sago for brunch.  Promise remembered, wish granted.

Thanks again kabayan, Ambassador and friends!  Maligayang Araw ng Kalayaan, mabuhay!

reblog : the Philippines 70 years hence seen thru a Pinoy youth

thanks and acknowledgment to!

thanks and acknowledgment to!

[ Note : I’m so happy when Generation Y-ers can engender nostalgia for values of a bygone era, even happier when the member of Generation Y is our own son.  It acquires triple satisfaction when it coincides with today’s commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan.  Lifted with permission from both the author and publisher of Issue No.1 of Pinoy Stop  (Wellington) newsmagazine, maraming salamat po! ]

Every journey begins with one step.  We go on for miles and miles, sometimes knowing where we are going and what we’re looking for. Most of the time we just walk down roads idly, letting our instincts lead the way. We see different things along our different paths. Some things we wish to take with us or at least know more about. We share our experiences to other people but some things we won’t even bat an eyelash for.

That is how I saw the Philippines five years ago, a country proud of its people and their achievements but apathetic to its misgivings and failures. A country that has taken a path unique in many ways, such as being an Asian democracy albeit a flawed one at that. It has millions of skilled workers, all with warm hearts; countless natural resources, filled with so much unrealized potential.

This is what thousands of Filipinos and Americans died for during the infamous Bataan Death March They marched down a seemingly-endless road their captors forced upon them. Many of them did not survive. Whether by starvation, dehydration, exhaustion or by a bullet, their death neither came quick nor easy. Now in remembrance of their deeds and what they fought for, the Philippines commemorates the said event the same day it happened seventy­-one years ago on April 9.

April 9 is a public holiday in the Philippines, with most of the workforce and the student population exempted from work and school, respectively, and the usual Filipino past times would follow such as going to the mall or just resting. As a young person myself I can recall that I did the same on that holiday, enjoying my free time and disregarding the story behind it. That I regret doing, not only because I feel that as a Filipino, I am indebted to those people who died on that road but also because  there are lessons to be learned. Our country’s history has shown us many things. It has shown us that we as a nation bend. We do not break. We have been given a myriad of paths through the years, all of which would not have been possible if not for the people who lost their lives during the death march.

A period of nation-building followed the war.  We chose the paths we have taken. We took the lead. Our neighbors looked up to us. As the rest of Southeast Asia grappled with nation building, weak economies and civil wars, the Philippines was the shining beacon of prosperity and democracy in the region. Unfortunately because of dictatorship, we entered a period of economic stagnation and political crises.  We then, overthrew that regime in a bloodless revolution. After the democratic transition, the expectations of the international community was high. We did not meet those expectations, we didn’t even meet our own. Now under the current government we are seeing  a slow but steady and assured resurgence of our country, not only in the economy but with our political ideals, moral and ethical principles as well. If we have any captors at present, it is us.

We as a people have always chosen what we want to tell others about our experiences. We  are proud of our country’s rich history and culture and are known for our resilience, perseverance and work ethic.  But we ignore the lessons from the past.  Events such as the ‘Fall of Bataan’ and the subsequent death march should serve as a reminder to us all of the hardships our people have experienced.  That is something we should never take for granted.  We owe it to them to aim higher to accept criticisms so we can make ourselves better and make our country proud of all our actions.  We may be forced down a road we have not chosen but we persevere through it and learn from that experience.  We survive — stronger and wiser.

To my countrymen, we do not take holidays so we can take a break off from work and rest.    It has a far greater purpose than that.

bringing the Philippine Embassy to your bakuran

The Philippine Embassy mobile consular team with volunteers of the Pinoy community in Rotorua, NZ.  From left : Atty Levy Ang-Strang, Mrs Lourdes Spijkerbosch, Mrs Gloria Avena, Mrs Ofelia Coralde, Ms Susana So, Atty Giovanni E Palec, Ms Marjorie Luxford, Ambassador Virginia H Benavidez, Mrs Tania Short, Consul General Marcos A.S. Punsalang, Ms Cherry Andrews, Ms Mary Bel Garcia, Mr Larry Reyes, Mrs Josefina Emberga and Mrs Alexis LewGor

[ Note : We don’t always engage in hyperbole, but our Embassy has been an overachieving team that has exceeded even the most generous expectations. Kudos to Her Excellency Ambassador Virginia H Benavidez and her dedicated, workaholic team at the Embassy! ]

THE NUMBERS say it all : 4,895 e-passport applicants, 1,242 overseas absentee voting registrants, 220 notarial documentation, 143 National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearances, 165 reports of birth and marriage and 18 dual citizenship.

Exceeding even the most optimistic goals, the past 14 months have seen our Philippine Embassy reaching unprecedented heights in delivering more effective and efficient services to Pinoy communities throughout New Zealand and countries in Polynesia under its jurisdiction through its groundbreaking mobile consular outreach missions.

Bannered The Philippine Embassy in New Zealand: Serving with a Smile, Going the Extra Mile and Reaching Beyond Our Grasp, direct and onsite consular missions started upon the arrival of Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez  in September 2011.  Since then, the outreach missions have been a game changer in concretely manifesting our government’s priority concern for kabayan OFWs‘ welfare, protection and interests.

To date, our Embassy has conducted no less than eighteen (18) mobile consular missions, bringing unquantifiable benefit to 6,680 Filipinos in key cities in the North and South Islands in New Zealand and in Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and Cook Islands.  We don’t mind saying that not many in the diplomatic community can lay claim to such a gold standard of pro-active performance. 🙂

Just to give you an idea of how busy the previous calendar year was for our Embassy, its  mobile consular team reached out to Pinoys in Christchurch and Auckland in January; Rotorua and Fiji in April; Auckland in May; Dunedin in August; Cook Islands, Whangarei and back to Auckland in September (in fairness, over half of the NZ Pinoy community are based in AKL); the Independent State of Samoa in November and Christchurch again in December.

But even in 2011, mobile consular services started for the first time in Hamilton in October; Ashburton, Invercargill and Auckland in November and Auckland and Tonga in December.

Significantly, in all of the cities visited by the Philippine Embassy, meetings and coordination were made with the respective Filipino community organizations and groups, namely, the Waikato Filipino Association in Hamilton, Filipino Dairy Workers of New Zealand, Incorporated in Ashburton, the Southland Filipino Community Club in Invercargill, Good Shepherd’s Church and the Garcia Law office in Auckland, Association of Filipinos in Tonga, the Alpha Phi Omega Aotearoa, Philippine Culture and Sports and Christchurch Migrants Centre Trust in Christchurch, the Philippine Club of Rotorua, Inc. and the Bay of Plenty Philippine Friendship Society in Rotorua, Filipino Association led by Honorary Consul Dr. Virgilio De Asa in Fiji, Dunedin Philippine Club, Inc., Filipino Community in Cook Islands, Whangarei Filipino Society, Inc. and the Filipino Community in Samoa.

“Their warm hospitality, invaluable support and exemplary cooperation have contributed immensely to a highly successful, productive and meaningful stay and service of the Embassy’s mobile consular team in the various cities in New Zealand and in Tonga, Fiji, Cook Islands and Samoa. Indeed, they are shining examples of the vital partnership between the Philippine Embassy and the Filipino communities in carrying out our God-given mission for our beloved country and people,” says Ambassador Benavidez.

Wherever Ambassador Benavidez and the Embassy team provided services throughout NZ and some cities in the Pacific, the Filipino community unfailingly and profusely communicated deep gratitude to the Philippine Government through the Philippine Embassy for the crucial and sought after consular services at their doorstep as it saved them a considerable amount of money, time, day off and resources, considering that it is often costly, inconvenient and difficult for them to travel to the Embassy’s physical site in Wellington.

Mixing business with pleasure, Ambassador Benavidez was also able to touch base with kabayan and thank them for their invaluable support and continuing cooperation, updated them on the positive economic and other developments back home, focusing on the reform agenda and good governance programs of Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III.

Ambassador Benavidez likewise enjoined them to participate in  the overseas absentee voting process (OAV) and dual citizenship acquisition, briefed them on the urgency of setting up a disaster preparedness and emergency response plan in coordination with local authorities and agencies and conveyed the deep appreciation and recognition of New Zealand’s government and people for their skills, talents, work ethic  and ability to integrate themselves well with our communities New Zealand-wide.

Our Ambassador also took advantage of the missions and the Embassy team’s presence in each city by calling on Mayors, Members of Parliament, officers of the Migrant Centres, Multicultural Councils and Ethnic Affairs Offices to broaden networking, exchange insights and information about the Philippines and personally receive Pinoy feedback and views about the situation as well as contributions of the Filipino communities.  Whenever possible, she also met with local chambers of commerce, businessmen, companies and relevant agencies and institutions to promote greater trade, investment, business, tourism and people to people ties between the Philippines, New Zealand and the Pacific Island countries under our Embassy’s jurisdiction.

But our Ambassador and her loyal team are not complacent.  To ensure that thousands more of our countrymen are reached by the mobile consular services, the Philippine Embassy is set to revisit Taupo, Queenstown, Auckland, Rotorua and other parts of the North and South Islands in 2013.

Announcements on the dates, venue and other relevant details about the mobile consular services are posted at the Embassy’s website at and facebook. Inquiries can also be made through the Philippine Embassy at telephone numbers (+644) 8903741/3742/3744 or email address

Programs like these, unlikely as they are, shift previous paradigms of a distant, unreachable and indifferent government, and ultimately as the record shows we have the new generation of officials like Ambassador Benavidez to thank.  More power to you Ma’m, and mabuhay ang lahing Pinoy!

Pacific islanders our brothers (and sisters) in race, culture and migration

[ Note : before anything else, may I respectfully remind the Precious Reader about my humble little My Favorite Kinoy of the Year survey, for guidance please view a previous blog, thanks in advance for your input; for managing every little detail of your wedding, birthday or anniversary, please contact events planners Marj Magno and Marie Garcia 029-7738616 in Wellington !  Please allow me to thank Ms Zaida Angara West for her beautiful picture which she has graciously allowed me to use as a masthead on my blogsite, thanks Zaida!]

versatilebloggeraward11THANKS TO your kind indulgence, I’ve blogged about a lot of aspects about my accidental migrant adventure, from the kind Kiwi hosts, to fellow Asian wayfarers, to kabayan co-migrants that have my life here heaps easier. But something I almost never mention but which is a mainstay of the NZ milieu, at least in my neck of the woods, is the Samoan, Fijian, Tongan, Cook Islander and Tuvaluan presence.  For brevity, I’ll call them the Pacific Islander fraternity.

We share obvious similarities with the inhabitants of Polynesia because of race, climate and history, so instead of pointing out the distinctions between the islanders, I’ll tell you how much they remind me of ourselves and our Pinoyness.

1st_Honda_OdysseyFamily.  Like many Asians, family ties whether by blood, marriage or affiliation are very important to our islander co-migrants.  Just take a look at the pre-eminent car of choice of an overwhelming portion of the different Polynesian communities, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Estima, and counterpart 8-seaters of other brands.  Such that if you see a car like this in the population centers here, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s either Asian-owned or Polynesian.  Islanders love to stay together, so once a migrant makes it as an NZ permanent resident, expect the rest of his family, no matter what size, to follow him/her to New Zealand.

Some grumblings on this last situation have been heard from European New Zealanders and other locals, which would make sense but for the fact that more people are now leaving NZ than entering it, strange but true.  The net migration rate here has been flat or going down the last few years, so skilled and hard-working islanders and other migrants are actually a good thing for the xenophobes, you better believe it. 🙂

Ginataang-ManokLooks, sounds and tastes.  Fijians are a bit on the mocha side and have a very Hindu-themed racial heritage, Tongans are a bit too solidly built, and Samoans are simply superhuman in athletic potential, but on the whole Pacific Islanders look so much like Pinoys that I have been tempted many times to talk in Tagalog to a lot of them before hearing their accent and realizing that they’re not Filipino.  Otherwise, even kabayan who’ve been living among their own kind would take a little time before distinguishing between Filipinos and Polynesian brethren, simply because I suspect that genetically, we are probably identical.

We have very similar complexions.  Our facial features are uncannily reminiscent of each other.  Even our respective languages contain words that have kindred meanings.  The Samoan word for drink is inu, the Maori (and Cook Island) word for death is mate.  Do they sound familiar?  And all the island cuisines scattered all over the Pacific use coconut milk liberally, so our ginataang tambakol, Bicol express and ginataang manok find eerie parallels among our Polynesian co-migrants.

Wanderlust and work ethic.  I don’t know the exact New Zealand policy, but Polynesians particularly Samoans Fijians and Tongans are allowed special migration privileges by NZ, who acts as a big brother to the smaller nations of the Pacific.  Because of this, Auckland is known as the city with the largest Polynesian population in the world, home to large Tongan, Samoan and Fijian communities.

Many Islanders have done well here, and they are proud of their migrant tradition, as Pinoys are of their own (not only here but all over the world).  It’s just like the Pinoy dream :  given better opportunities to raise families and build wealth overseas, they take full advantage of their chances, and hitch their star to the migration wagon.  Doesn’t this sound a lot like our own hopes and dreams?

***                ***               ***

Have you ever met a sibling or long-lost relative that you never knew you had, and stared at him or her in wonder?  Followed by hours and hours of bonding and revelations of things you shared but never knew about?  This is how many of us Filipinos feel about our brother Pacific Islanders, and we have just begun to know more about them.  The fact that they are migrants like us makes the experience doubly profound.

Thanks for reading!

Mahal’s birthday handa reminds everyone of home

Mahal with part of her handa.  Poor babe ;)

Mahal with part of her handa. Poor babe 😉

I KNOW I have no right to complain, I did the least work actually.

All around me, for 36 hours people were cooking, preparing yummies and presenting the same buffet style, chilling drinks and readying ingredients for food that had to be cooked just before the guests arrived.  Earlier, a colleague came in and set up a very professional-looking gazebo, which unfortunately was ruined by gale-force winds.

Even the guests got into the act, a lot of whom brought either their own specialties, desserts and of course cakes for the celebrant.

By now you’ve probably guessed that the event of which I speak is an impromptu birthday party of Mahal, impromptu because it was recently canceled and brought back to life, because we (actually she) also wanted to celebrate another year in NZ for both of us, her way of thanking everyone who made our life here a little easier, and who made us forget that we were away from the homeland, away from previous lives, and away from family.

It was a mini-reunion for me, because when I first arrived in Wellington I nearly forgot that I had three cousins and their families waiting to welcome me.  Each of them had gotten an early foot in the migration door and had already obtained permanent resident status, and thus had high hopes for Mahal and me, despite the fact that our credentials under the Skilled Migrant Policy streams had yet to pass muster so far.

There were also colleagues from Mahal’s workplace, the sushi bar, a few provincemates that she discovered at the mall (as you know, Filipinos are very regionalistic) and a few people who helped us in our unexpected journey of migration.

And as anyone will tell you, the DNA strands of a Pinoy gathering are dual : the unique food, and where available, the karaoke / videoke singing, which fortunately for us, thanks to the visitors were plentiful and enjoyable.

just one of the many dishes served. Mahal and her little helpers were both lucky and great in planning!

just one of the many dishes served. Mahal and her little helpers were both lucky and great in planning!

Sisig from a Kapampangan caterer who was also a friend, lechon de leche from a specialist Chinese Pinoy, lumpiang shanghai from our workhorse flatmates, dinuguan from our Johnsonville kinsmen, and many other dishes that not only reminded everybody of home but coaxed us to revisit the old country soon.

During and after the gastronomic olympics, we never ran out of wannabe Pinoy Idol and X-Factor candidates, singing everything from OPM favorites to Seventies, Eighties and Nineties classics.  Too many great songs, too many videoke superstars to mention, but it’s safe to say that nearly one out of two guests held the mike at least once.

The party and the gathering was for Mahal, who was definitely overwhelmed, but it seemed we were celebrating everything Filipino, thanking God in our best Pinoy way for a safe, blessed and illuminating 2012, and bonding among the people who mattered : fellow migrants with whom we shared culture, history and hopes for a better Philippines in 2013.

Mahal with well-wishers, including H.E. Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez

Mahal with well-wishers, including H.E. Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez

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

This blog wouldn’t be complete without a special mention about a guest who very graciously accepted our invitation, and true to her word made it to our munting dampa.  It wasn’t so much honoring our little gathering that made everyone present feel special, but the fact that her very presence made it crystal clear that she was never too busy or occupied not to accept a kabayan’s invitation.  She carried herself like any other guest, bringing a cake for the celebrant, taking the time to get to know everyone present, and even obliging a request by singing Wonderful Tonight on the videoke.  She blended in, and yet by being herself, distinguished herself as the special person that she truly is.

Thank you for attending Mahal’s birthday party, Ambassador Benavidez.  You did a great job making her feel special, and in doing so you honored every one of us.  New Zealand’s Pinoy community is grateful and you do our country proud !

Thanks for reading !

PS. Thank you so much Romy Loverez for the gazebo, Tom and Ining Agustin for the dinuguan, pictures, and macaroons, Cliff and Marj Magno for the pictures and banana cake and salads, Rey and Malou Manahan for the lumpiang shanghai, Ricky and Maya Montenegro for the baked macaroni, Jess and Nena Pelayo for the latik/biko, Ramil and Marie Garcia for the chicken empanada, please remind us if we have omitted anyone !

does Friday night get any better than dinner at the Ambassador’s ?

it's not often the official representative of the Republic of the Philippines opens up her home to ordinary people like me and family. Me, Her Excellency Amb Virginia Benavidez, Mahal and Bunso :)

it’s not often the official representative of the Republic of the Philippines opens up her home to ordinary people like me and family. Me, Her Excellency Amb Virginia Benavidez, Mahal and Bunso 🙂

versatilebloggeraward11ANYONE WHO’S had the experience of knowing a Filipino as an acquaintance, friend, colleague or lover will sooner or later uncover this quirk of nature about us and our kind : love us or hate us, warts and all, but almost to a man, the Pinoy is an ideal host.  Once you cross the threshold of his (I use masculine pronouns but I refer to all genders) munting dampa, you acquire the status of VIP guest, whether you are regular invitee or the guest of honor, of the Pinoy homeowner.

An invitation to share a simple meal, seek shelter for the night, or celebrate a special occasion is never taken lightly by our brown brothers and sisters as it means granting his guest every comfort, entertaining his every request, and heeding, with reasonable limits, his every pleasure.  It has been how most of us carry ourselves in parties, weddings, fiestas, through the centuries till now.

This was why we swept aside any previous engagement we had for Friday evening last (not that we had a busy calendar anyway) to accept an invitation, for two awesome reasons.  First, that the inviter was a Pinay who had painstakingly made sure that the occasion would be remembered via thorough preparation, an impressive venue and her personal touch; and second, that the inviter was no less than the current Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand, Her Excellency Virginia Benavidez.  🙂

Before you arrive at a hasty conclusion and accuse me of sounding like a starstruck fan, it’s because I admit I was and I am.  I’ve never attended an official government function of either my temporary host country or that of the Philippine Embassy, I’ve never even been to the latter except to apply for a passport renewal.  And now my family was invited to the official residence of my country’s Ambassador.  How can you not be dazzled by that?

The Ambassador’s official residence, to begin with, was no munting dampa, or humble hovel, it’s just a figure of speech I like to use in reference to my own abode, but which definitely doesn’t apply to Ang Bahay, the name the residence is given. It’s modest for a top-level envoy but tastefully bedecked with Christmas artifacts and Filipiniana within and without the house, a tradition started by previous ambassadors no doubt enhanced by the current occupant.

Friday evening by the way was to celebrate the accomplishments of the Wellington Filipino Sports Association in fostering friendship and Pinoyness among our Welly Pinoy community, but the good Ambassador used the occasion to show her appreciation for every Pinoy, present or otherwise, who made it easier for her and the Philippine Embassy staff to serve the greater Filipino community NZ-wide.

To be brutally honest, I had no more right than any Pinoy to be in that gathering, whether that Pinoy was a farm worker in Ashburton, an IT website developer in Auckland or a caregiver in Christchurch.  But living in NZ’s capital city (where the world’s embassies hold office) has its advantages, and we were lucky enough to be a flagbearer during the Pasko sa Welly entry of colors parade, and the Ambassador, who never forgets a face, sought us out to be a lucky guest that evening.

Her Excellency  remembered to thank each and every member of the NZ Pinoy community, but the list of 36,000 was too long :)

Her Excellency remembered to thank each and every member of the NZ Pinoy community, but the list of 36,000 was too long 🙂

During her very informal remarks, Her Excellency noted that while clear gains had been made back home since the start of the Noynoy administration, such success could not have been possible without the contribution, via both consumer activity and foreign exchange remittances of countrymen abroad, not the least of which was the Pinoy community in New Zealand.  It warmed our hearts to hear from her that the recent presidential state visit and one-on-one with NZ Prime Minister John Key was a resounding success, producing immigration and trade agreements, that, although in the preliminary stages, were going to be fruitful in improving Philippine-New Zealand relations.

As if reminding herself to avoid further use of officialese (if only for that evening 🙂 ), Ambassador Benavidez went ahead and thanked each and every person invited first for honoring her invitation and then  for his or her personal contribution to improving friendships with and bonding regularly with Pinoys in Aotearoa.  Even Mahal and Bunso, from their little corner in Lower Hutt and Vogeltown, got their own mention !

taho, almost unavailable in most of New Zealand unless pre-ordered, prepared here for lucky guests :)

taho, almost unavailable in most of New Zealand unless pre-ordered, prepared here for lucky guests 🙂

The menu for the evening was Pinoy through and through : Pancit canton, nilagang baka, sisig and other classic Filipino dishes.  The dessert was eclectic, but no one could resist the taho and sago, which reminded us all of home.

Returning to the Filipiniana theme of the Ambassador’s residence, we were regaled by first, the beautiful paintings of the Philippine countryside and bukid scenes.

True enough, the paintings were done by famed artists Jose Joya, Malang, Paco Gorospe, H.R. Ocampo, Rodel Caparas, and Martin Manero, a favorite of the Ambassador.  Most of the collection would be strictly guarded in any museum back home, and yet here we were breaking bread  (and eating rice) right below such treasures!

Yet another remarkable eye candy that most of us couldn’t take our eyes off was the personal miniature Christmas village collection accumulated over the years by Her Excellency, lovingly and almost-professionally displayed in the foyer area of the residence.

The food must have been well-received, with rave reviews represented by the empty plates and bare buffet table, the paintings were oohed and aaahed,  the lively conversations took place in a beautiful house we were lucky enough to visit, hopefully not for the last time.

miniature Christmas village

I wasn’t able to take a pic, but the Ambassador’s collection looked a bit like this one, only more extensive. Gorgeous! (thanks & acknowledgment to!)

Though we were thousands and thousands of miles away from the Philippines, at the Ambassador’s cozy nook in Wellington each Pinoy felt right at home.

Certainly not a bad way to spend a December Friday night.

To the overachieving Ambassador, Mr Pio Benavidez and family, her staff and friends, maraming salamat and maligayang Pasko from this humble blog and the Wellington Pinoy community!

Thanks for reading!