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Kababayans anywhere in the world

It used to be said that the sun never sets on a Chinese. This was because of their ever-growing population and their desire to go out and find better livelihood wherever they might find it. That is why it was said that anywhere you would go in the world you would be able to find Chinese communities, Chinese food, and cheap labor. If we look back we can recall that in the early American West, the Chinese were present and treated worse than even the African Americans. They were treated much like animals and were made to toil away in the blazing sun to build the expanding railroad system to link the different states.

Indeed, back in the say, the expression of the sun never set on a Chinese was definitely true. You can see remnants of that from all the countries all over the world serving some version of Chinese food that has evolved over the years. Now, the world has changed though, and I believe that a more accurate version of that expression should be the sun never sets on a Filipino. It is we now that are truly all over the world.

Today, you will find our kababayans anywhere you travel. You would be hard-pressed to go somewhere and not find some Filipinos there. I have learned this through my own personal experience, from the time my father was a diplomat and took our family with him wherever he was assigned, to when I myself was a traveling journalist, and to just as recent as a few years ago when I was able to take a cruise from Canada through Alaska with my wife. No matter where I went in the world, I would always find Filipinos.

I have to admit, Alaska was one of the places that shocked me a bit. Although I was not as surprised to find Filipinos on the cruise ship — they were plentiful to be sure — I did not think that many of them would make cold Alaska their home. But many of them did. When the cruise ship docked in Juneau, Alaska, we were able to disembark and spend the day in the town and what should I find? A small statue of our very own Dr. Jose Rizal right in the center of the city. Just another small testament of how many Filipinos have been in Alaska throughout the years.

Perhaps due their continued work on the cruise liners, they had decided to put down roots in Alaska. It’s not far-fetched. After all, many Filipinos work up to 18-22 months at a time on the cruise ships. And I will be the first to admit, they are excellent at it. As Filipinos we never do lack for talent and hard work and no matter where they found themselves stationed on the boat whether it be housekeeping, wait staff, entertainment, or concierge, they did amazing jobs. You could tell that they were definitely homesick though. They would get so excited to meet fellow kababayans straight from the Philippines they would eagerly ask of news from home and want to serve us their own sinigang and adobo, dishes I am sure they already made quite popular with the ship’s international crew. You can tell upon meeting Filipinos abroad how much they miss their country and their families.

It just shows, again in my personal experience, that we have reached all corners of the world. Now the sun never sets on a Filipino. This may be nice if our countrymen were traveling the extent of the globe as adventurers looking for new lands, but the reason they are all leaving is because they need to look for greener pastures and a better livelihood that they can’t find here. I know I have written this before and I will reiterate it again. When you look at it from this aspect, our high rate of Filipinos leaving for abroad is not something we should be proud of. We should not be bragging because our countrymen are leaving because they can’t find work and build a life here.

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It is not a new thing for the younger generation in the Philippines, and sometimes even the older one, as there are less age restrictions in the job market in other countries, to leave the Philippines in the hopes of finding a better job and building a better life in another country. In fact, this has gone on for as long as I can remember. However, the growing rate of people leaving is something that should definitely be alarming. This exodus is just another reminder of the problems the country faces including the corruption and stagnation of a government that just cannot take care of or provide for its people and just rely on remittances sent home to boost the economy on the backs of laborers abroad.

Indeed, I don’t even know if the government sees all these people as a problem. They are too busy bragging about the number of our kababayans that leave for abroad. In fact, when their contracts end and they come home they are welcomed at the airport as no less than heroes. True, in many ways, they are heroes to their families who they have supported by working abroad, but they would surely rather stay home in a heartbeat if given the chance. Who would not want to stay home and close to their loved ones? Unfortunately, that is not an opportunity for them because they can’t find work here that can sustain their family’s needs.

Our country, our economy, and most importantly our government just can’t provide for our citizens. It’s the sad truth. Some might say that the economy is growing, but as I mentioned in a previous column, that seldom means nothing for the poor. The division of wealth is so lopsided in the Philippines that the lower income bracket is almost unbelieving of economic growth, as they don’t feel it at all. The rich just get richer and the poor continue to leave.

It’s truly sad in so many ways. I came across a very interesting article by Bloomberg last week in a local newspaper that headlined ‘People should never be the main export.’ The article was written by a foreign correspondent and said what I have been saying all along. It is the government’s job to create employment for its citizens at home, not force them to look for it elsewhere and risk being caught in abusive situations in which the laws tend to favor the abuser. Granted the current administration has claimed it wants to bring home more of our people, creating sustainable livelihood here for them is still something of a dream.

For now, I think the government needs to focus on how to sustain and grow our economy for the people and give them a chance in their own country. They should not keep patting themselves on the back for all this growth that they have “achieved” when it truly means nothing to the larger majority of our people.

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