I remember completely the day when I was about to depend my thesis in college. How can I forget that very same day, my Aunt Anita was leaving on her way to work in the UAE. She was accompanied by another traveler in which I found out later that she use to work as a public elementary school teacher somewhere in Nueva Ecija. Both of them will be working as domestic helpers. That was also the time where a large number of Filipinos were migrating either to work under contract for specific years or settle permanently to another country. It was then that I became to question myself what will happen after I receive my diploma in college. I asked myself that very same question I raised to my fellow high school batch mates when I delivered my salutatory address in 1998. This is about my promise that i will never leave the country to be one of Overseas Filipino Immigrant Workers.
The main topic that I discussed in my speech was about this – “I urge you all my fellow graduates not to leave our country. I appeal to all of you to think the Philippines’ fate more than dollars, riyals or yens. I encourage you to be with me and together we will help each other to make this nation great once again”. I ended my speech with a promise that never will I leave the Philippines once I completed my collegiate degree. I didn’t realize then that I will be the first one to break that vow.
It was in the year 2003 that I was awarded with a bachelors’ degree in electrical engineering. Year 2007, after five years of struggle to find a decent and well-paying job in Manila I began to ask myself again – “with this salary I am receiving every month I won’t be able to buy whatever things I want”. The salary I was receiving that time, to be honest is just enough for myself alone. I could not been able to spare and give some to my parents and even to my brother who at that time is taking his education in a private college in the province. It was not even enough to spare some savings. Sometimes not even enough to sustain my daily expenses and basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. That was also the time that I myself broke my promise not to leave the Philippines. Not that I don’t have options left, in fact I had plenty only that I chose the choice most OFWs like me has chosen.
Yes I decided to work in the Middle East. My first assignment was in Saudi Arabia, in Dammam. I’ve spent sixteen months of unbearable seclusion and loneliness in the middle of the desert. Yes I was earning ten folds the amount I was receiving while working in Manila but that I think is just worthy to compensate the unbearable. When I first had my vacation last April 2009, I arrived at the NAIA and welcome by the airport’s staff with faces smiling and shouting the words – “Mabuhay ka kabayan! Bagong Bayani ng Bansang Pilipinas (Long Live the Kabayans, New Heroes of the Philippines).
I was surprised and of course I must admit, those words are nice to hear. Compliments those words may sound to be, still they made me a little bit more proud than what I already am being an OFW.
But the question is: How do Overseas Filipino Workers (like me) Become New Generation Heroes anyway?
Before I answer this, allow me to give you some facts about us, OFWs.
OFW Facts and Figures
(I did some researching here!)
As of the current National Statistics Office census and data on its website, there are almost two million (1.9 million to be exact) OFWs distributed around the world. You can see an OFW working in almost every state, in almost every corner of the world. OFW numbers are concentrated in Asia with a number of 790,000. The average age group of OFWs is ranging from 25 – 29 years and majority of them are males though the difference between genders is quite immaterial.
Gender Does Not Matter
The ratio of female vs male OFWs is small indicative of the fact that gender is not a consideration if you want to work abroad. Whether you are male or female doesn’t really matter at all for as long as you want to have work and you want to earn money in foreign currencies.
The age groups of 25-29 are those belonging to bachelors like me who are on the verge of contemplation as to whether to leave the country or not. This is the age group wherein after graduating in college of say age 22, Filipinos are hopeful to find decent, well-paying jobs locally, though most of them are somewhat were unlucky.
In my case I tried to venture in my luck till I was 27 but then as I mentioned earlier, decided to find a much greener pasture outside the country.
I have also found out that majority of this 1.9 million Overseas Filipino Immigrant Workers (OFWs) are not degree holders, office workers and other stuff like that.
Majority of OFW consisting of about 320,000 in recent count are not those with white collar jobs.
Most of these OFWs belong to the “laborers and unskilled worker group”.
Most of these OFWs belong to the “laborers and unskilled worker group”.
Sad to say but true. This is the case of my aunt and her friend who left years ago to be domestic helpers. Her teacher friend traded the honor of serving and educating our children to some kind of dirty jobs like toilet cleaning and stuff like that.
Most of these laborers and unskilled workers are concentrated in Saudi Arabia
Totaling in a huge numbers counting to 216,000 workers, Saudi Arabia has been the first in the list to employ OFWs since it has the biggest and largest proven oil – reserved. Now to o exaggerate the matter more, I can personally attest to the veracity of this number. During my stay in Dammam, most of the OFWs I was able to come in contact with are laborers and unskilled workers like helpers in a construction site, waiters, dishwashers, hair dressers, and many more that we can consider unskilled jobs.
By definition, unskilled jobs are those jobs one can easily perform without the need of a college degree or appropriate related skills learned from a vocational or training centers like TESDA. You can easily do unskilled jobs and labor works at ease. You don’t need to be a bachelor or an engineer to wash the dishes or clean the toilets right? Or maybe, you don’t have to be a lawyer in order for you to groom an Arab, correct?
I hope by this time you are getting my point. So long as you can read and right and can speak a carabao – Arabic, as others often referred to it, you can at ease perform jobs intended for unskilled workers and laborers. Need I say more?
This brings me to an assumption that it might be because of the extreme poverty and somewhat incomplete education most of our people are suffering with caused this numbers to reach this vast. Needless to say, we have so many unemployed unskilled laborers even here in the country right now.
During my PDOS (Pre Departure Orientation Seminar) sometime in February 2007, I was able to speak to some attendees. I must admit, I did not understand the whole seminar neither the discussion and orientation topics. Why? The speaker was a bit lousy in her command of language. At the end of the seminar, the speaker was asking, “did all of you get the point of the seminar?” Discreetly I whispered, “Almost but not all of it”. Luckily I ask that very same question to an aspirant whom I can say belongs to that unskilled category. She was aspiring to be a nanny cum housemaid in Jeddah. To my awe, she said – “hindi rin e saka pakialam ko ang importante mapirmahan yun certificate ko para makaalis na” (I didn’t understand either. Like I care about it! I just want my clearance be signed now so that I can proceed to the airport).
The truth of the matter
For those OFWs belonging to the group that I am talking about, all they care is nothing but to proceed to the airport and fly. Most of them if not all are only after for the PDOS certificate not knowing what’s the significance of the seminar. Sad to say, this is the reality that I guess until now is happening during the PDOS sessions in Manila.
What is PDOS anway?
It is an orientation seminar intended to educate the aspiring OFWs prior to their departure about the pre-existing condition, rules and laws, traditions and customs, do’s and don’ts of their host country of destination. This is very significant and failure to understand by heart what the purpose of PDOS is crucial to their success overseas. Failure to comply with PDOS lessons is extremely detrimental to their stay in the host countries. PDOS is more like a guide and somewhat eye-opener to OFWs especially for the first timers on what’s the real score and situation of fellow workers abroad. It’s more like their bible, their guidelines, and their defense!
The Not So Good Truth About OFWs
I was browsing some profiles of my friends on Facebook when I was, for some unknown reason lead by my mouse to a profile wherein a status update was about a Filipino who is asking President Aquino to intervene and help him because he was imprisoned for about ten years now due to him killing a Saudi National. He will have to stay inside jail for four years more till the son of his victim is eighteen. By then, the son of his victim will give his verdict whether to accept a blood money or not. If the son chooses to accept so, the OFW will be freed. Otherwise, he will then have to face the same fate those who have killed somebody in Saudi all have tried to avoid. Yet they all end up beheaded. As per Sharia’h Law, when you killed someone, death is the ultimate punishment.
This is not an isolated case. In fact, there are many cases like this pending and awaiting final judgment. Not only in Saudi but as well as in the neighboring Arab States like Kuwait and Qatar, lives of our kabayans are at stake. Not just one, these cases come in numbers too many to mention here.
I left a comment on the video that is in You Tube since it was not mentioned as to why did that OFW killed his victim. As per the other comments, such reason was not included in the public plea because it was too sensitive and very delicate issue. I was, for a moment, became speculative and asked myself, was it really an act of intentional killing or just a mere self-defense. What was really happened there?
The video is hoping to get a public sympathy and is aiming to reach the attention of Malacañang through You Tube and Facebook. The unclear aspect that was never mentioned in that video is why did that OFW killed the Saudi?
Granting without accepting that the OFW is innocent and he did that for the purpose of self-preservation, he might be absolved in exchange for something and I highly doubt it will be cheap. I’m talking about the blood money. Should the blood money be accepted, where would he get such amount? I’m certain it’s not cheap. It might even worth millions of pesos. This option is ideal and I believe when needed, our fellow OFWs won’t mind sharing even their month’s salary just to contribute to raise the amount provided the suspect is innocent, right?
Granting again without accepting that the President will earn his sympathy, what would he want the President to do for him? Beg on his knees and ask King Abdulla to pardon him and compromise the whole Philippine Nation’s pride and honor?
Let me just make myself clear.
I am not, for any reason, is against to the convicted OFW. I am speaking not just about him but in general and for all those OFWs in death row who are asking the same thing as his.
Take for example the case of those OFWs who asked the then President Gloria Arroyo. They all have asked the government to intervene for each one of them and speak for their absolution. They all wanted to get free. They all begged to be pardoned by the Saudi King. But I am not sure, if any of them got what they wanted.
The Sad Reality
Juan Dela Cruz left his home hopeful he might be able to support his family’s needs more by working abroad rather than to stay and work as a conditional and seasonal construction worker in Manila. He was earning about a minimum of P300 per day and when he found out he could earn say twice as much of that in Saudi, he then immediately perhaps with little or no hesitation at all applied for the job through a recruitment agency. The agency then saw an opportunity with Juan Dela Cruz. Since he is almost unskilled and only knows some helper-construction jobs, the agency took advantage over him by manipulating his credentials and papers as well as his Visa. With this, Juan has been approved by the Saudi employer of course out of extreme manipulation and suggestion by the agency. What is the reason of the agency of doing this? Money of course, is the any other?
Juan without any clue as to what customs and traditions about his host country has, flew his way from NAIA. Just like the Filipina nanny I was talking about earlier, Juan didn’t care enough to pay attention to PDOS, he just want his certificate signed and alas fly his way so that he might be able to repay his debt used as placement fee his agency.
Few months later Juan had killed somebody, a Saudi to simplify things. The reason about him killing a Saudi? Usually out of self-preservation. Others say that Saudi’s are the one who started everything, that they are cruel and inhumane in their treatment. This is true however not most of the cases. Let us not deviate from the fact that perhaps the one who started the fight that eventually led to one being killed might be and could be Juan himself. There are so many factors that might be conclusive enough as to why would an OFW assault then eventually kill his employer or sponsor (but this is another topic).
What I am saying now is:
Let us not base our judgment of plain prejudices and inclinations. Be fair on both sides. Saudis as they are, but they are also like us. We are all humans. They too deserve the very same justice that we want. Just like Saudis, we too Filipinos even for once in our lives might have treated them inhumanely one way or another.
My Point Is
All OFWs, first timer or not should always study and know how to find ways to adapt to his host country’s way of life. As an OFW myself, we should first know how to deal calmly and wisely on unexpected situations similar to that. If in case our safety is compromised, and our lives at stake, one has to choose a non-violent reaction otherwise we would be facing the consequences of our actions and I tell you, when you’re in Saudi, it would be excruciatingly severe!
Learn how to vow you head down sometimes
We are just guests to our host countries. Just like when we are guest to our neighbor’s house, we should at all times adhere to the rules and regulations inside his home. Just because they needed us to do things they won’t do doesn’t mean they need us for life. Just because we do the things that they consider dirty or tedious doesn’t mean we are indispensables. We must know how to go with the flow when it comes to living inside their territories. Clever mind is the best weapon as far as this matter is concerned. If we can’t take nor tolerate within our limits as to how they treat us, they I suppose the best thing to do is to leave and return home immediately. Though, when you opt to do this, be prepared to suffer the unbearable at home. Choose between the options, tolerate their treatment and earn dollars so we can provide for our family’s at home or leave immediately if you can’t go with the flow. Return home but get ready to be jobless. Up to us to decide, both are worst anyway.
Now back to the question: When does an OFW become a hero?
Just because he works in foreign land doesn’t make him a hero. Just because he earns foreign currencies doesn’t make him either.
Just because he sends regular remittances that buoy the economy is enough to make him a hero. Just because he will be beheaded or he was beheaded doesn’t make him either.
So what then?
In my own point of view, an OFW can and only would be righteously worthy to be called a hero if his reason of leaving our country is noble and out of selflessness. I fear that most of us, OFWs, don’t have the nerve to call himself a hero for the very same reason that I have. I myself left the country not because I want to send remittances to help the economy and help alleviate poverty in a national scale. I myself, am amenable to the fact that most of the OFWs who left the country did that for the sole and prime purpose of self-preservation. Believing that there is a better life for us working abroad, we decided to leave our beloved country as well as our love ones and not because of any heroic premonitions whatsoever. It is for the sole purpose of provision first to our selves, then to our love ones and least to our country.
If in the very essence of leaving the country is for the national advocacy, why then there are many OFWs don’t want to go back anyway? Why then many OFWs as well as those immigrants preferred to stay and spend the rest of their lives abroad when in fact they know what the real condition of those they have left is.
If the very essence of leaving our country is patriotic, then why there are many of OFWs aside from sending remittances home also brought shame and liabilities to our government? Why then there are cases similar to the above scenario? Why then the whole nation needs to be addressed and the entire public be alarmed when it comes to problems like this?
If the reason of leaving our country is merely base on self-preservation and self gratification, I say boldly, no one has the honor to call himself a hero!
The only thing I could come to think of for an OFW to be called and rightly to claim himself as hero is this:
If and only if he has contributed to his country’s welfare and development in a huge national scale, one way or another,
If and only if he brings honor and international recognition that may able to make our neighbors to look up towards us
If and only if his sole purpose of leaving the country is purely patriotic and not prioritizing himself nor his family’s, then he is indeed a new generation hero.
It was never enough reason to justify that just by merely bearing the excruciating pain of loneliness, homesickness and being separated from our love ones makes us OFWs worthy as new generation heroes. It was never enough to send thousands of money home.
What about these remittances anyway?
Is that not an act of heroism? I tell you it’s not. It is just a mere coincidence, a mere obligation and a good side-effect of a prescribed medicine, just a by-product of a complicated process and never an epitome of a just cause.
It takes more than just billions of remittances, more than just being secluded and more than just being beheaded to be a hero!
If one can isolate his personal reasons of self-preservation to the cause of his calling, then and only then he might be worthy to be called a hero! Can you do it? I myself can’t either.
Two questions I would like to leave on you.
Are you one of us, Overseas Filipino Immigrant Workers?
Are you a hero then? Co'z sure thing, I am not!