More than a week ago, a Filipino factory worker jumped to his death from the window of the factory he was working at in Taiwan. Minutes before, he swallowed muriatic acid, his own sister witnessed. Clearly, he wanted to end his life.
Before that, another OFW, this time a caregiver, was so depressed, and tried to jump from a second-floor ledge in the Taipei office of the OWWA housed inside the MECO headquarters. She was clearly distraught, and while being interviewed by the welfare officers because she wanted to go home even before her purchased plane ticket date, she suddenly ran and tried to jump through a balcony door and into the ledge. Fortunately, labor officials were able to hold on and prevented an injurious though not fatal jump. She is now confined in a hospital, undergoing therapy. Apparently, she could not stand the psychological pain of being separated from her small child in a Visayas island.
Incidents like these, as well as the death of a Filipina from Abulug, Cagayan during the strong Hualien earthquake last February, makes one realize the heavy costs of working abroad and being counted among the ranks of the “bagong bayani.”
Until I personally encountered such tragedies here in Taiwan, the empathy towards the plight of our overseas workers was there, but not as up close and personal.
One used to see them huddled together sitting in cardboard or plastic mats in the pedestrian bridge linking the IFC Centre in Hong Kong to the MTR station in Central every Sunday, playing cards, watching local shows from their cell phones, or just chatting about family and friends back home. “Mababaw na kaligayahan,” but poignant, because separation from loved ones is always sad, and the solitary free day they have must be spent in the company of kababayans. Some kind of an extended lonely hearts’ club.
Our economists and government officials point to them as “saviors,” and for the longest time, from Marcos through Cory and beyond, they have carried the ball for the economy, with the precious foreign exchange they pump in year in and year out by the billions.
Sure we exempt their earnings from income taxes, no real consolation for many of them who never could get decent jobs or livelihood in the benighted homeland anyway. We exempt them from travel and airport taxes, but then again, is it not due to necessity that they leave, and not choice of travel?
There was a time when the priest in my parish was delivering a homily, fulminating against the Reproductive Health Bill that has since become law. (Until now, however, full implementation has been delayed by obstacles they have strewn).
To my aghast, he was giving credit to his bishops’ obstinacy against population management as the “savior” of the Philippine economy. “If we had practiced birth control, what would have happened to our economy that is now being saved by OFWs?” he asked in warped logic.
I wanted to walk out in disgust, but thought it better to finish my Sunday obligation. Then, at the end of the mass, there was an “oratio imperata” against the reproductive health bill. This time I could not participate, and decided to leave quietly in protest.
Sure, there will always be a big demand for foreign workers contracted by countries which are in some sort of demographic winter. For decades, they actively promoted population management, resulting in a decidedly lower labor force. But in the process, their living standards have increased because the absent pressure of population growth allowed them to manage their economy well.
Not so in the Philippines, where poorer families multiplied their offspring, reducing their household disposable incomes to the barest minima, and where eventually parents had to rely on the children’s income for sustenance. Because the economy could not cope up with the population growth, the escape valve from want and destitution was the overseas labor market.
Thus, the Filipino diaspora—a matter of necessity, not of choice.
At the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taiwan, we have made it our first priority, more than trade and investments, more than the inflow of tourists, to try to be of help and relevance to our OFWs.
Thus it became so gratifying that when we launched MECOnnect (the subject of a previous article here) in Tainan, the OFW community leaders said that it was the first time MECO officers went to their city and connected with the OFWs.
There have been projects launched, and events to make the OFW community in Taiwan feel the presence of their government, but it is an unending task that is made poignantly sad when one sees and hears of tragic situations such as those we earlier enumerated.
Truly they are “bayani,” but one wonders, when will their sacrifices ever end?
Will the Filipino diaspora ever end?
We are writing this article a week before it gets published, because of an extended leave of absence, to recharge and be with family, thus the succeeding condolences may be quite late.
We personally grieve at the death by an assassin’s bullet of Tanauan City Mayor Tony Halili, who was a classmate for two years at pre-medical school, before I shifted to another major course in college days.
Tony, a native of Nueva Ecija, married a Tanauan lass and eventually settled and did business in Batangas, was a brave person even in college days, “maaasahan” during rumbles even in the NCAA.
My profound condolences to the family.
The day after, Mayor Ferdinand Bote of General Tinio was also slain. The mayor is a cousin of a good friend, former Mayor Virgilio Bote Jr., who immensely helped during the Duterte presidential campaign.
From out here in Taiwan, one can only condole, but with a sinking feeling that asks a similar quote of then Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez who miraculously escaped an assassination attempt in New Manila in the early eighties, “what is happening to our country?”