Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Chito Roňo’s Anak (Star Cinema, 2000) chronicles the life of an overseas Filipino working mother who takes the pain of physical separation from her family just so she can provide for her children. This cinematic presentation finds parallelism in the context of today’s Filipino migrant workers who, because of socio-political volatility and lack of career opportunities hereabouts, leave abroad for greener pastures.
According to the National Statistics Office, our 80 million-strong Third World nation has 3.99 million or 10.9% of its labor force registered “unemployed,” the highest jobless rate in Asia. It is difficult when 5% of the populace has no work—people do the extreme from stealing food to wishing to become First World citizens—so a great number of Filipinos set their sight toward the lure of overseas employment. To be more statistical about it, a total of 7.4 million comprises the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) around the world. That means almost 10% of Pinoys are expatriates working as teachers, engineers, “nurses, caregivers, entertainers, seamen, doctors and domestic helpers.” To many of us, these are just figures, but Anak with its top-caliber lead Vilma Santos gives these workers the face, the body and the heart of a parent who has to render the sacrifice of familial separation if only this will make both ends meet.
Data coming from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency point to the escalating number of migrant workers, with .6 million Filipinos finding work abroad in the first seven months of 2005. Roughly 3, 000 citizens leave the native soil daily, which could mean that in a few years’ time, the country’s healthcare, education and engineering systems would collapse for lack of specialists in these fields. Owing to this, the quality of graduates we produce is jeopardized with our best teachers absent, our healthcare endangered with our very medical officers going export-oriented, and our civilization’s structures weakened with our own engineers building the empires of our neocolonizers. As the film suggests, the mother may be helpful in rearing the kid of her employer, but in the process it is her kids that grow without a mother. In fact, her eldest has grown into a bullheaded woman who does not respect her even as a fellow human.
It is not a hidden fact that our OFWs’ remittances, the third largest in the world at 7.9 Billion, sustains the languishing Philippine economy as well as feeds the OFWs’ love ones home. Furthermore, the demand for OFWs reflects their comparative advantage skills-wise, although now threatened by stricter measures of foreign employment first in Japan, Malaysia and South Korea. Some of our expatriate workers are even willing victims because they go undocumented just to land a job abroad. The neocolonialist ploy of economic hostage rears its ugly head when our workers disregard the hazards of leaving and of possible reversal of fortune (getting murdered like entertainer Maricris Sioson, scientist Victoria Suller, and nanny Delia Maga, or getting hostaged like Angelo dela Cruz and Roberto Tarongoy) just so they can feed the family. In the film, Vilma’s character has risked a life of solitude abroad, tidying the home of her boss, in the wish that her remittance will somehow fund the needs of her family, but her skill as a homemaker proves ironic because her own home in the Philippines is figuratively falling apart.
The worsening political situation causes our professionals to seek more stable jobs abroad. With the government’s ineptitude toward providing more jobs, upgrading working conditions and keeping investors, our professionals join the bandwagon of Diaspora. While political bickering exacerbates our economic meltdown, the professionals are pushed into trying better deployment overseas. As a result, the accelerating pace of brain drain has contributed to the aggravation of what the Philippine Health Alliance for Democracy termed as “national hemorrhage.” The bleak scenario in the medical profession is the same in the disciplines of teaching, engineering, and the like. As a maid, Vilma’s character has followed the trend of these migrant workers, and even at the film’s ending, she still went working abroad, seeming to get the message across that it is the only salvation OFW’s can get. For lack of better wages around, a significant number of teachers are forced to migrate to, say, New Zealand, Great Britain and the united States, where these teachers do not expect to teach mercifully in overcrowded, dilapidated classrooms or worse, under the tree shade, and be underpaid for all the zeal and talent they show in the educative process. Meanwhile, engineers are equally in demand in Developed countries if only for the tremendous help they give in literally building the nations (with infrastructures, skyscrapers, service and transport systems) they work in. In the course of building other nations, our own is deteriorating and as the film has shown, the country’s very basic foundation, the family, is the unit most endangered from breaking down irreparably.