The Trade Off
The OFW phenomenon has undeniably reaped economic benefits for Filipino families and for the whole country. In 2017, OFW remittances reached an all-time high of $31.29 billion. That’s a lot of money. But at what cost?
The first and the biggest casualty is personal relationships. When OFWs and their loved ones spend decades far apart from each other, relationships tend to suffer. Stories of marital infidelities abound. Either the OFW or the husband or wife left behind succumb to the temptation of having a lover as loneliness seeps in. Marriages have been broken because of the distance. Even if the couple have managed to stay faithful to each other, the long period of separation usually makes them drift away and turns them to strangers. Their union is reduced to an economic one. And the OFW’s role, in many cases, is simply that of a “ financier”.
Parent-children relationship also suffer. Prolonged parental absence in simple things like playing, doing homework or having a meal has cumulative negative effects. They miss unexpected teachable moments when a parent can give a life lesson, and the child would most likely be receptive to it. OFWs also miss milestones like birthdays, graduations and weddings. The absentee parent tends to develop lasting guilt while the children may feel resentful. In the end, when OFWs come home for good, they realize that their children are now grown men and women who are too busy to spend time with them.
Ten, 20, 25 years apart. That is a huge loss. That is a long period of hard work, stress and loneliness. That is a lot of missed moments with your loved ones. That is a big piece in the puzzle of life— and that piece is missing, and can never be found again because it involves time. There will always be a part of you that is unknown to your family. For example, your friends and colleagues abroad, your boss, your routine, your bedroom. There is no one else in your family who have memories of these things. On the other hand, your family will also have a lot of memories that are unknown to you. Like the time your son spent the whole night doing a science project, or the time your mother had an argument with a neighbor over a petty gossip. Simple things, you may say. But these simple things make up a huge part of our lives.
But what is probably most tragic is when someone dies. Sometimes, the OFW comes home dead after long years abroad. Sometimes, it’s someone in the Philippines. A child, a mother, a spouse. OFWs and their families sacrificed so many years dreaming of a time to be reunited —only to come to that. The surviving members spend the rest of their lives in guilt and regret.
And what about the effect on the person’s dignity? To be blunt about it, many of us are just modern slaves. So many low-level workers are subjected to physical and sexual abuse, humiliation, bullying and constant fear. These things have lasting impact on the person’s well-being.
So, once you decide to become an OFW, you have to be ready for the trade off. It’s your choice and so you have to accept the consequences of your decision. No amount of money will compensate for the long absence. What you can do is to manage your finances efficiently so that you can go home sooner and do the things that are really priceless.
It happens year after year after year.
An OFW comes home for a much-needed vacation. The jubilation starts at the Arrival Area of the airport. A jeepney-load of relatives and friends come to meet him. After the hugs and “ welcome home” greetings, they go to the nearest mall. They go to a restaurant, and ask the waiters to prepare a long table. A hearty meal ensues. The bill comes, around five thousand , and the OFW settles it. It’s okay up to this point.
Then, after the meal — the group is poised to go shopping. The OFW brings out his wallet again, and starts giving out cash. Five hundred here, a thousand there. Or two, three. And everyone is happy. The next day, he starts giving out the “ pasalubong” or gifts. Soap, perfume, corned beef, cigarettes, chocolates, bags , shoes, shirts. The total cost of his pasalubong? Probably not lower than P15,000. The shopping spree continues. The wife needs new clothes. The kids are making “ parinig” about the latest phones and fashion items. Go! Sky is the limit.
The OFW is then notified that his barkadas and kumpares have organized a “reunion”, a drinking spree actually. He has to go. Magtatampo kasi. They dine and drink. Tagay dito, tagay doon. The OFW pays, of course. He’s lucky if his kumpares share one lechon manok as pulutan. And then, more giveaways—his watch, his shoes. The next days and weeks are full of frolic. Baguio, Boracay, Vigan. Outing here and there. It’s making up for lost time. Paminsan-minsan lang naman.
Then, “ requests” start coming. It’s someone’s wedding, christening or birthday. They ask the OFW to chip in. Then, a niece or nephew is short of budget for tuition fee, and their parents are borrowing money from the OFW. And yes, someone is giving birth. They need assistance too. The OFW has to help, or else, “ madamot” siya.
And these extra expenses are incurred on top of the real necessities like medical check up and medicine for aging parents , house repairs and school expenses.
The trip to the ATM is endless. The bank account is bleeding. He then resorts to his credit card. The OFW starts to lose his mind.
To make the tragic story short, after a month of vacation, the OFW goes back abroad tired, stressed and broke.“ Zero balance” in his bank account. May utang pa. He promises himself “ Next year, magse-save na talaga ako.” But it does not happen. It never happens.
A year of savings gone in a month.
It is a vicious cycle. Every year. For twenty years or more.
This has to stop.
OFWs and their families should be able to look beyond short-term comfort. Those in the Philippines should take the initiative to spend less in order to save more and invest more. Most OFWs feel guilty for being away for so long, and they make the mistake of buying material things to cover up their absence. Their families should assure them that it’s okay to have simpler and cheaper family activities and purchases.
As for the OFW, stop wasting your money because of “pakikisama” or “pasikat”. Stop buying pasalubong for everyone. Stop giving treats. Learn to say NO. Let them criticize you. Let them feel bad about you. Cut the ties that bind you to toxic and materialistic people. You don’t need them.
This vicious cycle condemns the OFW to decades of life abroad. Eventually, he retires with nothing. After all those years, zero balance.
Don’t let it happen to you.
That iconic confrontation scene from the movie “Anak” (Child) captures it all. The rebellious, resentful daughter Karla (played by Claudine Barreto) says that she never asked for the things that her OFW mother,Josie, ( played by Vilma Santos) has given her. It was the mother who insisted on giving those things. Josie’s tearful reply was “Dahil mahal ko kayo.” (Because I love you.) And that, kabayan, sums up the reason why we leave. Because of love.
By some cruel twist of fate, we were born in a Third World country where decades of government incompetence and corruption, and corporate greed have condemned millions of Filipinos to a life of poverty. For many of us, the only way out is literally to go out.
We leave the Philippines because we want a better life for the people we love, even if it means spending years away from them. We want to spare them the hardships that we went through: the scrimping, the scraping of the pot, the promissory notes at the school cashier, the overdue bills, the humiliation of borrowing money again and again.
We want to give them the things we never had. We want them to see places we never saw. We want them to reach dreams that were unreachable for us.
How about the pain that the separation will cause? We believe, and we know, that emotional suffering is more bearable than an empty pocket. Children can survive without a mother, but they cannot survive without food, medical care, electricity and potable water. They can survive without a father, but they cannot survive in a rotten house when a typhoon is battering the country. And the future will be hard for people who did not finish their education. Economic survival is more important than physical togetherness. We believe, or hope, that emotional wounds will heal someday.
Love is the reason we leave.
Love is also the reason overseas work is bearable.
It is this love that gives a domestic worker the strength to do backbreaking 16-hour household chores. It is this love that gives an engineer a breath of fresh air in gigantic oil rigs. It is this love that gives a seaman the fortitude to sail across unfathomable oceans and seas. It is this love that gives a caregiver the stomach to wipe the shitty ass of an old, grumpy man.
It is a love that endures loneliness, hardships, insults and harassment.
It is a love that lets go. It is a love that leaves. It is a love that returns. Always.
A lot of talented people remain unnoticed and unknown. They live and then, they die with regrets. They are buried with their dreams that never came to fruition. Their mistake? Aiming for perfection before taking action.
Would-have-been great writers have remained unpublished because of excessive editing and revising. Inspiring poems and stories have remained unread in notebooks and laptops because their own authors never stopped finding faults.
Would-have-been great painters never had art exhibits because they are never happy with their work. How many still lifes were never finished and left to rot in basements because the painter wasted hours upon hours blending the colors?
Would-have-been great composers never finished a song because of endless reworking of lyrics and melody. Soul-moving songs have faded on music sheets without being heard by the masses because the composer was criticizing every bar.
Would-have-been-great singers and actors never made it on stage or the silver screen because they rehearsed too long and missed the audition. How many Grammys and Oscars went to less talented people because someone waited too long to develop the perfect pitch or the perfect act?
Would-have-been great athletes never got a medal because they wanted to be Olympic-material before trying out for a school team. How many world records would have been shattered had these self-doubting powerhouses mustered enough courage early on?
This is not to advocate taking bold actions without preparation. Planning is necessary. Practicing a skill is very important. Revising is indispensable. Definitely, you have to invest time on this process. But at some point, you have to take the plunge. The world will not wait for you and your life is short. Imposing perfection on yourself is self-defeating. You will never be perfect. Nobody is. Your work will never be perfect. Nothing is. You will likely face defeat, rejection and ridicule when you try to show the world what you’ve got. But those are a part of the journey to greatness. Just keep on going.
Therefore, go ahead.
Write that story and publish it.
Paint that sunset and show it to the world.
Compose that song and find someone to sing it.
Barge into that audition and act with all your heart.
Register in that marathon and run with all your might.
Isang adaptation ni Marily Sasota Gayeta
Bugtong. Ang buhay ay isang malaking bugtong.
Nasagot ko ang bugtong !
Nasagot ko nga ba ?
Sinabi sa Delphi ,
“ Mapapatay mo ang iyong ama ! ”
“ Mapapangasawa mo ang iyong ina! ”
Sa narinig , ako’y nagitla
Sapagkat ang hula sa Olympus nagmumula.
Upang ang propesiya ay maiwasan .
“ Hindi ‘yan mangyayari !
Ako ang gagawa ng aking kapalaran!
At hindi ang mga diyos sa kalangitan.
Ako’y naglakbay , patungo sa kawalan
At sa mga nag- krus na daan
Nagkaroon ng sagupaan
Isang pulutong ang aking nagapi
Kasama na ang hambog nilang hari.
Isang halimaw ang sumunod na hinarap
Kalahating lion , kalahating ibon
Isang halimaw na nagtatanong
Winawakasan ang buhay ng taong di makatugon .
“ Aling nilalang ang sa umaga’y apat ang paa ,
Sa hapon naman ay dalawa
At sa gabi ay tatlo ? ”
Ako , si Oedipus , ay nagwika
“ Ano pa nga ba , kundi ‘tao! ‘ ”
Isang tugon , isang maikling tugon na nagpalaya
Sa Thebes mula sa madugong tanikala .
Bugtong ng halimaw ay aking nasagot
Ngunit bugtong ng buhay ko’y mas masalimuot.
Balong reyna ang Thebes , aking pinakasalan
At pinamunuan ang kanyang kaharian .
Nagmahalan ng tapat , nagkasupling ng apat.
Kaligayahan ay walang pagsulingan.
Malagim na propesiya , akin nang kinalimutan.
Ngunit , ano ito ?
Panibagong salot !
Nangamamatay : taniman , hayop
at sanggol sa sinapupunan .
Kaharian ko’y muling natakot
Salot ay hindi raw mapapawi
Hanggat walang katarungan
Sa pagkamatay ng unang hari.
Kanyang labi’y natagpuan
Sa krus na daan.
Ang bulag na si Tereisias
Ako’y pinararatangan !
Ikaw , Haring Oedipus , ang sanhi ng kamalasan !
Bulag na lapastangan !
Iyan ba’y iyong mapatutunayan?
Hinalughog ang nakaraan .
Binalikan ang kasaysayan .
Umalingawngaw ang mga tanong
Ang kalansay na nakabaon , ngayo’y muling nagbangon.
Unti-unti, lumantad ang malagim na katotohanan
Ako’y ampon lamang ng mga magulang na aking tinakasan !
Ngunit ang aking dugo at laman , Thebes ang pinag-ugatan.
Si Haring Laius ang aking ama ! At ako ang pumatay sa kanya !
Si Reyna Jocasta ang aking ina ! At napangasawa ko siya !
At nagka-anak kami ng apat . Mga kaawa-awang supling !
Anak ? o Kapatid ?
Kapatid ? o Anak ?
Ahh ! Tinakasan ko ang hula
Para lamang lalong mapalapit sa aking tadhana ?
Iniwan ang bayang kinalakihan
Tinalikuran ang ama’t inang kinagisnan
Para lamang mapatay ang ama
at pakasalan ang inang pinagmulan?
Bakit kumaiwas-iwas man ako ,
Hindi nabago ang itinakdang buhay ko ?
Sa Olympus ba ay may palabunutan
Kung sinong tao ang bibiyayaan
At kung sino ang pagkakaitan ?
Paano ba tinutukoy ng mga diyos
Kung sino ang magiging maligaya
At kung sino ang magdurusa?
Ako si Oedipus , masdan nyo !
Binulag ko ang sarili ko !
Sa mula’t mula nama’y bulag ako
Sa katotohanan ng buhay ko.
Ako’y matalino .
Bugtong ng halimaw ay nasagot ko.
Ngunit sa bugtong ng buhay ko
Nananatiling mangmang ako.
Ako si Haring Oedipus
‘Yan ang kasaysayan ng aking pakikidigma
Laban sa tao ,halimaw , at tadhana.
Tinalo ko ang tao.
Tinalo ko ang halimaw.
Tinalo ako ng tadhana.
By Marily Sasota Gayeta
Arab Spring. Libyan civil war. NATO airstrikes. Deadly tribal clashes. How does a Filipino expat teach in such a backdrop?
Burdened by mounting financial woes, I packed up my bags and flew to Libya on October 18, 2009. I was assigned to teach at the College of Arts ( Kuliya A-Dab, in Arabic) in Sebha City, about 640 kilometers from the capital Tripoli. My first year in this North African country was actually better than I expected. Libyans are wonderful people. Friendly, hospitable, passionate. Amid the beige-colored terrain, authentic shawarma and the welcoming locals, I felt at home. I taught various English subjects to college kids. As a reward, my comatose bank account started showing some signs of life.
But then, war came. February 17, 2011 to be exact. It was a domino effect of the Arab Spring that started in Tunisia. Authoritarian leaders, well-entrenched in the corridors of power, fell one by one. Libya was seething in conflict.
Things changed drastically for me and my students.
With most foreign teachers gone, many classes had been left teacher-less. I, with some other teachers, stayed to salvage whatever could be salvaged in the semester. Connected to our students by mobile phones, we would alert each other whenever there was a gunfight or a bombing. When the fighting subsided, teachers would cautiously go back to the college and teach whoever was there. And a handful would always be there.
As a college teacher, I knew the sentiments of the Libyan youth. I could feel the simmering tension. Classes were polarized by opposing political beliefs. Friendships had been severed. Teachers were aware of the raw nerves and cooled down arguments right away before they turned nasty. Or deadly. In a place where guns are as ubiquitous as the sand, the last thing we wanted were heated, emotional debates.
War dramatically changed my students’ lives. I had witnessed how carefree teenagers became socially involved citizens. I had seen how weak girls turned into tough orphans. Before my eyes, timid boys transformed into fearless warriors, brandishing armalites and guns. Empty classroom seats, which—before the war I dismissed as bouts of illness or laziness, now worried me no end . Has Khalid gone to the battlefield? Or has Mariam been caught in thecross-fire? These young men and women were a part of my decision to stay. A teacher cannot NOT LOVE her students even if they are not related by race and religion. They always form a special bond and hard times make that bond stronger. Even now, after almost a decade, my heart still aches for the boys who went to war and never came back.
Sometime in May of 2011, I was conducting an exam in Transformational Generative Grammar ( TGG ). It was a class of about 25 and majority were teenage girls. About ten minutes into the exam, a gun fight erupted about five kilometers away. We could hear the distant, muffled shots. After a few more minutes, the shots got louder. We realized that it was a running gunbattle and it was moving towards us. I made a decision: “ Okay, let’s stop this exam and continue on another day. Let’s all go home. Call your fathers and brothers to fetch you.” But nobody moved. Not even one student looked away from her paper. I repeated myself, louder: “ Let’s go home. It’s okay not to finish the exam. Call your fathers and brothers.”
Again, nobody moved, as if they heard nothing. My students all stubbornly continued with the exam. The gun battle was still raging on, and it was getting fiercer and closer. The glass panels of our windows started clattering and I was worried they would shatter anytime. The ground beneath our feet trembled. The air reeked with smoke and gunpowder. A girl looked up to me and flashed a naughty smile: “ You will die with us.” I gave off a nervous laugh: “ So be it.” For almost an hour, the class ignored impending injury and death.
They only left after completely finishing the test. These young, pampered Libyan girls — with veiled heads and henna-tattooed hands — answered each question with laser-like focus and composure. I watched them in awe. It was a privilege of a lifetime to witness such courage. It was, and still is, my proudest moment as a teacher.
I bid goodbye to this beautiful country on August 12, 2012. My stint as an expat teacher in Libya was both inspiring and heartbreaking, challenging and transformative.War is ugly but it taught me beautiful things: courage, resilience, humility, compassion and survival. Indeed, war is a great teacher. And the lessons stay with you for a lifetime.
Let me tell you a story. A true story of a mother and her son , her only child. This happened about twenty years ago. She was a Filipina who belonged to the lower stratum of society . Life was hard . As a single parent, she tried to make both ends meet for her son , her mother and herself. With her limited schooling, she could only do menial jobs . And no matter how hard she tried, there was never enough food on the table—let alone sufficient clothes on their backs and vitamins which her baby needed. Every time she imagined the future , she saw only a bleak life for her son. Probably , she could send him up to elementary school in a public institution . But nothing more than that. And what life would he have with just an elementary school diploma in his hand ? The same sorry life as hers ?
She mustered her courage and made a very difficult decision . She accepted a job overseas as a household helper. Kissing her son good- bye , she made a silent promise of escape from their wretched existence . The mother left as a migrant worker in the mid-1970s . ( Nowadays , she’d be called an OFW. ) That time , her son was just a baby , about a year old. She left him in the care of her mother. In Saudi Arabia, she worked her hand to the bones , doing household chores for almost 18 hours a day. She scrubbed floors , washed the laundry , brushed toilet bowls and took care of her employers’ children . The poor woman was always exhausted at the end of the day . At night , as she laid her worn out body on her bed , she would press her baby’s picture close to her heart and dream of the day when she could hold him again.
This drudgery went on for a decade . She was not able to go home for a vacation during those ten years. Not even once . She was a victim of illegal recruiters and had no legal documents in Saudi Arabia. Thus , it was very easy for her employers to abuse her and deprive her of her rights.
Because there was no internet and cell phone at that time , she rarely got the chance to communicate with her mother and her growing son . Anyway , at last , after a decade , someone offered to help her get out of Saudi Arabia . She also got a job offer for a caregiver in Israel. Without hesitation , she accepted the job . So , from Saudi Arabia —she went straight to Israel where she worked for about seven years . There , she took care of elderly people —- fed them, gave them their medicines , bathed them and washed their laundry soiled with urine and feces . She did for them what their own children could not do.
As before , she sent almost all of her salary to her family in the Philippines. For some reasons again , she was not able to go home for a vacation during those years. Most likely , she had legal problems again and did not know what to do . Or maybe , she took advantage of every opportunity to earn money—thus , opting not to have a vacation . Maybe she thought , the faster she earned money , the sooner she could go home for good.
Meanwhile , her son had grown into a young man. Because the son was just a baby when the mother left , he had no memory of seeing her face to face . He only knew his mother’s face through old , faded pictures . While in Israel , the mother was able to communicate with her family from time to time , by phone. Eventually , they were able to exchange a few pictures— and this only intensified their hunger and hope to see each other again. This was the late 1980s and early 1990s.
One day , this woman was in a bus on her way to work . It turned out , terrorists had planted a bomb in that bus. It exploded and killed almost all of the passengers—including this Filipina. She died instantly . Her body sustained gaping wounds and her face — with the flesh severely torn — had become unrecognizable . Her body was shipped back to the Philippines in a metal casket which was welded to prevent anyone from opening it . Israeli and Filipino authorities decided it was best to seal the casket so that no one else could see the mangled body and face of the poor woman . Outside Israel —the gore , they correctly decided , should be concealed within the four corners of the coffin.
So , finally, after seventeen years, this Filipina went back home. At long last, mother and son were reunited , with the mother in a sealed casket. All those years , the young man longed to see and to touch the face of the woman who brought him to this world. But now , he could only touch the cold metal coffin that hid her cadaver . And all those years in foreign lands , the mother cried herself to sleep, yearning to cuddle her son . But up the end of her life , she was denied that chance.
Could life be crueler than this ?
Maybe , somewhere … in a world better than this …in another lifetime not decayed by violence , they would meet again . The mother singing a lullaby and the son falling asleep in her arms…