This is not the first time I have written about Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) nor will it be the last. And every time that I do, I am at a loss for the best words to describe my awe of them.
In the early 80’s, the EDSA People Power Revolution put the Philippines on a rare map of a people admired by the rest of the world. Stories were told, books were written, all to praise a people who achieved an impossibility at that time – the peaceful overthrow of a dictatorship. It was a military coup attempt that went sour, and the execution of its failed leaders would have been the standard consequence.
But a strange thing happened. People, ordinary people, in the hundreds, then in the thousands, they poured into the streets and made a human cordon to protect without arms and without violence the endangered coup leaders. In hours, in a day, in two and three days, the numbers grew from thousands to hundreds of thousands, to millions, not only in EDSA, but in other cities, and in hearts of more who could not make it to the streets. Using rosaries and flowers, distributing food to marchers, soldiers, friends and foes alike, a massive show of compassion with determination brought down the dictatorship – peacefully.
Much has happened from that moment 31 years ago, so much so that a miracle of a people had been interpreted as partisan politics, and a series of failed governance. By now, a youthful generation too young then to remember or still unborn get their versions of the people’s peaceful revolution from innumerable sources with uncontrolled levels of inaccuracy. Especially if the fundamental miracle itself was never truly appreciated, not just emotionally, but profoundly understood. Humanity layered over the miraculous, and those who should have highlighted for posterity what propelled Filipinos to be admired, from being disdained, themselves failed their august responsibility.
A people’s revolution, however, cannot just die like that. In the first place, without an inherent capacity for the impossible, a people could not have produced such a miracle. Somehow, the basic ingredients have to be there, the courage to accept a rare challenge has to be there, and the primordial value of peace has to be there. And if these virtues were there deep in the hearts of Filipinos, they should still be there today, three decades after the fact, as they were there all along, gestating and still growing.
EDSA People Power was not just a political event despite overwhelming manifestations that it was, it was a human and social endeavor built on virtue and aspiration. Had it been mostly political rather than not, blood would have flowed freely, massacres the main face instead of prayers. And the aftermath would have been even more bloody as victorious coups or rebellions before that around the world had shown. A fiercely partisan spirit could not have produced peace, only violence. That is why it was a miracle, that a political process was overtaken by the noble cultural values of a people.
If we can set aside EDSA People Power as a political upheaval and return to appreciating it as a triumph of the nobler over the baser tendencies of mass movements, then we can better appreciate the OFW phenomenon. In the face of a grave challenge, one’s own poverty and a fate that has been a curse rather than a challenge, the poverty of a people at the base of the pyramid grotesquely covered by the glitter of unconscionable wealth at the top, the hopes and aspirations of the poor did not turn to violent and bloody revolution. Instead, like EDSA People Power, they turned to the best in them, their embedded courage and determination, and going against the odds, they chose the frightful path of separation and sacrifice, they went overseas to find what their motherland could not give them.
In the backdrop of all claims from all partisan governments and political personalities, only one group is responsible for lifting a huge sector of Philippine society from the inherited curse of poverty. It is the people concerned themselves, the men and women who cared more for the brighter future of their families rather than the transient happiness of togetherness. The more than 10 million OFWs and their families of 30 to 40 million more are inching not just their way out of poverty but building a new social base – the emerging middle class of the Philippines. Half of the Filipino population are directly affected by OFWs, their separation and sacrifice, and the amazing collective earnings they are bringing to our country. And the other half, the big chunk still mired in the poverty pit, and those traditionally above the new emerging middle class, are benefiting as well – and will continue to do so.
It is only right that OFWs are called heroes. They are in the real sense; they are the army that is defeating the monster of poverty. They have been engaged in a war for forty years, and they will persist for another generation so they can finally uproot their curse and plant a new forever seed of hope and opportunity for themselves and for a nation that has not yet shown proportional gratitude. What politicians and governments have failed to do, the majority of the Filipino people will do themselves. And one day sooner than later, this same empowered majority can have the capacity and maturity to tell politicians and governments what to do.
Because the miracle is not over. Because the miracle is still unfolding. Because the journey from slavery to freedom continues, from weakness to stability, from darkness to light. EDSA is not a street, it is a spirit, revolutionary but humane. It seeks the highest, the best of ourselves as a people. It has quietly endured for so long but it never gave up, and it will not.
For the rest of us who have only benefited but without the separation and sacrifice of OFWs and their families, let us bless them with our supreme gratitude.
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