10:41 PM July 10th, 2013


Whenever a senior Filipino professional leaves to work abroad, alarm bells ring out and panic reigns across the land. There goes the talent, woe unto us! people cry out.

The debate about brain drain has been around for decades. OMG, what are we going to do, Dr. Somebody has abandoned us! goes the cry. In the meantime, millions of other professionals stay, but people panic all the same. It’s like brain drain will gobble us all up like some kind of mysterious blob.

When the dictator Ferdinand Marcos finally gave up and agreed to a helicopter ride out of Malacañang in February 1986, ushering in the Cory Aquino era, I was living in the United States. The good news rang out all over the world (I went to Africa at around that time and when I introduced myself as from the Philippines, people instantly chanted, “Co-ry, Co-ry, Co-ry!”).

At work, a senior colleague from India who had been a mentor to me came to my office. “I know what you’re thinking, young man,” he started, then added: “You want to rush home to help your countrymen rebuild your nation. No need to do that. There are a lot of capable people there to do it.”

Of course, he was right. There were a lot of capable people to do it.

That’s exactly the point here: There’s another way of looking at the so-called brain drain. Today, people are lamenting the departure for greener pastures of senior weather forecasters at Pagasa, the national weather bureau. In the past, it was doctors, pilots, and other senior professionals.

Instead of panicking and feeling abandoned, we should be feeling happy for those who are given an opportunity to practice their craft abroad, get paid well, and live prosperous lives. Isn’t that the goal of every professional, to be able to be really good at one’s career and be paid well for it? Why begrudge those who are able to reach their personal peak of success and enjoy the fruits of their labor?

Instead of worrying about the loss of such professionals, we should look at their passage as an opportunity to train others to attain the same elevated status and give them their turn to be useful to the country. If the departing executives and specialists have become experts, then others, too, can be equally successful and, in turn, be leaders in their respective fields.

There is no reason to rue the departure of senior specialists because there are many others waiting in the wings to take their places. Thousands of professionals come out of universities every year, champing at the bit to practice what they’ve learned and contribute to nation-building. They should be given a chance to prove their worth and to play their part.

There seems to be a sense in the country that those who leave for greener pastures are traitors to the nation, that by going abroad, they’re abandoning the country. I hope this feeling isn’t widespread.

Professionals must grow in their careers. And when they’ve attained a certain degree of success, they need to move up, they need to move on. To move up and on, they must, like water, find their own level. And where is that? If it’s not in the country, then find it elsewhere.

Professionals should be given all the opportunity they need to improve themselves, to attain a certain level of prosperity and comfort, and be the best that they can be. Nothing and no one should stand in their way.

Except, of course, in times when their particular expertise is sorely needed by the country. That is a given.

But, as it stands today, the country has a plentiful supply—an oversupply, really—of professionals from various fields. Doctors, nurses, accountants, teachers, you name it. Why not let them be successful where that is possible?

What we should be doing is improving further the levels of instruction at our schools in order to produce outstanding graduates. So that if they graduate as teachers, they should be hired as teachers and not as domestic helpers. If they’re accountants, engineers, doctors or lawyers, they should be hired as such here or in whatever part of the world they may want to go.

Then President Gloria Arroyo once made the startling statement that we should train our womenfolk who go abroad so that they can be “supermaids.” That was a bizarre and insulting statement. Why not train them instead to be superteachers, superaccountants, superengineers, and so on?

We shouldn’t mind being a country from where people with superskills live and work abroad. The British, Germans, Americans, Dutch, French, Australians, and other people from affluent countries are all over the world. They are the “expats” in our midst and in many other countries. They practice their craft abroad and yet they’re not considered deserters or traitors in their home countries. They’re not seen as draining the talent or skills pool of their nations.

We have a surplus of skilled people. Let’s not waste it by discouraging our countrymen from practicing their professions abroad and getting paid well for it. Let’s not look at Filipinos going abroad as a loss; let’s look at them as a plus instead of a minus.

Frankly, when we say there’s brain drain, we insult those who’ve stayed or come back home.

Leandro DD Coronel lived in the United States for 28 years and remained a Filipino.

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