This is why we leave you
As if poverty, corruption and terrorism were not enough to make this once-glorious Pearl of the Orient turn into a mess of seaweeds that no one wants to have anything to do with, there is also the millennial brain drain that has the whole nation’s underwear in a bunch.
We have reached the point in our nation’s economy where the number of Filipinos going abroad has surpassed the number of fresh graduates joining the local workforce. Fifty percent of the total number of people that I have known my entire life have at one point in their lives worked abroad.
When I was in grade school, I promised myself I would never serve another nation. I told myself I would live and die in my motherland. Cheesy? Pretentious? I don’t think so. The concept makes sense. I was raised in the Filipino culture, mentored by Filipino teachers, inspired by the Filipino way of life in general. Shouldn’t I then pay back the moment I can? I am a Filipino inside out, and I have a moral obligation to work for the very entity that has given me so much more than my ethnicity. I was at a tender age where patriotism sounded more desirable than practicality. But the funny thing about growing up is that it dismisses all the fairy-tale concepts left in your consciousness; it totally wipes off all remnants of early naivety.
In all my years of chilling here on earth, I have realized that patriotism does not pay the bills. It will not send me to med school. It will not help me climb to the top of victory mountain. And so, naturally, through humanity’s innate capacity to adapt to their environment, I took the obvious logical next step: I’ve decided to work abroad in the near future. I’ve got a long way to go, in terms of acquiring the experience required by most employers outside the country, and I’ve a couple of major examinations to take should I decide to say sayonara to my Philippines. But I will get there eventually.
By working abroad, you are betraying your nation. By choosing to work for another race, you are slapping Maria Clara on both cheeks with your US dollars. By blending into another culture to fit in, you are renouncing your heritage as a Filipino.
There, I said it. Let’s not sugarcoat this phenomenon with false defensive statements like “I’m still a Filipino,” or “I still love the Philippines, I just need to earn.” Words don’t mean anything if you’re not contributing to the actual progress of your own country. But here is the most painful part of this situation: Running away from the Perlas ng Silanganan has become inevitable. We really can’t blame these people, can we? Philippines, you left us no choice. Your people need to survive. Your people need to send their children to school, and feed their families, and give them the lives they deserve—and I’m sorry but your pesos can’t do that for them.
Being an overseas Filipino worker has now become such a normal part of our professional career that “When are you going abroad?” has replaced “You’ve been here too long; when are you going to retire?” as a staple of office conversations. It saddens me to realize that a lot of professionals are making our own country a mere training ground, a place where they can harness their skills and grow out of their amateurishness, only to leave for another country as soon as they have accomplished the minimum requirements of foreign employers.
Imagine a tree. Imagine planting this little seedling and tending to it every day. You spend money on fertilizer and pesticide, you spend time and effort in making sure that it grows properly—only to have your neighbor steal its fruits once it starts blooming. Major buzzkill, right? It is, in many ways, comparable to the current state of the nation’s workforce.
Someday, I, too, will be one of the fruits who will betray its gardener. And that gives me no pride at all. I’d do it, not because I want to, but because I need to. This has stopped being a matter of financial compensation a long time ago. If you are already employed, then you know how depressing the local salary is regardless of your line of work. But when you think about it, it is not the physical worth of the money that is bothering the majority of Filipino workers.
What is insulting is this one simple truth: We are not getting enough appreciation for what we do. By giving us low salaries, you are practically saying that our talents, our skills and our dedication are worth not even a quarter of what Filipino celebrities are making. You are implying that our educational attainment, our board exam scores, our professional licenses do not amount to anything because, apparently, one smile from Daniel Padilla is more expensive than the 16 hours of duty spent by our nurses in emergency rooms. Because you would much rather have Kris Aquino’s talk show stay on your station than you would have your local engineers stay in your country.
The fact that a plastic-surgery-altered celebrity whose profession involves making out or having love scenes with another plastic-surgery-altered person is making so much more money than someone who saves people’s lives on a daily basis is blatant disrespect for all our college diplomas.
Philippines, you are quickly losing your own brilliant minds. You are losing so much potential. You are losing your people.
Philippines, you fail to realize the importance of a workforce composed primarily of your own children—people who share not only the same blood but also the same patriotic principles.
Philippines, you have to understand that more important than the issue of Leila de Lima’s “sex tape” is the issue of millions of Filipinos using their skills and talents to serve, not Juan de la Cruz, but John Smith, in exchange for the dollars that will help their children get a degree and assist them in also working abroad once they ripen.
This is an endless cycle. And I’m surprised that after all these years, you have yet to break this spell.
And so this, Philippines, is why we leave you.
Pauline A. Araki, 21, is a registered medical technologist.