I was reading about a meeting of the leaders of Italy, France and Germany—the European Union’s three largest countries—and their optimism that they will continue to move forward even after Brexit (Britain Exit).
That got me thinking about Filipinos in Europe, and of the Philippines and Europe. We, and the world, think of the Philippines as very Americanized, forgetting that Europe did influence us as well through more than 300 years of Spanish colonialism. (A three-year British occupation, mainly of Manila, was almost insignificant in terms of cultural or political influence.)
We think of the Spanish influence mainly in terms of language. Although Castillan Spanish was spoken only by a minority even during the Spanish colonial period, many words—in areas ranging from food to philosophy—entered our local languages.
Then there’s religion, Roman Catholicism specifically, even if we practice it mixed with pre-Hispanic beliefs and practices.
What we tend to overlook is the Spanish influence on political thought and governance. Some of our laws go back to the Spanish Civil Code of the 19th century.
The 19th century was a time of ferment in Spain and Europe as liberalism rose and spread. Spain had several liberal governments and their reforms in government reached the Philippines, such as expanding the educational system in our islands. Rizal and fellow reformers were inspired by these liberal ideas, at first seeking not independence but representation in the Cortes, the Spanish Parliament.
The 20th century was marked by American colonialism, and, many will say, neocolonialism, and we seemed to lose our awareness of Europe. But in the last 50 years or so we have seen a resurgence of ties with Europe through our overseas Filipinos.
400,000 Euro Pinoys?
To project how our interactions might shape our future, let’s look at some of the statistics from the 2013 survey of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO). These statistics are important for projecting how the Philippines might develop in the future, not just through remittances but through ideas, world views, lifeways. (The statistics are available online and can be downloaded. Search for Stock Estimate of Overseas Filipinos, Commission on Filipinos Overseas.)
Let’s get the big picture first. The CFO has figures for overseas Filipinos in every country in the world, broken down to “permanent,” “temporary” and “irregular.” North America still account for the largest percentage of overseas Filipinos, with some 3.5 million Filipinos in the United States and 721,000 in Canada. Together that’s about 40 percent of all overseas Filipinos. More than 90 percent of the Filipinos in the United States and Canada are there permanently.
Europe, which includes Turkey and Russia in the CFO census, is home to about 866,000 Filipinos, or 8 percent of the total population of overseas Filipinos. About half of them are classified as permanent. Many are married to local residents and, needless to say, have “hyphenated” children—Filipino-British, Filipino-Italian, etc. That would mean more than 400,000 “Euro Pinoys,” if we count only the permanent residents.
The European countries with the largest numbers of Filipinos are Italy (271,946), the United Kingdom (218,126), Greece (61,716), France (48,018), Germany (47,214), Spain (42,804), the Netherlands (21,789), Switzerland (20,910), Cyprus (19,948) and Norway (18,088).
It seems all of the European countries have Filipinos, the three tiniest Filipino communities being in Bosnia and Herzegovina (10), Moldova (9) and Montenegro (7). The Vatican has 3,490 Filipinos, all temporary and, presumably, mostly Catholic priests and nuns.
The kind of interactions overseas Filipinos have with host countries depends on their type of residence and work. Permanent residents would, of course, be much more absorbed into the mainstream of their adopted country, to the point where they might not even intend to return to the Philippines. While retaining a sense of being Filipino—for example through food—the Filipino identity will fade, even disappear as early as the second generation.
“Temporary” and “irregular” overseas Filipinos do interact as well with their host cultures, some with hopes that they can become permanent residents and citizens. As with permanent residents, they will pick up new languages quickly, which facilitates interactions with their hosts.
What I hope we can see in the near future is a research on how “Euro Pinoys”—permanent or temporary—perceive governance and politics in Europe, as well as culture, and how this affects their perceptions of and expectations for the Philippines.
The political systems in Europe are very different from ours, which is practically a duplicate of the American presidential system, complete with electoral circuses. European countries use different parliamentary forms. The French has a hybrid with a president and prime minister (which President Duterte favors). Italy has a complicated system; it also has a president and prime minister, and allows for an “additional member system” (similar to our partylist), which requires 4 percent of the national vote to earn a seat in parliament.
Political parties in Europe are marked by very real differences that run the spectrum of political philosophies from the extreme right to socialist and communist parties; and if that’s not enough, there are also powerful Green parties with their platforms based mainly on environmental issues.
Some of the parties go back in time, but there are also “upstarts” with new programs, like Podemos (We Can!) in Spain, and other parties reacting to—and blaming—traditional politics for their economic crises.
Living in the Netherlands as a graduate student, I often felt Europe, Western Europe in particular, had reached a “post-State” situation, where government is almost incidental. Politicians are not the powerful VIPs we see here, surrounded by bodyguards and assistants. In the Netherlands even prime ministers are known to bike, and there was one Scandanivan prime minister who would ride taxis so he could interview the drivers.
Western Europeans are also generally more liberal than the Americans (I use the term here to refer to the United States), especially on social issues. The Netherlands is usually stereotyped as the extreme in liberalism, with legalized sex work and marijuana. Same-sex marriages are legal in 13 European countries, and same-sex civil unions in 12.
Considering the large numbers of Filipinos in Europe, will we see European ideas changing our politics and our social views?
I’ll do a second part to this “Euro Pinoys” column on Friday, with a focus on what we might learn from Europe’s vacillation between narrow nationalism and a broader sense of a European Union.
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