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OFW’s and Migrant Filipinos: The Rise of the new Middle Class

OFW's and Migrant Filipinos: The Rise of the new Middle Class

The biggest political force in the country today are the OFWs and Migrant Filipinos, if they can harness this power to effect change.

Outward migration of Filipinos has been recorded even in Pre-Hispanic times, whether it is voluntary or by force, through piracy and slavery during the rise of tribal Philippines–long before the western powers came to conquer us.

The Philippines before the Spaniards was considered tribal with each island having their own set of laws, leaders, language and tradition, culture and belief. The rise of piracy in the 13th century Southern Philippines brought about by the infamous slave trade scattered involuntary migrant Filipinos to foreign shores as they were being sold as slaves in India, China and the Malacca. On the other hand, voluntary migration was due to the flourishing barter trading with China and India, with precious gold, which is endemic in the Philippine islands as the most in demand products bartered with china wares and silk.

Another form of migration that came on later under the Spanish regime where of religious tones with missions to Japan, China and the Pacific Islands, where young Filipinos accompanied catholic missionaries as lay people to spread the Christian faith to the pagan world, two of those missions produced two saints. St. Lorenzo of Manila and St. Pedro Calungsod.

In the early 16th century the most notable Filipino migrant, although still debatable, was the slave named Enrique de Malacca whom scholars identified as the interpreter of the first Spanish exploration lead by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.
Speaking of this mysterious mariner, who had a conflicting place of origin, he was thought to be a native from Malacca ( present day Malaysia) according to Ferdinand Magellan himself who stood as his godfather in a Christian baptism.

While, Enrique, according to Spanish historian Antonio Pigafetta, who was Magellan’s chief scribe, came from the island of Sumatra in what is now presently part of Indonesia. In fact, Enrique could have been the first to circumnavigate the world along with Magellan’s voyages. He accompanied the explorer during his sojourn to the new world from 1519-1521, and was brought by Magellan via the eastward route from Malacca to Spain in 1513.

Although who circumnavigated the world first is still a contentious issue, since Juan Sebastian de Alcano, who continued Magellan’s voyage claimed it for himself, after the former was slain in the battle of Mactan in 1521. Having traveled from Malacca going to the eastward route to Spain in 1513 and travelling westward from Portugal to Malacca, made Enrique circumnavigated the globe in 1521.

A popular theory circulating through academia considered Enrique de Malacca a Filipino slave sold to a Sumatran noble where Magellan also bought from during his Portuguese post in the area in 1511. He was the interpreter of Magellan on his meeting with Rajah Humabon of Cebu in 1521 and he was said to be very fluent in Cebuano language.

In a March 15, 2003 article by PDI columnist Bambi L. Harper, highlighting the letter of Richie Quirino, it pointed out some historical facts about Enrique de Malacca’s origin. I argued on the historical narrative of Magellan’s biographer Prof. Charles Mckew Parr. In his recent Magellan biography, according to Harper’s column Parr presented a Magellan mysterious voyage to the Philippines nine years before he officially discovered it in 1521 for the Spanish crown.

According to that biography, Magellan, who was Portuguese was one of the captains of the three caravels dispatched by Governor General Alfonso de Albuquerque of India in 1511, the other two being headed by Francisco Serrao and Antonio de Abreu. They were to explore the Malacca region for valuable cloves, nutmegs and other spice endemic to that region.

Although the two caravels were accounted for, Magellan’s ship were onto an unofficial travails to the coastal areas in the central Philippine islands, possibly along the coast of a Chinese settlement believed to be in Mindoro called the Paria. When he finally arrived in Malacca Magellan wrote letters about his discovery in the unknown island archipelago which is the Philippines to Serrao. But Serrao who was thinking that Magellan abandoned them didn’t take the letter at face value.

On his arrival in Malacca, it was there that he acquired a young slave, he later baptized as Enrique where he brought with him on his voyage back to Europe still via the traditional Eastward route. Before Magellan’s westward voyage to the new world, only one route was known at that time from and to Mallacca and that was from Spain eastward.

In that letter of Quijano to Harper, it presented facts that Luzon people and probably Central Visayan traders have already established trading posts in Sumatra with gold and food products to be bartered with ceramics and spices. Enrique being in Malacca was on two probabilities, whether he was a captive slave by Moros pirates from Sulo or was a son of a Filipino slave in Sumatra. Magellan’s acquisition of Enrique in 1512, his voyage to Europe in early 1513 with Enrique and his future historic westward travel to the new world in 1519-1521 had eventually made Enrique circumnavigated the world with Magellan.

When the Philippines were successfully put under the reign of Spain in 1565–after Miguel Lopez de Legaspi’s claimed it for Spain, Filipinos were on constant travel abroad for Spain, Mexico and Europe. This time by acquiring higher learning and trading.
During the American Occupation in 1901 to 1946 our trajectory was aimed at the United States especially Hawaii and California. Our wandering nature is probably because of the geographical condition our country is having, an archipelago consisting of thousands of islands. Even at the dawn of time we were hopping from island to island, exploring, surviving, discovering and adapting to new places. We inherited our ancient travelling genes to our explorer, mariner and trading forefathers.

Today migration and overseas Filipino workers are on top of the dollar -reserve pot of the country, surpassing the traditional export sector by a large margin. In 2011 alone, more than $11 Billion were sent jointly by OFW and migrant Filipinos all over the world. Since the dollar is the main currency of trading and dealings, it is imperative for countries to vault them in the reserve to enable the economy to survive. Without the dollars from these modern heroes, the country could already have failed and changed status quo a long time ago.
In the 2012 national census conducted by the National Statistics Office it found 2.2 Million Filipinos took a work contract to foreign countries indulging various works as mariners, construction workers, skilled works and health and domestic services.

In migration, Filipinos are the second largest Asian immigrant to the United States of America, second only to Chinese -Americans, with 3.4 Million Filipino-Americans, according to the latest US Census on ethnic geography. In the European Union Filipinos who called those country homes reached 1.2 Million in 2012. This does not include undocumented Filipinos worldwide who also greatly contributed to the dollar reserve our country safely hold in our vaults to keep our economic baton going.

Presently there have been an estimated 12 Million Filipinos who are either working or living abroad, including those illegally brought out by syndicates and human traffickers who created a large number of undocumented workers. They all have the same thing in common, all of them support their extended families and empowered them with purchasing capabilities that made our economy resilient. The currency circulation and availability fueled manufacturing, services and technology and agricultural sector, primarily because of elevated purchasing capabilities of OFW and immigrant families here in the country. In fact, one sector that has benefited the OFW dollars is the realty sector.

House and real property purchases accounted for 60% of the Filipinos abroad in the 2012 real property index. However, despite the benefit brought about by these new heroes, the government’s support and probably respect are greatly diminished. In return of their sacrifices, their sweat and blood, support in terms of livelihood to returning OFW’s are not performing well indication of half hearted implementation by the government agency tasked to do it. Returning OFW’s will likely loss their savings in less than a year due to unfavorable business and economic activity if they choose to stay for good and try their luck on business.

Worst, government officers posted at different diplomatic stations tend to abuse our own overseas workers sexually and financially. Although OFWs and migrant Filipinos contributed much in advancing the economy, it has generated lesser government support and programs that would address their plight and their families.

And the most ugly part in this episode is that the money earned by the government in the form of taxes was shamelessly wasted on projects that are laden with graft and corruption, converted to pork barrel and lump sum appropriation which would ultimately be pocketed by unscrupulous politicians. While the country’s titans who constitutes the smallest fraction of the national equation, are the greatest beneficiaries of the sweat and blood of OFW’s. They even enjoyed the capital protection of the country’s leadership The likes of the Lopez’s, the Sy’s the Co’s and the Ayala’s among other’s are holding the neck of our leaders, mostly on easing regulations to favor their company. Their companies sucked dry the hard earned income of OFW’s in terms of services and products.

Why this disparity? And why does the government play deaf and blind to the plight of countless hapless Filipino overseas workers? Certainly, despite the vast number of OFW’s spread throughout the world we are powerless. We remained passive and focused on earning money with the same focus of raising a family–even extended families. We tend to leave national affairs and politics in the hands of crooked politicians and gullible compatriots at home, however, we suffer the most, and are the most vulnerable of bad policies and bad economics.
It’s a wake up call and the need to get involved in our national life is becoming very much imperative. We are equally concerned as every Filipinos at home, because it is not easy to live in a far way country with foreign culture and traits. Nobody does, even the established immigrants, their common wishes are, if only our country is progressive enough, they will all go home and join the effort on nation building. If there are only opportunities for them to progress, almost all of those who toiled abroad will go home and be reunited with their loved ones.

And yes, the OFW’s and immigrants who numbered more than 12 million realized their numbers can make a political statement, they can be a force to effectuate change, they can obliterate corruption and put the social, political and economic landscape into the proper order.
If you consider this 12 Million strong, remember that they have husbands, wives, parents, household help, brothers and sisters who primarily depend on their income. It can easily be multiplied by five if you will. And they cannot be bought during election day. These OFWs and immigrants can dictate who to vote to their dependents and that votes will go to a new crop of leaders that despise corruption, that does not dwell on traditional politics and whose families do not depend on political livelihood like the dynasties.
They can be a force to reckon with if they recognize it as a potential clout, that’s why we should let them do that. Their power is immensely strong if they can organize and educate. It is not too late, 2016 is still months away. I believe that the change we longed for will come from the middle class, that we should put a stop to the mockery of these few titans whose greed for profits are immeasurable. It is time for the middle to rise and the new force is the OfWs and the immigrants.

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