Heading for the exits


    ‘If you had a choice: will you still choose to take a chance in the Philippines – despite the chaos and the pollution and the corrupt pols? Or will you, too, head for the exits?’

    I SAW a joke being spread in some chat groups I am on, this one about a Filipino who died and went to heaven. But his joy was short-lived, because God sent him back to earth for punishment.

    He was reborn a Filipino.

    To some, this is no longer a joke. Some people are at a point in their lives when they are straining their necks to check out the greener grass on the other side of the fence (seas?), and evaluate whether it is time, finally, to pull up stakes and go.

    Personally, it has never occurred to me to live elsewhere, principally because the reasons I have been hired for in my career are more relevant to the Philippine setting than to other markets which do not put a premium on good looks, and on the ability to connect the dots in order to get things going or done.

    But I cannot find it in myself to blame those who do: including my mother’s six siblings who left the Philippines from 1971 to 1979 to settle as citizens in the United States, or my own two brothers who separately settled in Canada and the US. I just now feel that if there was such a wave of departures in the 1970s, coinciding with the turbulent late 60s-early 70s, and then again in the late 1980s-early 1990s, there seems to be a new one brewing.

    Take a family of four whose names I will disguise.

    The father of the family, Marty, is a mining engineer, who has been working abroad for over 20 years now. He had a job in Azerbaijan, or some of those “stan” countries in the former USSR states, and then found a new job in Canada. He was allowed to petition his family, and he did: his wife Margaret, daughter Mitch and son Joseph. And so the three joined him in Canada… for a while.

    Before you knew it, wife and kids became uneasy in Canada and yearned to be home. Life was “better,” more advanced in a technological way in Canada, and if you loved snow then very few other countries could match the tons that Canada could offer. But there was something missing, the pull of the extended Filipino family perhaps, or the chaos of life or the polluted air, and the corrupt politicians. And soon Margaret was back home with Mitch and Joseph. For a while.

    Mitch wisely did not give up her papers, and soon returned to Canada to work as a nurse.

    Last week, Margaret and Joseph decided that the Philippines was exciting, yes, and challenging, yes, but was just a bit too much of both; and yes, they loved their kin here but the stress and the uncertainties were going to kill them. And so they boarded a flight to Vancouver to rediscover the potential of life in Canada.

    If you truly understand the Filipino psyche and how the family plays an important part in his life, you will understand how that departure – which is multiplied countless times – can be one of the most difficult decisions a Filipino has to make in his life.

    To head for the exits and into the unknown is already a big step; to leave behind the rest of your kith and kin is a giant leap.

    The fact is, every country on earth is struggling with the coronavirus, albeit some more successfully than others. So anywhere you go you will face the uncertainty that the virus brings.

    But this sense of wishing to bail out, to seek greener pastures elsewhere, is more than escaping the virus – it is escaping a sense that things are falling apart here at home: government is losing control over the virus; as a result, life is getting harder for even more families, and there is no source of hope in the near future. Not even the thought of a fresh round of elections in less than 24 months provides that, because of the sense that “sila-sila lang naman ang nagpapalitan ng puwesto” (it’s people from the same circle who play musical chairs in our politics), robbing elections of its role as a “refresh” button for our society.

    It gives me no comfort to see my cousins born and bred in the US of A now come face to face with stark realities of their own: a country that is tops in terms of the virus outbreak, with a president who is full of himself presiding over a society that has seemed to have lost its moorings. That used to be an apt description of the Philippines only; it is now one we share with America.

    The only difference, I guess, is that Americans do not consider migrating as a means of escape to the same degree that Filipinos do. Because to most Americans, America is still the greatest country in the world. Makes me wonder: what is the Philippines to the Filipino?

    Were a cure to be found for COVID-19 tomorrow, will a new Filipino diaspora happen? If you had a choice: will you still choose to take a chance in the Philippines – despite the chaos and the pollution and the corrupt pols? Or will you, too, head for the exits?