One hundred eighteen years ago in Cawit, Cavite, the Philippines was officially proclaimed free from its Spanish colonizers. But this freedom was tarnished with blood and tears, and not a few individuals sacrificed their lives for Filipinos to regain independence.
Today, there are about 300,000 Filipino expatriates living and working in Spain – a diaspora that would have been unthinkable more than a century ago when Spain ruled our country.
The Philippines might have gained its sovereignty back from the countries that once governed us but there’s still a lot of work to be done before our country becomes truly liberated.
The concept of freedom is of course subjective. In the case of the Philippines, it is a sad and an accepted reality that ours is a nation ruled by very few families – from the government to the economy. There are 18 million Filipinos living below poverty line and more than 10 million Filipinos or 11 per cent of our population are working abroad to make sure that their families don’t fall into the pits of poverty.
However we look at it, most of our countrymen don’t enjoy the freedom that citizens of more developed nations do. At least not as long as it is an acceptable reality that the mother, father and almost every member of many Filipino families must leave the country in order to have better lives.
The role of Filipino expats
While reading the blog of Alex Vergara, a respected journalist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, on the voting rights of Filipino expats in America (www.alexyvergara.com/2013/05/18/you-cant-have-your-buco-pie-and-eat-it-too), I was confronted by this question: How are we still relevant to our country, especially for us who have already given up our Filipino nationality to become citizens of another country?
I’d say, we stay relevant in terms of the role we play in liberating our country from poverty.
When the world economy, particularly that of the US and Europe, was on the brink of collapse, the Philippine economy continued to soar. One of the reasons why the Philippines remained afloat was the remittances of Filipinos working abroad.
But remittances are only a small part of the solution and if the families of OFWs were to be asked, they would rather have their fathers, mothers and siblings home with them.
Working, living or studying abroad, especially in first world countries, allows Filipino expats the opportunity to acquire knowledge and experiences that they wouldn’t normally get back home. They also build a global network that can facilitate knowledge and technology transfer, that in the future can help provide jobs and alleviate poverty.
That’s how Filipino hero Jose Rizal did it. His education and exposure abroad armed him with the knowledge and the courage to write the things he wrote in Noli Me Tangere. The book inspired many Filipinos to seek reforms, ignited a revolution that eventually freed the nation from Spanish rule more than a hundred years ago.
Filipino expats and their international connections become our sort of ambassadors of Philippine culture, customs and traditions. Through them, foreign investors get a glimpse of how we are as a people and a nation. Eventually these curiosity about our country inspire
I have met so many Europeans and Filipino-Europeans who brought their businesses to the Philippines not just because of their Filipino connections but because they loved what they saw or discovered about us. That generates jobs and training back home, helping, in a way, to reduce the Filipino diaspora.
It would still probably takes decades and several more generations, before the majority of our countrymen can be free from the claws of poverty.
But as long as we, as Filipino expats, still care for the land of our birth and willing to help our nation, and as long as we continue to inculcate in the minds of the third-culture youth our values and character as Filipino people, we will be instrumental in helping our country achieve true freedom.