16 June 2008

Independence Day

The Philippines celebrated its 110th year of independence from foreign rule last 12th of June. How is my beloved country now, after all these years? Jose Ma. Montelibano said that Filipinos have little to celebrate, but much to strive for. He described Philippine independence in the current context as a hollow state, same as its democracy - all trappings are there, but the substance is missing. Poverty, he said, makes slaves of people and denies them choices. Poignantly, he further asked, "How can true independence and democracy co-exist with poverty so massive and crippling? How can independence and democracy live with such shame?"

Officially free from foreign rule, the Philippines is still a long way from freedom, so said Chief Justice Reynato Puno recently in his speech on Independence Day. The reason? The so-called "economic colonizers" - foreign investors and businessmen who are given more favours and privileges than Filipino citizens, and wealthy foreign nations violating Filipinos' social and economic rights.

And then there are the local elites with vested interests. Since the time of Bonifacio, these opportunists have always worked against the interest of the Filipinos. They cowardly conspired with the foreign invaders in the past in order to protect their economic and political interests. Unfortunately for us Filipinos, they are still lording over us even until today.

These "twin evils" worked with each other for 110 years, and counting, in violating the Filipinos' social and economic rights and you wonder why poverty in the Philippines is so "massive and crippling?" Thus, it is not surprising that "Filipinos are dashing for exits," by the millions, according to Juan Mercado. He said that about 1.1 million left last year, and many will not return. According to a university study, Filipinos were the biggest group in the 54.2 million migrant workers that Asia have fielded. Our country has become a country of nomads, and will still be, in the near future.

I have never imagined myself as working abroad. But as fate would have it I got married to an overseas Filipino worker (OFW). Now, my wife and I are permanent residents of the UK, thus, no longer officially considered as OFWs. We do plan to retire back in the Philippines, which is still a good number of years away. Our two sons are both born in the UK, so it will be up to them where they seek their own destinies.

As long as the wealthy foreign nations, who loaned money to the Philippines, continue to dictate on our social and economic policies, and their businessmen conspire with the local elite in plundering the Philippines' wealth, many more Filipinos will become poorer. Million Filipinos will continue to leave the country annually in order to seek better economic opportunities. Many will not return.

Although Montelibano is hoping that "Filipinos abroad... must find a way to return, to share their golden experiences, to tell stories of hardship and loneliness..." as long as the "twin evils" are heavily influencing on how our country is being run, Filipinos abroad, ourselves included, may not heed the call. In the meantime, we continue to "bloom wherever we are planted." Of course, money remittances continues, too.

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