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BY MYNARDO MACARAIG Agence France-Presse

HE Philippines’ famous diaspora of overseas workers is fuelling a boom in the real estate market back home as they snap up houses and apartments to safeguard their futures.

Property prices have recovered strongly since the global financial crisis of 2008, with investments from the 9 million Filipinos toiling away in foreign lands a significant factor, industry figures say. “Overseas workers are moving the market. Properties now are selling and when there is demand, prices go up,” Emily Duterte, head of the Real Estate Brokers Association of the Philippines, told Agence France-Presse. Industry sales nationwide this year are estimated to hit 300 billion pesos (6.9 billion dollars) compared with about 100 billion pesos each in 2009 and 2008, according to Claro Cordero from Jones Lang La Salle, a global real estate consultancy firm.

Filipinos have traditionally preferred living in houses, no matter how small, over apartments.

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Overseas Pinoys Fuel Real Estate Boom at Home Overseas workers usually opt for houses costing about two million pesos (45,000 dollars), humble by foreign standards but well in the middle-class bracket for Filipinos.

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In the past, overseas workers were more interested in house and lots but in the last two years, the demand now is for condominiums.

Quick recovery

“Nobody thought there would be such a quick recovery from the slump that began in 2008,” said Cordero, research head of the company’s Philippines’ branch. Filipino workers abroad have a reputation for working as lower-paid employees, such as construction workers, maids, sailors and janitors. But their sheer magnitude -they account for about 10 percent of the Philippine population -mean they have long been a major force in the economy. In 2009, they sent home 17.3 billion dollars, making up more than 10 percent of the nation’s

gross domestic product, according to government data. And Filipinos are increasingly moving into higher-paid sectors, such as medicine, engineering and the media. Overseas workers usually opt for houses costing about two million pesos (45,000 dollars), humble by foreign standards but well in the middle-class bracket for Filipinos, according to Duterte from the brokers’ association.

Real estate investment

Fifty-year-old merchant seaman Rodolfo Oliverio has spent most of his working life outside of the Philippines but he is an active


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player in the domestic real estate market. Oliverio has used his overseas earnings to buy two small houses in the heart of Manila for his wife and children to live in, and he is paying for a third he recently bought just outside the nation’s capital. “If you work here, nothing will happen. The salaries are too small. The only way to afford a house is to become an overseas worker,” Oliverio told AFP while on his annual vacation in Manila. “Naturally, among overseas workers, the most important thing is a house and lot.” Oliverio said that as a ship’s bosun -- the crew’s foreman -- for a foreign company, he earned about 82,800 pesos a month, roughly four times more than he could earn doing the same job with a local cargo line.

Home sweet home

With his salary, he said he was confident he could afford the repayments on his third house, a middle-class 42-square-meter (452-square-feet) place south of Manila which cost a little over 1.5 million pesos. Industry observers said Oliverio’s real estate goals were typical of many overseas workers. “Most have left families back home so they want to have a home

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American feel,” said Jones Lang La Salle’s Cordero.

$15.5-B in first 10 months

Housing sales nationwide in 2010 are estimated to hit P300 billion (US$6.9 billion), compared with about P100 billion each in 2009 and 2008. for their families. Their children, talized the condominium market, and, in condos, they don’t have to their parents, these are the ones said Manuel Serrano, head of the worry about doing a lot of cleanwho stay in the houses they buy,” Chamber of Real Estate and Build- ing, gardening and watering of ers Association. plants.” said Duterte. “In the beginning, they were Even for the traditional housFilipinos have traditionally preferred living in houses, no mat- more interested in house and ing market, living overseas has ter how small, over apartments, lots but in the last two years, the changed the tastes of many Filibut living overseas has started to tempo has changed. The demand pinos. now is for condos,” Serrano told “A lot of developments are change preferences. AFP. incorporating designs that are “Most of these people have inspired by architecture worldRevitalized condo market Overseas workers have revi- gotten used to the lifestyle abroad wide, with a Mediterranean or an

Meanwhile, OFW remittances grew by 10.6% in October at $1.7 billion, the highest monthly level so far this year, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said. This brought remittances for the first 10 months of 2010 to $15.5 billion, up 7.9% year on year. Money remitted came mostly from the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, United Kingdom, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Italy, Germany and Norway. The BSP noted that steady demand for professional and skilled Filipino workers abroad, and increased access of OFWs and their families to formal money transfer channels continued to boost remittance growth. Based on preliminary data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), approved job orders overseas reached 578,535, of which about 39.2% was comprised of processed job orders for service, production, as well as professional, technical and related workers. The central bank expects remittances to grow 8% in 2010 from $17.3 billion in 2009, a record high despite weak employment numbers worldwide due to the impact of the global financial crisis. n


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THE EXODUS CONTINUES With a weak economy unable to absorb a growing army of jobseekers, the exodus to foreign shores continues. BY PEPPER MARCELO

HERE was a time when many of the jobs Filipinos could land abroad were as maids, seamen and manual laborers. Over time, more and more of our skilled and trained workers have joined the exodus for higher wages and a better life. Not too long ago, the mass exodus of nurses left local hospitals and the country’s health system in disarray, although the situation has improved in recent years as the global demand for medical workers slowed down. But the overseas demand for other occupations such as scientists, engineers, IT professionals, accountants and even teachers remains, tempered only in the past three years by the global financial crisis.

WHO’LL BE LEFT TO LOOK AFTER THE HOUSE? We have long been accustomed to seeing the best and brightest of our countrymen leave to work abroad. But a triple whammy last August has revived the debate on the seriousness of the brain drain phenomenon.

A manpower expert says there is no brain drain, only a mismatch of skills and labor demand.

In the face of the long-running brain drain trend, one would think that Filipinos have come to accept the phenomenon as a fact of life, even a desirable one for many well-paid migrant workers. It took a triple whammy in August to revive the national debate on the seriousness of the problem. First to shake the country was the news last August that 25 pilots of the Philippine Airlines have flown overseas, particularly

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the Middle East and Asia where they were offered nearly triple their salary at PAL. The mass resignation forced PAL to cancel a number of their flights. A few weeks later, another mild tremor followed. The country’s weather bureau – the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) – landed in the news for two related reasons. First, it failed to make an accurate forecast of an oncoming storm, earning a presidential reprimand. President Benigno Aquino III later fired the chief weather forecaster, Dr. Prisco Nilo, in the aftermath of Typhoon Basyang’s fury that left dozens dead. (Dr. Nilo opted for early retirement and left for Australia last Nov. 2.) The second reason for PAGASA’s sudden notoriety was the announcement that the agency had lost 24 of its key personnel, many of them veteran weather forecasters, who had resigned to join the state weather agency of Dubai. The shortage of experienced personnel was one reason cited by the agency why bungled its job on ‘Basyang’. The third whammy was the announcement by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that 83 of its geologists had left for overseas work over the past three years, hindering government programs for mapping earthquake faults and mineral resources. To be sure, government officials are fully aware of the negative impact of the OFW phenomenon on the local economy. After all, it has been the official policy of every administration since the 1970s to export labor as a means of easing the domestic unemployment situation and at the same time generate foreign exchange. Today, between nine to 10 million OFWs are toiling in nearly a hundred countries. They remitted US$17.3 billion in 2009, ac-


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counting for more than 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The brain drain syndrome has proved to be a tough nut to crack. While everyone agrees that the labor export policy should only be a stop-gap measure, there are no easy answers on how to minimize, if not stop, the brain drain. Likewise, there seems to be no unanimity on how serious the problem is. Some are already pressing the panic button. But there are those who claim that there is really no “widespread brain drain,” but a general mismanagement by government of the working talent that we have. “We have so many that have ‘brains,’ but they’re either unemployed or employed in the wrong industry,” says Loreto Soriano, executive director of the Federated Associations of Manpower Exporters (FAME), Inc. Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) support Soriano’s contention. POEA statistics show that new or first-time OFWs during the last decade numbered about 300,000, with only 20% of them categorized as skilled, highly skilled and professionals. The rest are labeled as low-skilled and unskilled, including domestic helpers. “If we relate to the number of college/university graduates every year that averaged 900,000

during the last ten years, there is no brain drain,” argues Soriano. According to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), in 2007 there were more than 600,000 enrollees in Nursing, and more than 500,000 in Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) and Information Technology (IT), but only 40,000 were enrolled in Engineering and related disciplines. The unabated mass production of nursing graduates has inevitably led to an oversupply of nurses. Today, there are more than 200,000 licensed nurses who cannot land overseas jobs either due to a soft demand or lack of the required hospital work experience. Local hospitals, which experienced a severe nurse shortage about five years ago, are turning down a long list of applicants, some of them willing to pay just to get experience. “Thus, we see tens of thousands of nurses, engineers, HRM specialists, Information Technologists and teachers employed in call centers, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), sprawling malls and food-chains like Jollibee, McDonald’s and KFC,” observes Soriano. He blames skills mismatch as the culprit, pointing to the failure of the educational system to produce the right graduates needed by the labor market. He notes that despite a huge domestic work-

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A few months ago a number of PAL flights were grounded due to a shortage of pilots. force, thousands of jobs – mostly in technical and vocational fields remain unfilled due to lack skilled personnel. As a result, a number of factories and light and heavy industries have closed down or moved overseas. “Local industries during the past 30 years, they are gone. We practically do not have manufacturing, garment, leather goods, cannery and fabrication industries anymore,” laments Soriano. In its place is the Service Sector, which provides more than half – almost 63% - of the nation’s entire economic output. But Soriano says, “This sector does not provide permanent employment, but only contractualization.” These lopsided contractual arrangements for the supply of workers have also become a factor for migration, says former labor undersecretary Susan Ople.

Every year thousands of new college graduates join the workforce, many of them eventually leaving for greener pastures abroad.

“Contractual workers subsist on five-to-six-month job contracts while a legally deployed overseas Filipino worker has a guaranteed two-year contract with a fixed and higher salary,” she said. According to Myrna Asuncion, an assistant director at the National Economic and Development Authority, the government has been seeking ways to upgrade salaries and benefits. “But local

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salaries can only go up by so much before they start hurting the competitiveness of local industries,” she told Agence France-Presse. Soriano suggests that the government conduct a reality check of the present economic system. “Both government and private sector business must realize that our economy is sick with what I call the ‘Philippine Syndrome,’” he says. Also called the “Dutch Disease,” it results in a high remittance growth rate, leading to stronger peso and increased imports and government debt, which ultimately discourages domestic production, says Soriano. This must be tempered or stopped, he adds, otherwise we will have a “jobless growth-economy,” which encourages smuggling and promotes corruption. Soriano says monetary authorities should review their policies, noting that a strong peso leads to a rise in cost of local products, which in turn lead consumers to opt for cheaper imported goods to the detriment of local businessmen and workers. He suggests a national economic policy that is balanced, inward-looking and nationalistic in order to support our basic manufacturing, agricultural, light and heavy industries. “That will provide permanent employment to our graduates, thereby creating a large pool of qualified workers for local and overseas jobs,” he says. n


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What Price Overseas

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Employment?

As if separation from one’s family is not enough pain to bear, migrant workers have to endure untold suffering abroad – abusive employers, inhuman working conditions, meager pay, inhospitable surroundings, homesickness, lack of government support, no job security, discrimination.

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Oslo so as not to earn the ire of the Chinese government, which protested the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to a prominent Chinese pro-democracy activist. Saying the government’s move was “in the national interest,” the President cited the ongoing cases of five OFWs facing execution in China for drug related cases.

Material gain

In the absence of the mother, the father takes a dual role, sometimes to the detriment of the family’s well being. BY PEPPER MARCELO

N SEPTEMBER 2010, a Filipina domestic worker returning to Manila from Qatar left her newly born baby in the lavatory of a Gulf Air airplane. She later claimed that she had been raped by her employer, becoming pregnant as a result and, fearing shame from her family, decided to abandon the baby in the trash compartment of the airplane restroom. The baby, later named George Francis by caregivers, survived and has been reunited with his repentant mother.

There are 100 active death penalty cases involving OFWs around the world, mostly for drug trafficking. The following month, another OW committed suicide inside the plane that was bringing him home. Marlon Cueva, 36, was found dead by flight attendants as Gulf Air Flight 154 was preparing to land in Manila from Abu Dhabi. The victim was observed to have been anxious through most of the flight and kept on telling other passengers that he was “sorry.” Cueva left for the country in September last year to work as an electrician. But barely

With no parents to look after and guide them, many children of OFWs imbibe wrong values and fall prey to bad company and vices.

two months into his two-year contract he resigned, citing “personal reasons.” These two incidents are the latest grim statistics on the human toll of overseas employment. Every day a sad, often tragic, tale unfolds in every nook and cranny of the world where some 10 million overseas Filipino workers toil under physically severe and emotionally draining conditions. The Department of Foreign Affairs is currently monitoring some 100 active death penalty cases involving OFWs around the world. Of that number, 16 are for murder-homicide (including rape-robbery with murder), and 74 involve drug trafficking. Last December, President Benign Aquino III admitted that the government had boycotted the Nobel Prize awarding ceremonies in

To be sure, overseas employment has been good to millions of our countrymen and to the economy as well. Think of the mouths it has fed, the students it has sent to school, the houses it has built, the business it has spawned and all the material wealth it has generated. Then factor in the invaluable boon to the local economy by the enormous remittances sent in by OFWs. The remittance volume last year was projected at $18.5 billion, up by eight per cent from the 2009 level of $17.35 billion. Economists say without these money inflows, the Philippine economy would have been in tatters a long time ago. But at what price? As if separation from one’s family is not enough pain to bear, migrant workers have to endure untold suffering abroad – abusive employers, inhuman working conditions, meager pay, inhospitable surroundings, homesickness, lack of government support, no job security, discrimination. All this contribute to indescribable physical, emotional and psychological anguish which could push the workers and their families to mental stress, bodily illnesses, and even death. One can only recall the case of Flor Contemplacion, the Filipina domestic worker in Singapore who was executed for killing a fellow Filipina housekeeper and a Singaporean boy the latter was caring for. Citing Contempacion’s unstable mental condition at the time, her supporters pleaded for clemency but to no avail.

Social cost

“It’s difficult to characterize the social cost for OFWs,” says Maria Angela Villalba, CEO of Unlad Kabayan, a program of the Asian Migrant Center which provides services to migrant workers, including savings mobilization and alternative investments at home. “The situation is this – you’re being uprooted and placed in a situation where the people and environment around you are hostile. You work like a beast of burden from the time you wake up to the time you sleep. You’re always at the mercy of your employer. It is so unbearable that many lose their minds.” Villalba says the suffering of


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migrant workers is made worse by the absence of a safe and welcoming place of refuge in their place of destination. “Their coming home to the family after a long day of hard work is taken for granted. But if you do hard work, and you have no family to come home to, and you come home to a cold bed, in a small room, and then wake up the following day to do the same thing, you get yourself into that depressing situation,” she laments. Given the government’s inability to provides protection and services to OFWs, non-government organizations (NGOs) and migrant workers groups like Unlad Kabayan heroically fill the gap by offering a myriad of services – from crisis intervention, paralegal assistance and counseling to setting up refuge centers and educational services on selforganization, human rights and financial literacy. The number of OFW-related deaths is rising, notes Villalba, but whether they are due to work-related stress or depression remains untracked. “The government’s response is not all of them died through mysterious circumstances,” she says. “Many of them were supposedly sick, or had accidents, and generally when they’re abroad, there’s a chance or possibility they will die.”

Families left behind

Back home, many families left behind by OFWs are not faring in terms of their psychological and emotional well being. Countless accounts have been told about broken families caused by philandering spouses, either the one abroad or the other left behind. “Marital relationships require nurturing and intimacy,” says Dr. Gina Hechanova-Alampay, psychologist and founder of the online counseling site OFWOnline. “This becomes difficult when the spouses are physically separated from each other. The OFW and his/her spouse need to find a way to establish such intimacy at least emotionally across the miles. Unless this is done, it is not surprising that they will turn to people who can fulfill their needs for companionship and intimacy.” With regards to the children, many feel abandoned, and potentially grow up to be spoiled and undisciplined without proper parental guidance. Communications technology such as the internet and cell phones cannot fill the vacuum created by absentee parents. “Parenting is not just about providing for the needs of children. It is also about being their emotionally and psychologically in order to raise children and teach them the right values,” says Hechanova-Alampay. “Having

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IBA PA RIN SA PINAS

H

INDI mayaman ang OFW - We have this notion na ‘pag OFW o nasa abroad ay mayaman na. Hindi totoo yun. A regular OFW might earn from P50K-P300K per month depende sa lokasyon. Yung mga taga-Saudi or US siguro ay mas malaki ang sweldo, but to say that they’re rich is a fallacy (amen!).

The suffering of migrant workers is made worse by the absence of a safe and welcoming place of refuge in their place of destination.

The remittance volume last year was projected at $18.5 billion, up by eight per cent from the 2009 level of $17.35 billion. an OFW parent simply means that the burden of this may fall on the parent who is left behind unless the OFW can constantly communicate with their children to provide such support.” Besides the separation anxiety that comes from longing for parental care, children of OFWs may also be confused about gender roles or develop a materialistic attitude. Sometimes, when the father is reluctant or unwilling to fill the parental void left by an absent mother, it is usually the eldest daughter who assumes the role of caregiver for the family.

Government’s Role

The Philippine government is fully aware of the problems confronting OFWs and their families. But for all its avowed concern for the “Bagong Bayani,” it has not been able to provide the necessary services for workers abroad and their families at home. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) and the Philippine embassies and consulates are grossly short of funds and staff. Migrant groups have complained that government agencies are slow to respond, and even

insensitive and apathetic to the plight of the migrant workers. “I’ve heard reports from workers about government officials admonishing them, ‘With the lack of jobs in the Philippines, you should be thankful to have a job in the first place,’” narrates Villalba. “It is not very encouraging, to say the least.” Hechanova-Alampay adds that government political and legal officers and consulate staff are not trained to provide psychosocial support to migrant workers. “I think the government needs to recognize this need and find ways either by assigning people in the consulate who would have the capacity for such type of psychological service or to at the very least train staff on doing ‘first-aid counseling’. The consulate staff could also be trained on spotting danger signs so they can refer OFWs to appropriate professionals.” Given the government’s inadequate resources and services to cope with the myriad of pressing problems of our migrant workers and their families, our OFWs have only themselves, their kababayans and migrant organizations to fall back on. With very limited options, they can console themselves with the thought that perhaps conditions back home are not any better. For workers experiencing hardship abroad, Villalba advises them to remain optimistic and to focus on their goals for the future. “Save your money, and then build your dream or plan your future while you are still here in your destination country,” she says. “You will not be in that country forever; you have a family to come home to. Put your plan together early and realize it with your family before you become strangers.” n

Malaki ang pangangailangan kaya karamihan ay nag-a-abroad. Maraming bunganga ang kailangang pakainin kaya umaalis ang mga pipol sa Philippines. Madalas, 3/4 o kalahati ng sweldo ay napupunta sa tuition ng anak at gastusin ng pamilya. Mahirap maging OFW - Kailangan magtipid hangga’t kaya. Oo, masarap ang pagkain sa abroad pero madalas na paksiw o adobo at itlog lang tinitira para makaipon. Pagdating ng kinsenas o katapusan, ang unang tinitingnan eh ang conversion ng peso sa dollar o rial o euro. Mas okay na magtiis sa konti kaysa gutumin ang pamilya. Kapag umuuwi, kailangan may baon kahit konti kasi maraming kamag-anak ang sumusundo sa airport o naghihintay sa probinsya. Alam mo naman ‘pag Pinoy, yung tsismis na OFW ka eh surely attracts a lot of kin. Kapag hindi mo nabigyan ng pasalubong eh magtatampo na yun at sisiraan ka na. Well, hindi naman lahat pero I’m sure sa mga OFW dito eh may mga pangyayaring ganun. Magtatrabaho ka sa bansang iba ang tingin sa mga Pinoy. Malamang marami ang naka-experience ng gulang o discrimination in their various workplaces. Sige lang, tiis lang, iniiyak na lang kasi kawawa naman pamilya ‘pag umuwi. Besides, wala ka naman talagang maasahang trabaho sa Philippines ngayon. Mahal ang bigas, ang gatas, ang sardinas, ang upa sa apartment. Tiis lang kahit maraming kupal sa trabaho, kahit may sakit at walang nagaalaga, kahit hindi masarap ang tsibog, kahit pangit ang working conditions, kahit delikado, kahit mahirap. Kapag nakapadala ka na, okay na, tawag lang, “hello! kumusta na kayo?”. Hindi bato ang OFW - Tao rin ang OFW, hindi money o cash machine. Napapagod rin, nalulungkot (madalas), nagkakasakit, nag-iisip at nagugutom. Kailangan din ang suporta, kundi man physically, emotionally o spiritually man lang. Tumatanda rin ang OFW - Sa mga nakausap at nakita ko, marami ang panot at kalbo na. Most of them have signs and symptoms of hypertension, coronary artery disease and arthritis. Yet, they continue to work thinking about the family they left behind. Marami ang nasa abroad, 2030 years na, pero wala pa ring ipon. Kahit ano pang kahirap, sablay pa rin. Masakit pa kung olats rin ang sinusuportahang pamilya – ang anak adik o nabuntis; ang asawa may kabit. Naalala ko tuloy ang sikat na kanta dati, “NAPAKASAKIT KUYA EDDIE!” Bayani ang OFW - Totoo yun! Ngayon ko lang na na-realize na bayani ang OFW sa maraming bagay. Hindi bayani na tulad ni Nora Aunor o Flor Contemplacion. Bayani in the truest sense of the word. Hindi katulad ni Rizal o Bonifacio. Mas higit pa dun, mas maraming giyera at gulo ang pinapasok ng OFW para lang mabuhay. Mas maraming pulitika ang kailangang suungin para lang tumagal sa trabaho lalo na’t kupal ang mga kasama sa trabaho. Mas mahaba ang pasensya kaysa sa mga ordinaryong kongresista o senador sa Philippines dahil sa takot na mawalan ng sweldo. Matindi ang OFW- Matindi ang Pinoy. Matindi pa sa daga, o cockroaches which survived the cataclysmic evolution. Maraming sakripisyo pero walang makitang tangible solutions or consequences. Malas ng OFW, swerte ng pulitiko - Hindi umuupo ang OFW para magbigay ng autograph o interbyuhin ng media (unless nakidnap!). Madalas nasa sidelines lang ang OFW. Kapag umaalis, malungkot and on the verge of tears. Kapag dumadating, swerte ‘pag may sundo( madalas meron). Kapag naubos na ang ipon, wala nang kamag-anak. Sana sikat ang OFW para may boses sa Kamara. Ang swerte ng mga pulitiko nakaupo sila at ginagastusan ng pera ng Filipino. Hindi nga sila naiinitan o napapaso ng langis, o napagagalitan ng amo, o kumakain ng paksiw para makatipid, o nakatira sa compound with conditions less than favorable, o nakikisama sa ibang lahi para mabuhay. Ang swerte, sobrang swerte nila. Matatag ang OFW - Matatag ang OFW, mas matatag pa sa sundalo o kung ano pang grupo na alam nyo. Magaling sa reverse psychology, negotiations at counter-attacks. Tatagal ba ang OFW? Tatagal pa kasi hindi pa natin alam kailan magbabago ang Philippines , kailan nga kaya? O may tsansa pa ba? Masarap isipin na kasama mo ang pamilya mo araw-araw. Nakikita mo mga anak mong lumalaki at naaalagaan nang maayos. Masarap kumain ng sitaw, ng bagoong, lechon, inihaw na isda, taba ng talangka. Masarap manood ng pelikulang Pinoy, luma man o bago. Iba pa rin ang pakiramdam kung kilala mo ang kapitbahay mo. Iba pa rin sa Philippines, iba pa rin kapag Pinoy ang kasama mo (except ‘pag kupal at utak-talangka), iba pa rin ‘pag nagkukwento ka at naiintindihan ng iba ang sinasabi mo. Iba pa rin ang tunog ng “Mahal kita!”, “’Day, ginahigugma tika.”, “Mingaw na ko nimo ba, kalagot!”, “Inday, diin ka na subong haw? Ganahan guid ko simo ba”. Iba pa rin talaga. Sige lang, tiis lang, saan ba’t darating din ang pag-asa. (Written by Saudi Arabia-based OFW Frederick Arceo, this piece is among the most shared on OFW sites and blogs.)


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that Make the Philippines Ugly

Calgary Edition

BY MA. CERES P. DOYO

HE DEPARTMENT of Tourism has taken a step back in its promotional campaign in order to do more creative thinking, after its new logo and slogan bloopers received a rain of heckles and even the President’s disapproval. Indeed, how could you sell Philippine tourism with an unoriginal-looking logo and a catchphrase that only Filipinos would understand? As in, “Ano raw?”

But enough with the heckling. The late, unlamented logo that bore close similarity to Poland’s, and the “Pilipinas, kay ganda” (Philippines, how beautiful) that netizens warned could lead to porno sites have both been dumped. A tourism undersecretary admitted to being overeager, took the blame and did the valiant act of resigning. He didn’t have to resign irrevocably, if you ask me. How many government functionaries who have thoughtlessly or deliberately caused pain and embarrassment to this country have even hinted at resigning?

How to sell the country

Now there is a rush of ideas on how best to sell the Philippines to the world through words and images. Many people still like the old “Wow! Philippines” campaign come-on that became popular during the watch of Richard Gordon as tourism secretary. His successor, Ace Durano, did not change it because it must have worked. If ain’t broke, why change it? But I think the “Wow” has to be clearly spelled out as “world of wonders” which this country is. A sweeping “kay ganda” is not totally correct because of this country’s share of man-made ugliness (more on this later) that is evident as soon as one steps out of the international airport. “World of wonders” is more in-

With the DOT “kay ganda” catch phrase out of the way, it behooves us to point out what are not “kay ganda”. These are the sights, sounds and smells which could easily be sensed and considered ugly but to which solution could immediately be found, if there is a will.

Untrimmed trees, neglected public parks and gardens.

Dilapidated buildings, “spaghetti” cables and traffic all combine to defeat the “kay ganda” image the tourism sector wants to project. clusive and could mean many things that don’t necessarily fall under “beautiful”: sun, sea and sky, music, food, art, nature, hospitality, spiritual healers, state-ofthe-art medical facilities, religious sites, historical places, fiestas, etc. Wondrous is more like it. Even our garbage dumps have drawn special types of visitors, the socalled civil society “exposurists” and parachuting journalists. But that is another story. I liked “Fiesta Islands,” which was the come-on during Mina Gabor’s stint at the DOT. It conjured images of endless merrymaking, azure skies, azure seas and islands gleaming in the sun. It had a mystifying feel and, just now, I remember writing a column piece titled “Islands”. The problem with “Fiesta Islands” is that tourists might not always find fiestas, which are held mostly in the summer, and, because of climate change, they might find flash floods instead.

Garbage in the creeks, rivers, seas and shorelines have been a big cause of pollution, flooding and disease.

How others do it

Tourism websites vie with one another in Cyberspace. The first one I looked up was Poland’s which is highlighting the 200th birth anniversary of composer Frederic Chopin. You can even listen to some études. No, they are not capitalizing on Pope John Paul II’s popularity alone, so we shouldn’t be looking at Manny Pacquiao to do it all. Spain still has its “Espana” logo done in the style of famous painter Joan Miró. I have a T-shirt with that

design. Malaysia still uses “Malaysia, truly Asia” and I liked the song that went with the first version. There is “Incredible India” and “Amazing Thailand.” Iceland (which I dream of visiting) uses the catch words “pure, natural, unspoiled” and Peru (of Machu Picchu fame) uses “Live the legend.” Sikkim promotes itself as “the land of mystic splendor” and the Maldives as the “sunny side of life”. There is “Definitely Dubai” and “Ultimate Italy.” These past weeks, one cable channel has been showing the “Enjoy Jakarta” ad without let-up, and I can’t take it anymore! With the DOT “kay ganda” catch phrase out of the way, it behooves us to point out what are not “kay ganda”. These are the sights, sounds and smells which could easily be sensed and considered ugly but to which solution could immediately be found, if there is a will. We’re not tackling the more deeprooted cultural faults and character flaws of Filipinos, but the tangibles that are obvious to the senses and which, come to think of it, may have its roots in our very selves, our attitudes, our selfishness. These are the ones that tourists would right away experience and be repulsed by.

Top 10 ugly things

I asked around and here are some for starters (you may add your own):

The urban landscape has been “uglified” by gigantic outdoor ads that have defied regulation.

1. Billboards from hell, the scourge of ad tarps—In just less than a decade, the urban landscape has been “uglified” by these gigantic outdoor ads that have defied regulation. Many times they have brought death and injury to people and destruction to property. Who would like to be in a place like that? 2. Garbage, garbage, garbage on the streets, in the creeks, rivers, seas and shorelines—Ugly, smelly and unsanitary, they have been a big cause of pollution, flooding, disease. Year in and year out we blame garbage for our flooding woes but. . . 3. “Spaghetti” cables—Look up and see snarled power and phone cables looking like cobwebs hanging on the Philippine sky. They’re not only ugly, they’re also dangerous when they became too heavy and fall because of their sheer weight. 4. Sticky matter left behind by spitters and nosepickers—Footbridges, overpasses, sidewalks, churchyards, markets and waiting sheds have lots of these shimmering blobs. 5. Buildings in a state of disrepair or with ugly architecture—Metro Manila has lots of these unsightly neglected structures that should be condemned and demolished. Many cities in the world have that certain look and feel that the design of their buildings, homes and other structures provide. We have not evolved our own look. 6. Potholes galore, bad roads. 7. Dirty toilets. 8. Untrimmed trees, neglected public parks and gardens. 9. Traffic and too many unregulated public vehicles, plus the noise and pollution they make. 10. Extreme poverty—This is not to say that the poor and homeless are ugly. It is poverty that is deathly ugly. Countless Filipinos are mired in it because. (Philippine Daily Inquirer) n


Calgary Edition

PLANET

15 PHILIPPINES

JANUARY 2011


JANUARY 2011

PLANET

16

PHILIPPINES

Calgary Edition

Planet Philippines Calgary Edition Jan. 2011 Issue  

Pages 1-16 Jan. 2011 Issue

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