Saan kami lulugar? The Role of Filipino Expats in National Elections and Issues

Back in college, one of the common mantras I’ve heard from professors and students alike was that one of their pet peeves was Filipinos who go abroad and yet continue to write about and criticize Philippine politics from a foreign land. I will admit that even I subscribed to this paradigm, the arguments being: (1) “You left for a reason. Why are you still so involved?”, (2) “You’re not here. How can you talk about this issue first-hand?”, (3) “You’re in a foreign land. Why don’t you deal with their problems?”, (4) “You’ve been barely there for a few years. Do you honestly think you’re better than us?”, and (5) “You call yourself a leftist. How can you be anti-West when you live there?”

I was of this mindframe ever since I arrived in St. John’s, NL last November and I held my tongue (and, err, my fingers) from being critical with national issues. I absorbed myself in work, in doing my own stuff, in taking walks in the woods, but, and perhaps this is because of online media, we lose the geophysical oceans and I can still say ‘hi’ to you as if we were in the same postal code. 95% of my Facebook friends are in the Philippines. Majority of those are very opinionated about issues, sharing news articles, voicing their thoughts on politics, etc.

I started getting itchy. Issues rolled by. The trial of Carlos Celdran. The bullying of Amalayer. KALikha. Cardinal Tagle’s admittance and dismissal of molesting priests. Suspension of the RH Law. Murders in Sabah. Tintin Bersola-Babao. Kris Aquino. The fat gay guy who wants to be Bruno. Janine Tugono. The guy who hates Filipino masa culture. The guy who said fuck Philippine pride. The guy who said: “YOU DON’T DO THAT TO ME!” The ridiculous sin tax law. The pontifical Varsitarian. The CBCP and the Holy Roman Catholic Cult. Tito Sotto’s Christmas bonus. Bullying student leaders. The furnaces at PUP. The suicide of Miss Tejada. Removing science from early years of learning.

And those are just the big ones. Let’s not include the daily suffering, murders, the hunger, the starvation, the molesting, the rape, the brutality, the kidnappings, the abductions, the destruction, the war, the poverty, the oppression, broadcasted everyday to a helpless public, the ignorant turning away from the ignored.

Not to mention the looming national elections, the worst parade of fetishists and their respective sheep I have ever seen. A democracy where politicians are born not bred. A government run by a landlord. A profile of electorates equal to sons, daughters, wives, grandchildren, kabets, or whatever possible permutation of past officials, who sing and dance onstage as if the elections were one big videoke and the magic powers of the system will grant you a perfect 100%. We have celebrities with no experience, we have convicted murderers, most, if not all, of whom are too homophobic, too limited in their world view, to not consider the rights and welfare of the LGBT’s

With this background, saan kami lulugar?

(1) “You left for a reason. Why are you still so involved?”

I am not an OFW. I came to Canada as a family class permanent resident. My application was ridiculously easy. But I know of so many Filipinos not only here in Canada but everywhere else in the world, temporary skilled workers, their lines at POEA horrendous, their application tedious. Yet, they are here for one reason alone: Practicality.

We left for a reason — it’s not practical to stay. We left because as much as we want to be idealistic and say “I love the Philippines,” we are hungry. Our parents are hungry, our siblings our hungry, our children are hungry. We cannot eat love, we cannot eat patriotism. We eat rice, we eat eggs, we need the almight power of the capitalist dollar.

Here’s a secret:

We’d love to come back. You think we wouldn’t? Our tourism ad says it best: It’s more fun in the Philippines. If you know much we are suffering here, we want to come back. But we cannot come back if the main reason for us to leave has not been resolved. At the end of it, it is the idealist inside us overseas Filipino wanting to return, but unable to if our needs cannot be met.

So, yes, we are involved because we have a stake in the issue. There is a reason we have voting power. There is reason that OFW remittances are one of the driving forces of our economy. We NEED to be involved.

(2) “You’re not here. How can you talk about this issue first-hand?”

We are the absent present.

We are not there, but we are. If we are involved in an issue, we are tasked with the responsibility to know and discourse about it. Do you honestly think it does not affect us? When a big issue in the Philippines erupts, in an international arena, a lot of the people abroad would know about it. We, your overseas brethren, are in fact ambassadors of the country.

When acosted by someone, they could say: “Oh, I heard about what happened in the Philippines. That’s so sad. You guys don’t have reproductive rights?”

Are we supposed to just nod? In a world of free access to information, everyone, whether abroad or in the Philippines, is responsible for his own knowledge of issues. I may not be there per se to witness the events unfold, but I follow online trends, and so do a lot of people here.

So, yes. Not only can we talk about issues, but we should.

(3) “You’re in a foreign land. Why don’t you deal with their problems?”

Who says we aren’t?

We are children of two nations, our birth one and our adopted one. We straddle two lands and thus are affected by both.

For instance, here in Newfoundland, one of the biggest issues is with Kathy Dunderdale, the premier, who deactivated her Twitter account because the account was apparently following an X-rated Twitter page.

Yup, in the Philippines, we have daily murders. Here, this is news.

(4) “You’ve been barely there for a few years. Do you honestly think you’re better than us?”

Being critical has nothing to do with being better or worse. I have been critical of the Philippines even before I moved.

Now, the position of us expatriate Filipinos is interesting because we are in societies that are vastly different from the ones we know. We can see that they do some things better, and, conversely, they do some things worse — everything of course is tied-up towards the social, economic, historical, and political background of countries.

For example, here I haven’t met a single homophobic pesrson. Everyone’s just so jolly and accepting. That’s a good point — this is a society that I, as a gay man, feel more secure and feel more human.

(5) “You call yourself a leftist. How can you be anti-West when you live there?”

Okay. As much of an idealist I could be, I am flesh and bones. I need money to eat. I need money for rent. I need money for gay bars. I need money to sustain my lifestyle. I am a product of my society, a Filipino who lives in Newfoundland. I am still bound by ideology, bound by the economy.

Maybe one day I could return to the Philippines. That’s the dream.

So, please, next time you want to say “Hoy, noy. Palibhasa’t nasa abroad ka na, feeling mo ang galing mo. ‘E ano pa bang paki-alam mo sa bansa?”, put yourself in our shoes amidst the delirium of our country, and ask yourself

Saan kami lulugar?

Kasi hindi pwedeng wala.