Disclaimer: I am an OFW. I do recognize our part in keeping the Philippine economy running. I know the hardships and sacrifices our kind undergo, working far from home and family, having to work in alien cultures and, on some cases, suffering discrimination and abuse. I know the importance we play in keeping it all together for our country. That our remittances saved the nation time and time again, and without it our economy would probably be in shambles right now.
Let me define the context of the word “hero” first. I refer primarily to a patriot. Somebody with the awareness and deep connection to his nationality, almost bordering jingoism. Someone who has done a meaningful sacrifice, one that cannot be easily duplicated. That sacrifice has to be done with a specific goal in mind: that to the benefit of the community or the nation.
I do remember trying the greener pasture in a neighboring country not out of a sense of sacrifice for my country, but rather the simplistic notion of getting a bigger paycheck. I don’t wish to apologize for it, certainly not to glamorize, but nonetheless admit that it was utterly selfish when compared to what those I consider heroes should aspire to be. Not entirely selfish since a major part of it is my willingness to provide for my family. Being the bread winner for my retired parents, plus wife and newborn, I think my decision was entirely justified even for just the motive of financial survival.
The thought of doing it to better our economy was non-existent. I know and have heard of the tales of OFW’s ever since I was a kid. The songs and commercials and movies they made to glorify this particular worker type. Not that there’s many of those types of media anyway but the appreciation from the government was there. Was it a lip service or genuine patronage is of no consequence in this article.
Nor have I met anybody do it for the purpose I just described. It was all the same - there is a company in a foreign land willing to pay for my services at a higher rate. Sending those hard-earned cash back to the homeland will somehow triple their value, thanks to the exchange rate. Globalization at its finest, and they think they should take full advantage of it. This is the psychology of a would-be OFW. I bet every single OFW out there will unanimously agree on this.
Now, is that heroic? Maybe for our families. Though, as a father, that is my responsibility. The only difference between working on another country and back home is the pay and proximity to loved ones. Other than that, it’s just plain work - the very promise of capitalism we are all trying to get by with the hope of a comfortable retirement one day. It just the same as going from the provinces to Manila. It’s almost the same as the daily commute we endure to get to our offices or work sites. It’s an eventful act of separation from our comfy beds so we can pay rent and provide food to the table.
Let me paint a picture of heroism that I think is a real representation and has to be aspired by the youth. It has nothing to do with a bigger paycheck. It may contribute to a blissful retirement one day. It does separate from loved ones but not with a great distance. The heroes I refer to are the public school teachers. I know teaching is the noblest of professions, but they do it on an entirely different leve. Low wages, 60 students per class if you are lucky, decades old equipment, amongst other things. One could argue that they do it for the wages anyway and not for the love of kids or the country, but there is one event some of them show this is not truly the case. I haven’t seen this done by an OFW nor anything that remotely resembles it.
I speak of national elections. They have the fortunate additional task of doing the actual electoral process, from hosting the voting centers, to manual counting to distribution of ballots and the like. Now, elections in the Philippines, especially in rural areas, are not as orderly as in other developed nations. They are full of sensationalism, violence and is mostly a popularity contest. Owe it to the corrupt culture where candidates are usually vying for position in order to steal money to recoup their campaign expense. Most importantly, owe it to the voters who do not know better.
Some of these teachers have faced gunpoint from corrupt candidates wanting to take the ballots for whatever scheme they intend for their victory. Many of these teachers refused then at the cost of their lives. All of them are too underpaid to really protect these pieces of paper with their lives, much less to be responsible for this civic duty in the first place. Those that died, did so because they believed in the power of the ballot and the importance of elections. Whether elections in the Philippines actually represent the opinion of the majority aka the masses, or whether they really make progress for the country is worthy of another discussion. This particular act of sacrifice presupposes a level of thinking that takes into consideration an abstract notion of a democracy; something they can never really feed their families with nor guarantee them an actual retirement. A really high level of consciousness indeed. Heroes in every angle, national heroes, worthy of respect and admiration.
Now, contrast this with a typical OFW, like me. I believe to some degree that, given a chance to switch citizenship to a more developed country most Filipinos would do so without second thought. Especially if they can bring over their family and have a job waiting for them on the new land. I don’t see anything wrong here - many people from any civilization from any point of human history have done this thing. It’s a natural human trait. Entirely justified.
Is that a heroic attitude?
I stil love my country, and would like to go there every now and then. This is mostly due to the idea that there’s no place like home, even if your home is a poorly-run joke fest of a republic. I still want to wear my Filipino pride everywhere I go, but if there’s a slight chance for a better life somewhere else for my family I will definitely give the latter a go.
Contrast our sacrifices to that of public school teachers especially during election time. Contrast that to the soldiers fighting our fellow countrymen in the South. Contrast that to the honest and hard working employees of the civil service.
I am not belittling the conditions that some other OFW’s are undergoing right now. The psychological burden of being away from family, especially your children can never be put into words. Add to that the possibility of one day seeing your child, whom all your hard work is dedicated to, no longer recognizes your face.
I’m simply saying that these unsung heroes need more spotlight. We call OFW’s modern heroes but there are a lot of heroes in our country. If you intend every child in our country to aspire to be an OFW we will not only experience an even worse brain dran but an actual exodus, where none are actually willing to come back given the chance. We need heroes that have attained a level of consciousness that goes past the rudimentary everyday worries of a salaried worker. We need icons of real patriotism rooted in hard work and a genuine love for their community. If only we can vote for public school teachers.
Motivation is very important when choosing icons on which we hope the younger generations will emulate. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the motivations of OFW’s such as me, but the title of a “modern hero” deserves a higher standard.