Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for February, 2013

A reaction to “Proud to be Filipino” by Conrado de Quiros

Posted by butalidnl on 26 February 2013

The following is an e-mail which I sent out in reaction to a column written by Conrado de Quiros on the 9 June 1998 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Quotes from the de Quiros column are in italics.

12 June 1998

I have a problem with Conrado de Quiros’ generalization about Filipinos abroad not being proud of their country. While I agree that there are indeed balikbayans who are loud and repulsive when they return to the Philippines, I think that the stereotyped image that de Quiros portrays of us is a sweeping generalization.

Proud to be Filipino, by Conrado de Quiros, PDI columnist (9 June 1998)

Most Filipinos, particularly abroad, feel no great compulsion to defend the country. Other than when a fellow Filipino is ganged up on, or when some macho response is needed. Many Filipinos do not even feel a need to identify themselves as Filipinos. It is not a matter of pride, it is a matter of shame.

In my experience in Europe, most Filipinos have become more proud of themselves as Filipinos upon coming here. As a response to the culture shock upon arrival, plus the racist laws and popular prejudices that we find here, we have learned to fight for our place ‘under the sun’- and we have learned to fight back whenever and wherever people try to put us down. True, with time we are able to blend ourselves into the host society: speaking the language, adopting the native customs, but we keep asserting our Filipino-ness in our friendship circle, in the food we eat, in the way we bring up our children, and in countless other ways. We have to – it’s either that or succumb to the general anti-foreigner bias of our host countries.

Whenever I go home to the Philippines, I visit my family and friends, and go sightseeing, shopping, etc. Most of the time, people don’t recognize me or the rest of my immediate family as balikbayans. I know there are very many of us who are not obvious in their being balikbayan. For me this is natural – after years of people noticing us for being short, brown skinned, black haired, short nosed, etc…, in other words, being different from the rest of society, we find just blending into Philippine society a pleasant change. My daughter told me as much when I asked her what she liked about the Philippines: all of a sudden, she was just ‘normal’, ‘ordinary’, and she felt at home. I suppose that the most repulsive among the balikbayans tend to stand out in the crowd of ordinary returnees. But I think that those who tend to show off their balikbayan-ness could not immediately be labled as not being proud to be a Filipino – I think it is wrong, in principle, to judge one’s patriotic pride by how they act immediately upon arrival. I know one case of a young Filipina who was quite active in the preparation of the Philippine Centennial exhibit in the city she lived in, and who upon arrival in the Philippines was shocked by the heat, noise and the various inconveniences she found there. I would not be surprised if she made a complaint or two.

Or probably, put more simply, being Filipino is not being able to abide balikbayans. Frankly, I don’t know a more insufferable group of people, a group that seems to have made a blood compact to bash the country at every turn.

The next time I go to the Philippines, I (and my family) would like to visit Mr de Quiros and show him how ‘normal’ balikbayans act. If he wants. I can refer him to all my friends who go home, so that he can have a more balanced sample of this group of people.

I am proud to be Filipino.

So are we, Mr de Quiros. We are six or seven million Filipinos abroad, and I am sure that the great majority of us are quite proud of being Filipino. We are proud not only of what we have in the Philippines, but also to what we have achieved abroad. After all, Filipinos have earned respect for our being hard working, for our close family ties, for our resourcefulness, warmth, flexibility. And we are also known for asserting our rights. Even the mail-order bride rackets have realized this and have learned to avoid sourcing in the Philippines. They say that: “The Filipina only LOOKS subservient.” Filipinos often end up as leaders of unions in their host countries. We are no pushovers, and we are proud of this.

Mr. de Quiros, I was a nationalist activist when I left the Philippines in 1983, I know how it is to be proud of the Philippines and being a Filipino when I was still in the country. After 15 years abroad, I feel that I am prouder still, and that I know now (after having been exposed to other cultures) that I have much to be proud about. We are a beautiful nation, and we have admirable traits, and you can only really KNOW that when you have lived abroad. We have been giving the coutnry a good image throughout the world for years, and we are proud of this.

I think that the biggest problem that would rise from this misconception is that it gives support to many laws and practices of the Philippine government tht are anti-Overseas Filipino. After all, why should these insufferable people be given the right to vote or representation? Why allow them to own more than half a hectare of land? Why waste precious government funds on consular budgets or overseas worker benefits? Why indeed?

I appeal to Mr. de Quiros and all other well-meaning Filipinos in the Philippines to avoid bashing Filipinos abroad in the name of patriotism. I hope you would join us in our quest to make us all even prouder of being Filipinos.

Carlo Butalid
Tilburg, the Netherlands

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On the Kasambahay Law

Posted by butalidnl on 12 February 2013

Some news reports say that the new Kasambahay Law (Republic Act 10361, “An Act Instituting Policies for the Protection and Welfare of Domestic Workers” was signed into law on 18 January 2013) will have the unintended consequence of making many people unemployed. Families who could not afford to pay P 2500/month (in Metro Manila) to their kasambahays are expected to lay them off en masse.
Let us take a closer look at this supposed effect.

There are two kinds of families who pay their kasambahays too little. First, there are those whose income is high enough, but who pay their kasambahays too little because they think that is all they deserve. These families would be forced to pay a decent living wage to their kasambahays. They may have to forego some very minor luxuries to do this.

Then, there are the families whose income is barely enough to support the family plus a kasambahay.  If such families cannot afford to pay P2500/month  to a kasambahay, they should simply not hire one. Very often, such families do not objectively need a kasambahay. They could easily divide household tasks among the members of the family.
For these families, having a kasambahay  is more a matter of prestige than an objective need. They want to underline the fact that their social status has risen by having a kasambahay.  Family members then think it would be beneath them to do household chores. But when they do hire a kasambahay, they could not afford to pay them properly, and the working conditions would often be bad (e.g. cramped sleeping quarters, bad food, long work hours).

When a family hires a kasambahay they are making a choice not to spend for some other things instead. Rationally, a family would hire a kasambahay when it is able to become more productive (and thus earn more money) as a result. This is the case when both partners work. But hiring a kasambahay may not always be the optimum solution. There are (theoretically) other choices open to them.
If they need help in specific tasks e.g. cooking, laundry, gardening, cleaning or taking care of children, there are options other than hiring a live-in kasambahay. Cooking could be done by sharing the task among all household members, or they could bring home cooked food. Children could go to day-care centers, and a good schedule of play-dates could be made for the other days. They could hire a labandera to come once a week, or bring their clothes to a laundry service; they could hire someone to clean the house or to work the garden once a week. These steps would probably be cheaper than hiring a live-in kasambahay.

Massive Lay-offs?
The main beneficiaries of the kasambahay arrangement are the families who employ them. The kasambahays also benefit, but only if they are paid properly and have decent working conditions. Overall welfare is not enhanced by allowing sub-standard payment and working conditions of kasambahays.

The Kasambahay Law imposes added financial and legal requirements for employers. But will it result in massive lay-offs of kasambahays? This is most unlikely. The majority of employers can afford to pay the required wages. The minimum wage of 2500 pesos is only for kasambahays in Metro Manila; it is 2000 pesos for other chartered cities and first-class municipalities, and only 1500 pesos for everywhere else. Most families already pay as much to their kasambahays; and those who don’t will probably only have to pay a little more to comply.

Employers will have more of a problem with the other requirements. Kasambahays need to be registered with the SSS, PhilHealth and Pag-Ibig, and the employers will need to make the monthly payments. The kasambahays need to be registered with the local barangays. The kasambahays must have a minimum of 8 hours of rest a day, and 24 hours off a week; they will have five days of annual leave with pay. Also, hiring children younger than 15 years old is prohibited.
A written contract will have to be accomplished, there is a list of valid reasons allowed for termination, employers should respect the kasambahay’s privacy. For their part, the kasambahay is now required to keep all information about the employers family confidential, even after their work with them is over.
All this means that employers’ relationship with their kasambahay will have to change.

The main ‘problem’ with the Kasambahay Law is not economic, but cultural. Filipinos are not yet used to treating their kasambahays as full fledged workers. It will take some years before people will have made the cultural adjustment.

Very few kasambahays presently employed will be laid off. There would probably be a shift from recruiting kasambahays from afar, to those coming from nearby.

National Development
In addition to its being a worker welfare law, the Kasambahay Law is a law that will foster Philippine national development. It will increase the cash that kasambahays receive, since: it bans delayed payment or payment in kind; deployment expenses will be shouldered by the employers; agencies will be prohibited from taking a part of the kasambahay’s salary. This increased cash would have multiplier effects when it is remitted to their home towns.

The law promotes the integration of kasambahays in the urban labor force. It will help make being a kasambahay a steppingstone to other jobs.

The rationalization of domestic labor that the law brings will gradually transform Philippine society. Domestic workers will eventually be hired only by families which can afford them AND really need them. Others would then be hired only for specific tasks, and this will streamline the labor market. More young girls would then go to high school in their hometowns instead of becoming kasambahays in the big cities. And many of those now working as kasambahays will pursue an education. This will come at a time when the country has an increasing need for educated workers, for which there is an impending shortage.

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