Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Home is where the cash is

Home is where the cash is

Posted 10:57pm (Mla time) Jan 31, 2005
By Juan Mercado
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the February 01, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

REACTIONS from New York, Florida to Quezon City have come fast, thick and articulate to the issue raised in our Jan 26. column, "Diaspora as economic clout."

Can Filipinos abroad muster economic muscle to create a critical mass enough to shatter crony governance that brought us all to the brink of "democratic exhaustion"? that column asked.

"Filipinos of the diaspora" -- a thousand or more delegates who have succeeded abroad in their fields, yet were drawn back to their native sod -- confronted that issue at the Global Networking Pinoy convention in Cebu. So did delegates to the Cultural Center's Karangalan conference and "Pinoy Unleashed" at the Ultra.

Echoing John Kennedy's 1961 inaugural theme -- "Ask not what your country can do for you..." -- they wondered: how could they help a country skirting democratic debility?

Use your economic clout to sledgehammer reforms at home, First Pacific's Manuel Pangilinan suggested. Replace systems crammed with cronies with a meritocracy that rewards excellence. Otherwise, the best will vamoose at the first visa.

"Thank God for confabs like (this)," wrote Jovie Galarga of Pasig City. "Pinoy achievers challenge us to focus on our strengths as a people. There's a with-God-nothing-is-impossible spirit resident in every Pinoy's heart."

"The easiest way for overseas Filipinos to help is to get as many relatives to their adopted country," scoffed Amadeo de la Cruz of New York's Greenwich Village. "There are enough obstacles," from reacquiring citizenship to buying land, put up by the rich, with help of politician-relatives, to discourage overseas Filipinos.

Filipinos abroad have economic muscle, Pepton J. Anton in California writes. But is there "common purpose of reforms"? Elites returning adopt vices of corrupt domestic oligarchs, from underpaying domestic helpers to ostentation, a point that "Andre MM" of New York concurs with. "Elites don't want to change the system anymore than non-elites risk changing it."

Should they abandon comfort zones to cap a social volcano created by corrupt rulers and corrupt ruled? Filipinos abroad debate. Should they help dismantle this anomaly in the autumn of their lives, when they can sit in relative peace?

Many do, reports Jose Montelibano of Gawad Kalinga in the Pusong Pinoy webpage. Some adopt simpler lifestyles to channel their savings to help.

"Esok and Sally Andraneda of Chicago sold their mansion to buy a modest house and donated the difference of $100,000 to build homes for poor Filipinos," he writes. They raised another $77,000 from the sale of their Mercedes. "More stories like this are waiting to be told."

"When Filipinos leave, they are halfway out the door," Anthony Yu (of Canada?) pointed out. "The only thing holding them is people they care about here. Take them away, and they're gone. This is fact."

Dr. Remigio Lacsamana of Florida agrees. "Majority of us who left did so because of the lack of opportunities there. Few plan to go back except to visit." Those who left families behind send hard-earned money to help relatives get by. Often, this entails sacrifices, "as some don't always have good jobs," Lacsamana adds.

Yu concurs saying: "(Those) who send money do so because they have loved ones there, not to exact excellence from government's performance. That's confusing personal responsibilities with the public good."

"National redemption, however, depends on empowerment of the majority, not from the diaspora's enthusiastic few, prescribing solutions," writes "Andre MM" from New York.

"We're not competitive in the world labor market. That's the unpleasant truth. It's harder even for educated Filipinos now to migrate. It's due to our deteriorating education, competition from neighbors, and changes in immigration laws. We didn't dislodge Mexicans on the basis of advance competencies. This isn't a pretty record."

Lasting change will come from the commitment of Filipinos who participate in a boring process called nation-building. "We are on our own," Yu stresses. "If we don't get our act together here, expect more (thieves) who eventually park their cash someplace else."

"Our neighbors like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and South Korea make giant strides while we lag," Dr. Lacsamana adds. "I'm saying no to Tita Glo. More than retiree dollars, we must throw behind bars every official who has made that his way of life. Revamp our culture."

Since the mid-1990s, Gawad Kalinga monitored the shifting mood of Filipinos abroad, Jose Montelibano claims. At the September 2004 Chicago conference of Filipino groups, GK reported "on a collective angst to focus on the motherland, and perhaps even help."

Filipinos in the United States, Canada and Australia assist typhoon, flood and other victims. They chip in for various charities. GK supports 400 communities nationwide. Volunteers tend poor families in cooperation with "partners": mayors, some corporations and colleges. A group rebuilds a typhoon ravaged Camarines Sur town.

Many church and NGOs do similar work but never get into the news. Despite the "agony of a wounded people," Montelibano claims there's "a growing empathy in the hearts of Filipinos abroad that transcends the extreme frustration they have long felt at the quagmire known as Philippine society."


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