Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Hoofing it

Hoofing it

Posted 00:45am (Mla time) Feb 15, 2005
By Juan Mercado
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the February 15, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

EVEN before they graduate, almost half (47 percent) of Filipino students already plan to migrate. And within overseas workers' families, the proportion ratchets up to six out of every 10 kids.

So, how long can a million of our workers yearly hoof it to foreign lands without crippling the country?

That question arises in "Hearts Apart" -- a hard-nosed analysis of parents seeking jobs abroad, as seen in "the eyes of Filipino children" left behind.

"The millions of Filipinos working overseas make a difference ... between basic survival and a better life for their families back home." BBC correspondent Sarah Toms observed. "But there's a cost to be paid, too, by the children they leave behind."

What's the cost? -- asks the study sponsored by the Catholic bishops' commission for Pastoral Care of Migrants, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Scalabrini Migration Center.

Researchers -- from University of the Philippines (Cebu), Colegio de San Agustin in Bacolod and Ateneo de Davao -- interviewed 1,443 children in 130 schools in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Cebu, Negros Occidental and Davao del Sur.

Concern over migration is reflected in the growing body of research. Socorro Gultiano of San Carlos University's Office of Population Studies' and her team are analyzing domestic migration.

The numbers, however, shove overseas migration to the forefront. One out of every 10 Filipinos today lives or works abroad. About a fourth are "illegals." They remit about $8 billion through banks. But much is funneled in via unofficial networks."

Studies range from Ateneo's "Filipino Children Under Stress" to Bangkok's Asian Research Center's "Filipino Women Migrants: Home But Not For Good," and to "Seasonal Orphans" by Victoria Paz Cruz.

Immigration curbs, war or government haven't staunched the hemorrhage. In 2003 alone, 867,969 Filipinos left for over 100 destinations in "those far away places with strange-sounding names." Filipinos operate dialysis machines in Khazakstan, sail ships in the Caribbean or work as domestics in Hong Kong.

Starting in the 1980s, more women left. "We cannot work abroad," says Pete, whose wife from Laguna is a domestic worker. "They're the ones who can find jobs."

Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines are the Asian countries where women constitute the majority of migrants. "The trend has become irreversible."

But there's "more beneath and beyond the statistics and the dollars," notes Scalabrini Center's Dr. Maruja M.B. Asis. Filipinos call mothers “ilaw ng tahanan,” or light of the home. The departure of mothers has "put the well-being of the family on the line."

If they had a say, 49 out of every 100 kids would prefer that the father migrate, the survey found. "My mom can be both father and mother," says Don, 19, from La Union. "Sometimes, she climbs the roof. But my father can't cook."

Cash gives migrants' children an edge: home ownership, durable goods, quality schools, better health care, etc. More children of overseas Filipino workers enroll in private schools with higher educational standards. They "fare slightly better" than those of non-migrants in several indices of academic performance: from general weighted average to honor rolls.

"With a lifetime ahead, how did the children view their future?" Rosy. Nine out of 10 said so. But many of them plan out careers shaped by what's marketable abroad. More than half (52 percent) want to become doctors, nurses, etc. That's followed by engineers (7 percent) -- and entertainers.

"There's no possibility to move up here," says Ron, 19, from Cagayan de Oro. "I'll have a future abroad." From the Ilocos, Ric, also 19, says: "Professionals in the Philippines go to other countries, and then the other countries progress. But where they come from, there's no progress." But there's ambivalence too. "I prefer it here. The values are good," says La Union's Migs, 19. "If nothing happens here, I'll try international." But Risa, 17, of Manila admits: "It's like a conflict. The family you leave behind -- you don't know what will happen to them."

Public perceptions swirl around stories of philandering husbands or wayward children. The study's findings, however, present a less monolithic picture.

"Departure of one or two parents does leave an emotional mark," especially when it is the mother who is away. But extended families offer support. In many other well-being indicators, the children do as well. Where the family is stable, "it can withstand the separation imposed by migration."

The study does not discount the psychological stress. "I pity my mother and fear for her safety," says Hafiz, 19, from Cotabato. "I was still young then, about six. I cried a lot. It seemed hard to adjust," says Ric. "My youngest sibling always pines for her. This is for our own good," adds Farid, 20.

But hearts inch apart when the absence of a parent is prolonged. "My daddy is really kind ... But it feels there's a stranger in the house," 19-year-old Isa from Bulacan says. Some regret for experiences they could have shared as a family.

To maintain ties, families spend for costly communication. "Cell phone families" reassure children their families remain intact. "The phone cards he consumed could be our food budget," explained Sonia, a Manila seafarer's wife. "But if you take it away -- nothing."

"The children's responses indicate that overseas migration will continue," the report notes. Hearts apart have "implications for the country as a whole."

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(E-mail: juan_mercado@pacific.net.ph)


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