The face of undocumented Filipinos abroad

THE PHILIPPINE government always sings loud praises to its more than 8 million citizens working or living abroad, mostly for their annual remittances, which, undeniably contributes a lot to what the PNoy (President Benigno Simeon Aquino III) administration claims as spectacular economic growth. To think that these remittances, coming from more than 128 countries worldwide, easily surpass all local investments taken together.

The big question is: Will the much-touted economic growth of more than 7 percent every year for the past two years, be able to create enough jobs to bring home even just half of the Filipinos toiling abroad? Or is it that it is never the intention of the government to create enough jobs for Filipino workers for them not to go abroad to work?

Let’s look at the situation of hundreds of thousands (maybe a couple of million!) of Filipino “illegal workers” — those undocumented by the government’s Philippine Overseas Employment and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.

First, the Saudization program of Saudi Arabia has been overextended (by the Saudi government, apparently on appeals by the Philippine government) , yet the PNoy government has nothing but “repatriation” up its sleeve to respond to the displacement of nearly 200,000 undocumented workers in that Middle Eastern country where at least 2.5 million Filipinos are working.

The eventual takeover of Saudis of jobs held by foreigners, including Filipinos, has been announced by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as early as 1984, yet the bright boys of the different administrations since the 70s (the administration of Corazon Aquino, mother of PNoy, included) have not done anything to find a solution to this eventual displacement of hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers, except bringing home more economically displaced and now-jobless Filipinos.

Also, they all aware of the existence and proliferation of undocumented workers over the years in job-rich Middle East, yet they prefer to just wait and simply react when the host government takes action against these “illegals” or claim their jobs for the locals.

Second, most of the Filipinos in Malaysia, nearing half a million, just took a boat from Jolo in Sulo or from Zamboanga to get to Sabah in North Borneo, without a passport and hardly any identification document. While most Filipino professionals working in that country went through the process of documentation, most of the Filipino workers entering through Sabah had nary a document to even prove their true identities, much less their employment. So, when the Malaysian authorities crack down on undocumented migrants (not necessarily workers), even documented Filipino workers oftentimes get the heat.

How about in other countries, like Japan, Korea and China? Surely, there are hundreds of thousands more, even millions.

At the turn of the century, Japan claims to host more than 300,000 Filipinos. Yet the number of legal residents and workers is only a little over half the number. In Korea, before the unilateral placement of workers by the government of workers there, via POEA, most Filipinos working there, nearly 50,000 of them, were undocumented. They entered as tourists and “jumped” their allowed stay, taking refuge with willing employers who pay them salaries well below government standards, give them jobs Koreans won’t take, and provide them “free” lodging fit only for livestock.

The reality of undocumented workers is as old as the beginning of Filipino overseas workers, which dates back to the Galleon Trade years and the Gold Rush in America. Yet, every Philippine administration has nothing to address this situation involving their citizens whose only purpose is look for opportunities hardly available in the Philippines. Yet, every administration have not taken this problem seriously.

Can’t the bright boys of every administration come up with a solution to this problem? don’t think so. Maybe, when they stop thinking of Filipino migrants and workers abroad in terms of the the dollars they send.

Until the Philippine government see these undocumented workers as Filipino citizens, their countrymen, making a great sacrifice in a foreign country to earn for the keep of their families back home, the story of suffering of the undocumented workers will continue.

But PNoy (including all the Philippine presidents before him), apparently, can’t see beyond the face of the dollar!

Circumventing the law

FORMER Senator and former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim used to say: “The law applies to all or to nothing at all!” He had it emblazoned in every visible wall of the city, in big bold letters. Obviously, however, these words were meant to warn criminals, particularly the lowlife and street kind, like snatchers, hold up men and small-time criminal gangs, and all other criminals taking advantage of the weak as well as those unawares in the streets of Manila. Lim was then on his first term as Mayor of the City of Manila, the city he served for a long time as a cop, rising from an street assignment to the air-conditioned room of the chief of Manila’s Finest.

This slogan of Lim finds meaning in how a lot of establishments now try to circumvent the Senior Citizens’ Law as amended by Republic Act 9994 or the Amended Senior Citizens’ Law – they employ a lot of tricks on old and aging senior citizens to deprive them of the privileges they are entitled to under the law. They literally poke a knife at the throat of aging citizens to discourage them from benefitting from the law.

Some of these are:

1. INTERNAL POLICIES – One mall-based drugstore chain would tell a senior   citizen, who is buying maintenance medicine that he/she cannot buy the entire one-month supply of a daily medication, because “we have our policy of only giving a week’s supply of medicine.” So, that means a senior citizen will have to go to the drugstores each and every week to buy his/her medication, even if the prescription – for the maintenance medication – is for a month. Clearly, this strategy is to try out the patience of senior citizens because, when you buy the same medication without the senior citizen privilege of deducting 20 percent and the 12 percent value-added tax, that same drugstore will give you even a box of 100 tablets without any questions. Imagine the cost of (fare in) going to the drugstore each week and the time (spent) for doing so. Try Watson’s, the big drugstore chain inside most SM Malls.

2. PROGRAM FAILURE – Most supermarkets now use a computer-based cash register. When a senior citizen checks in with his/her carefully selected and accounted purchases, to comply with the Php 1,300 per week purchase and, more importantly, to match his/her budget, the cashier suddenly informs the senior citizen that their senior citizen discount program “is out of order” or “not working,” Thus, they won’t be able to properly record the transaction. The cashier would even add: “We can make the five percent discount, but we’ll be on the losing end as we won’t be able to reclaim whatever discounts we give you, kawawa naman kami!” Then, the cashier would retort: “Kayo ho, kung gusto n’yo ibalik n’yo na lang!” This, knowing that you’ve spent hours picking and listing, even adding the cost of every item, the goods. That tiring effort, especially on senior citizens, against the paltry Php 65 the supermarket will give you, what do you think will happen?

3. ITEM/S NOT INCLUDED – This is the most prevalent trick being employed by supermarkets, even drugstores, to evade giving the discounts provided by the Senior Citizen’s Law as amended by RA 9994. Most drugstores DO NOT DISCOUNT on-over-the-counter medications and other medicinal supplies, saying only prescription drugs or those properly listed in a doctor’s prescription will be given deductions. Section 4(a)(1), which states, “… (a) the grant of twenty percent (20%) discount and exemption from the value-added tax (VAT), if applicable, on the sale of the following goods and services from all establishments, for the exclusive use and enjoyment or availment of the senior citizen… on the purchase of medicines, including… other essential medical supplies, accessories and equipment…”

4. SELECTIVE APPLICATION – Some drugstores are good at sizing up their buyers, particularly senior citizens. When a senior citizen shows his/her senior citizen’s ID card and medical purchase book, the drugstore attendant will try to test the literacy level of the senior citizen. Once, the drugstore attendant ascertains the literacy level of the senior citizen as “LOW,” drugstore attendant checks the prescription being presented and “FINDS SOME DISCREPANCIES,” mostly in medical lingo, which the citizen will naturally not understand. The “ what’s this and that that your doctor has prescribed to you” will send the poor senior citizen into a situation where he will either go back to his/her doctor (which is tiring, costly in terms of fare and time-consuming) or just buy the medication without enjoying his/her senior citizen’s privileges, as the drugstore attendant usually will tell the senior citizen, who is already in a great dilemma, that he/she could get his medication if he would buy it without the discount privileges. And ruse does not end there, the drugstore attendant will even say, “Istrikto ho kasi ang senior citizen’s law, kailangan malinaw ang prescription n’yo!”

The above are just some of the things my good friend, a newbie at being a senior citizen, has experienced in the few months he is trying to experience the privileges and hassles of trying to enjoy the privileges of a senior citizen in the Philippines.

What happened to famous election lawyer Romulo Makalintal is also a good example of how establishments try to evade the Senior Citizen’s Law. In two instances, he was denied the privilege and he sued. The establishments apologized and he accepted.

So, all senior citizens of the Philippines should try to know their privileges and assert their rights under the law.

Been away, but not away

The last post more than six months ago only shows the true nature of the culture of what a deluge of information could do to an aging writer like me. Used to newspapers, magazines, books and other reading materials as primary sources of information, I am now drowned, literally, by a sea of information made available through technology, particularly via the Internet.

So, when I created this blog, I was just intent on writing about things that interest me, in light of the Filipino character of complaining. Making initial research, I soon got lost in a sea of information. In the process, my priorities got tossed and turned by wave after wave of new discoveries and information that I cannot ignore. The result: I got it all juggled and mixed up that I started to rethink and rethink, meaning, I got into a point of indecision, I can’t decide where to start.

While compiling materials for one of the major sources of complaints, the relation of Filipinos with migrant Chinese, I also tried Google. So, what came up is the conflict on Spratlys, which I may say is a current issue and one of the hottest issues that make Filipinos gripe and whine against China. They even see their Chinese (Tsinoys, if you like) as an embodiment, on some personal and business levels, of the Chinese claim on the group islands on the Philippine West Sea, formerly China sea.

This is where I got snagged. The materials keep on piling up, I can no longer cope, i.e. classifying the materials according to my initial plan.

I thought it was information paralysis. But later, while watering my plants, I realized that this kind of research, which had been with us for almost two decades already, defies my traditional view of compiling data. In short, resistance.

However, if I don’t push myself into addressing the sudden challenge, it would take me nowhere. So, I rolled I finished watering my small garden and rolled my sleeves to tackle the information I have so far gathered. As most of which were printed, I started putting related topics together.

I tell you, it was not easy. It took really hard time. But, here I am ready to push through with my original plan.

Been away awhile

Been away for a while… for obvious reasons, one I have to really overcome.

Keeping up with and maintaining a regular blog takes time, even some effort. This is more particularly so when your hands are full on other things because your mind is occupied by matters other than writing and posting blogs.

When I created nguyangoy, I intended to keep up with the regular grind of posting a blog every now and then, not far in-between. It was also my intention to write regular articles for publication. Later on, and with the daily work to eke out a living, I realized writing posts impinged on my daily routine and was quite time consuming. But I persisted in trying to find time.

I could only recall, before creating nguyangoy, how I earlier joined some free blog sites and created my own pages. But only after a couple of articles, the blogs I created, more or less, went into dormancy.

I also ventured into some sites offering “quick and easy money,” only to realize that making cents and nickels from those sites eats a lot of my time. Now, I can only plead guilty to being one of the gullible guys driven by an engine called greed.

Well, this morning, while I was rummaging through my files, I realized I have a lot of organizing to do to be able to sustain a regular stream of posts. The organizing will be a painstaking process, considering years of churning out hundreds, even thousands of articles for my clients and publishing outlets. But I think it will all be worth my while.

And that’s what I intend to do.

Just can’t help feeling bad

Going over today’s opinion pages, I came across a column of Neal H. Cruz about Pantabangan town having no electricity, literally and figuratively (trying to copy the URL so I can post it here, but failed… anyway just go to Inquirer.Net and search it from there under OPINION).

Well, the gist of the column was about the failure of Pantabangan officials to pay off their debt from the power-generating firm supplying electricity to the municipality, even as the end-users or customers — the people of Pantabangan — are paying their monthly bills religiously. Why Pantabangan officials? Well, the operator of the power distributing firm is the municipality, hence local officials are the ones running it!

The debt, which runs to hundreds of millions of pesos, dates back to 2008. Whew, malalim ang bulsa ng power-generating company! Perhaps, they were accommodating the huge debt of Pantabangan town in deference to its officials.

The columnist, Neal Cruz, went on to give a lot of facts about the financial position of the municipality — its annual income and some of its expenditures, most of which remain unexplained — based on Commission on Audit reports.

Well, the case of Pantabangan, having its electricity cut off is a classic example of how institutional corruption adversely affects the lives of people… Perhaps, the mayor and his vice-mayor son know that they are not the first to do this kind of crime and they are aware that many of those who preceded them in doing similar criminal acts were never punished.

Kawawa naman ang mga taga-Pantabangan. However, hindi ba sila rin ang nag-elect sa gumawa nito sa kanila?

Well, I could only nguyngoy at their fate…

So much to write about

Indeed, there’s so much to write about. What we see, what we hear, and just about everything that comes to all our six, even seven senses. So, that includes the occasional extra-sensory perception or ESP and, hey, the dreams that come every now and then.

However, my initial intention in creating this blog is to express my disappointment about a lot of things and goings-on, particularly in the community or communities I get to move about and interact. Perhaps, this is a more practical way of putting things up front, for whatever it is worth.

For now, I have to organize the things I want to write about and how I’d go about putting it into words. This, I think is the only way to make my time punching keys, selecting words and putting together my thoughts in sentences and paragraphs worth my while… and also that of my readers.

In short, the nguyangoy will never be just a nguyngoy, but something more real and meaningful.

Bear with me… and thanks for reading…. I mean it!