Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why do we leave?

Migration of humans across continents has occurred since the dawn of human evolution. Most people generally leave for the same reason. Today’s migrants move to look for greener pastures, or for a better job or opportunity to support their families. Like their forebears who moved in search of food, shelter or a more hospitable climate. There are, of course, a few others who move for a different reason rather than purely economic.

Professor Solita Monsod’s premise in her supposedly last lecture in her Economics class at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), videotaped and shown on YouTube (please click picture on the right to view), seems out of touch with the reality of migration. Addressing her students, Prof. Monsod said that leaving the country is like a betrayal. Especially when the country needs their brains in order to join the elite countries of the developed world. In fairness, Prof. Monsod was talking solely to U.P. students whose education is largely subsidized by the government and scholarship grants, compared to those who studied in private universities and paid for their own tuition. Although, she was only emphasizing the obligation of U.P. graduates to give back to their country, her message could apply as well to graduates of other Philippine schools.

Other than the sophomoric exhortation of the former Economic Planning Minister of the Philippines, nothing in her last lecture is obviously of value, either intellectually or for any simple sentimental reason, like keeping the YouTube lecture as a memento or showing it around. The lecture didn’t even relate to the subject matter she taught, and it sounded like a last parting shot, so for that matter she could probably be forgiven.

When my wife told Prof. Monsod we were leaving the country in the mid-eighties, right after the political turbulence of the EDSA Revolution, she asked my wife if there was a job waiting for us in Canada. My wife wrote her speeches at that time when Prof. Monsod was a cabinet secretary. She obliquely reassured her that I had a job, when the reason for our leaving was not economic but something more fundamental than putting food on the table. Prof. Monsod also lived for a while in the United States while her husband worked with the World Bank and she completed her post-graduate studies.

Why do Filipinos continue to leave the country?

The simple answer is that most of them are “pushed” from the country because of its conditions, mostly economic, and are “pulled” to a new country where the quality of life is much better, i.e., where there are jobs which pay more and better opportunities for the children.

In the past, migration used to be from the rural areas to the urban centres within the country. But as population grew in the cities and jobs became more scarce, overseas has become the new destination. Besides, our quality of life has deteriorated, the political situation has turned to worse, economic opportunities monopolized by big and rich corporations, and our culture and intellectual life have become self-indulgent with forms or figures of entertainment that cater to our most decadent desires. In other words, our country’s fabric as a liveable society has broken down.

Young people leave because opportunities for them to grow have run out. No wonder our schools today produce graduates who are prone to be poached upon by the more advanced countries. As an economist, Prof. Monsod knew this was bound to happen. In effect, our country—so poor and broken down—subsidizes the education and training of the workforce of the rich and powerful countries. All these countries have to do is simply to cream our country of the best of its talent pool. Maybe, our government should ask the governments of foreign countries that rob us of valuable manpower to reimburse our government for training expenses for every Filipino going abroad to migrate. This seems totally logical if what overseas Filipino workers and migrants remit back home is not enough to keep the country afloat.

Perhaps, what Prof. Monsod should be more concerned is why Filipinos, after they have left the country and did so well abroad, eventually lost the yearning to go back. So unlike how she felt when she and her husband decided to return and serve back home.

Most refugees from ravaged and war-torn societies return after a series of significant political changes have been achieved and social reconstruction has followed in earnest. The animus to return was also true with a great number of Europeans who have migrated to America before the end of the Second World War or for present-day migrants, when their countries have recovered from economic slowdowns. Many children of Chinese and Korean immigrants have returned to their parents’ homelands to start up their own businesses or apply the education and skills they learned abroad. Sadly, however, this phenomenon of returning is not happening in great numbers in the case of overseas Filipinos. More and more are simply leaving and staying put where they have resettled.

The motivation to return is driven by changes in the home country that attract people to go home and re-establish their lost roots. If nothing much has changed between the time they left and now, people will never go back home, except to visit. Prof. Monsod should not fault those who leave or even those who do not wish to return if her only rationale is to point out their act of betrayal. As if patriotism is static and confined to the ground where one stands.

One can be outside of the country and still be loyal and true to one’s homeland. Look at Marcelo H. del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena and Jose Rizal, the leaders of the propaganda movement during the Spanish colonial period. Today, where citizenship is more elastic, i.e., more than one allegiance is allowed in most countries, patriotism has become borderless. There must be preconditions for returning; in other words, the circumstances on the ground must have changed to attract people to re-acquire their old citizenship or rekindle their interest to go back home.

Why Filipinos leave is easy to understand. But it is not as easy as accepting why so many will not come home again.

We have friends from university who have been dividing their time between Canada and the Philippines every year. Their goal is to resettle eventually. The reason behind their decision to go back: their children who seem to have re-discovered their parents’ native land through the magic of music and film. Perhaps, it is our children, born or raised in a foreign land, who will pursue this miracle of returning, more than us old fogeys who most probably are in our retirement years.

Speaking of retirement, wouldn’t it be the most laudable of all reasons to go back to our homeland and spend the rest of our lives dedicating it to things we have always wanted to do when we were young? It could be as lofty as helping rebuild the nation, or as practical as promoting literacy, or nurturing and caring our natural habitat, even if it’s only a small garden patch. This perhaps will make Prof. Monsod smile and release us from her haunting from the grave.

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