Filipinos always ask me, “Why are you so mad? Why all this negative talk about the Phlippines? Why are you depressing me, and giving me high blood pressure?!” I’ve been asked these things more than once, by different people, so now I feel like I should put all my reasons down in this post, so when the next person comes along with the same question I will just say, “Read this!”
As mentioned previously, I have been a long-time Asia analyst and finance professional. I have decided to go into semi-retirement here because I love the beach and the water and the heat. I love Philippine culture and how mixed up it is (in more than one sense). My partner is Filipina, and we travel around the world a lot. Recently, we were in Singapore (where I lived for quite a number of years) and for those of you who have been there, you know how Singapore taxi drivers sometimes like to spout their odd political views to their captive audience passengers. In the past, it used to be bitching about Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP, but now that the old man has passed and been revered, as was his due, the favorite cabbie topic now has veered toward regional current events. On this particularly hellish ride from the airport, we had the luck to have the taxi driver weigh in on how China is fully justified in its actions in the South China Sea, and how the Philippines and Filipinos are a dumb, ignorant lot. The usual bigoted talk, and so I argue with the guy, with my Filipina girlfriend sitting behind us quite aghast.
I remember another incident when I was working in Hong Kong. A Filipino guy was mopping the floor of the restaurant I was eating in, and we got to talking. I find Filipinos is almost every country I visit, in all corners of the globe, and I’m always curious as to how they got there and whether they were happier overseas. This particular guy in Hong Kong said, yes, he was reasonably happy. He said he was lucky to get this job in the restaurant and make some money to send home to his family. He told me he was a construction worker back home in the province. I ribbed him about the many Filipinas in Hong Kong and how he must be a prime commodity being the rare Filipino male, you know, just two guys chewing the fat. His reaction completely took me aback. He said he did know quite a few Filipinas working in Hong Kong, and then with tears welling up in his eyes, he said, “they are selling their bodies here.”
Of course, I knew that. I have seen Filipina women in all the major Asian cities – Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. Some of them as young as 19 working in seedy bars and clubs. I have spoken to quite a few of them, and the story is always the same — just doing what it takes to send money home. Some are single mothers who had left their babies in the Philippines and were simply providing for them, like any mother would, by doing the only thing that was open to them. Some had worked in the service industry in the Philippines, in Shoemart or at Shakeys, but found the pay just too low to make sense. There were some ugly stories of girls, lured by traffickers and recruiters who forced them to sleep with customers in order to pay for their plane fares and lodging.
It always struck me as one of the most heinous things that in a region where most nations were prospering or getting their act together, here was the Philippines, still sending their women out to be maids and sex slaves. That is why I am mad.
There are some happy stories, sure. There are some poor Filipinos lucky enough to get service jobs, but these are usually the ones who had prior experience or finished some schooling. The poorest segment still end up much as you would expect. The thing is we all know this is happening. Go to Cebu for example, and you would see many big ugly white guys from God knows where, with very young, dark local girls, in the hotels. I even saw a sign at one hotel that read “We do not allow child prostitution.” Good Lord. How many incidents did it take for the hotel to actually have to put up the sign?
So why am I mad? Because the Philippines is a beautiful country rich in resources, but mired in poverty as a result of a political legacy reminiscent of the proverbial South American banana republics. So much waste. So much suffering. Yet, people twiddle their thumbs and the elite are fine so long as they can go shopping in their Bonifacio Global City.
So why am I mad? The question I would ask you in return is, “Why aren’t you?”