overseas Filipinos

[Two Pronged] How can you tell if leaving the Philippines is the right move?

Margarita Holmes, Jeremy Baer
[Two Pronged] How can you tell if leaving the Philippines is the right move?
'While in theory the world is an OFW’s oyster, in fact, choice is severely limited to a small percentage, generally professionals; the majority go to whichever country offers them a job'

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

Regarding your column on moving away from the Philippines, I have lived in four different countries. Immigrating for a better future for one’s family is no easy decision. The good news is that I have seen Filipinos of all classes generally thrive outside the Philippines without helpers. People quickly learn to do for themselves what they have paid people exploitative wages to do back home, which has always puzzled me. Why pay someone so little what you can do yourself? Surely it is not because you are too “busy” – we all have the same 24 hours. Filipinos who live without servants overseas suddenly do not get extra time in their day, but they manage to get everything done. 

The second reality is that, with the exception of the US, national health care is quite common. Unlike the Philippines where health care is only for those who can afford it, Filipinos who live in countries with national health care can attest to the peace of mind and security. 

Most other countries have quality public education, which makes moving up the socio-economic ladder via higher education a realistic goal. I doubt anyone can seriously say our public school system offers the same opportunity. Unless you attend a private school, it is unlikely you will gain admittance to a prestigious university. Private schools are not cheap, whereas public education in most countries is free through age 16. 

Lastly, the public good has a very different meaning. We like to pride ourselves on being friendly and happy, which I cannot deny. But what we cannot pride ourselves on is having a large number of spacious parks, open public libraries, or even public pools. Malls we have. Public spaces to congregate and listen to free concerts we do not have. And it is not a lack of room but a lack of priorities. Even Tokyo and Hong Kong are very congested but have an abundance of public spaces that serve the community. 

These are just some of the things you will find if you venture outside the country. Many Filipinos who have seen how good education, health care, and public facilities are accessible to everyone often find it difficult to go back to a country where these are only available to the upper social classes.


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[Two Pronged] My husband wants to be an OFW, I don’t


Dear Anna,

Thank you for your email.

How to measure “successful” emigration is a complex question and we are not aware of any reliable studies that could prove helpful. Success, if measured by one’s job or wealth, is often widely recognized while failure generally goes unnoticed. Anecdotally, we have met, for example, a Filipino happily holding down the graveyard shift in a two-star motel in middle America who considered his move abroad a total success and recounted that he was deliberately not teaching his children anything about Filipino culture or language so that they would better assimilate. Alternatively, we have met other Filipinos who had high-flying jobs abroad but returned either because they missed home or wanted to give back (or both).

Our columns try to address the issues raised by the letter writer while also offering a more general viewpoint for our readers. Obviously emigration experiences vary depending on personal circumstances and chosen destination. Official statistics indicate that the vast majority of OFWs head for the US (60%) and Canada (20%) while only 6% choose Japan. While in theory the world is an OFW’s oyster, in fact, choice is severely limited to a small percentage, generally professionals; the majority go to whichever country offers them a job.

Your comment about life without helpers is absolutely correct and everyday chores are even more easily accepted if for the general betterment of the family. However, there is no denying that free time is at a premium if one has no help and it is therefore a tradeoff – if you do the chores yourself, you have less leisure time and this is a major quality of life issue for a couple who both work and are parents. As for “exploitative” wages, helpers often move to the city because there are simply no jobs in their birthplace. To avoid exploitation, just pay them well.

Your points about health care, education, and public spaces are also valid but you make no mention of intangibles such as growing up among one’s own family and people, language, culture, and the sense of belonging that can only be felt in one’s country of origin. Different people place different emphasis on these and reach different conclusions. Readers will make their own decisions; all we can do is to suggest some of the issues that should be considered.

All the best,
JAF Baer

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[Two Pronged] To stay or to go

[Two Pronged] To stay or to go

Dear Anna:

Thank you very much for your letter. In my opinion, Mr. Baer has more than adequately answered the issues you have brought up, so let me focus on the nitty gritty issues which the letter writer Confused Parent (CP) raised.

  1. You are absolutely about health care, especially the part where you mention the US being an exception, but this is where CP was thinking of emigrating to.
  2. CP also mentioned her children studying at “reputable private schools.” For college, her kids can go to UP, with campuses not only in Luzon but also in the Visayas and Mindanao, not to mention a smattering of other universities, for an education equal to any of the finest abroad.
  3. Again, CP’s social standing likely meant she was living in a subdivision which would include parks and playgrounds, and her children would have the opportunity to attend concerts and get lessons for skills like cooking, fencing, horseback riding, etc.  
  4. Generalizing all Filipinos as paying exploitative wages is just as unfair as generalizing all Japanese to be yakuza members.
  5. Most immigrants who go to other countries are looking for a better life and I always encourage them to do so. Especially under our current and immediately past administrations, it is practically impossible to climb the social ladder here, unless you are one of the few exceptional entrepreneurs who can make money despite all the obstacles in the way here. However, CP and her husband are happy with their lifestyle and love their jobs, and while going abroad sounds like an option many of their friends and relatives have taken for good reason, they are not reasons CP and hubs have. They would only go abroad for their children’s sakes and Mr. Baer and I believe that, staying put, their children will not be deprived of anything they could get in another country, PLUS their children will have the bonus of having happy parents who thrive in their jobs and love them. What is there to lose?

We are so grateful for your letter, which broadens the sociological perspective of emigration, and I cannot help feeling you would be an excellent contributor to Rappler.com who welcome thoughtful pieces.  

All the best,
MG Holmes 

– Rappler.com

Please send any comments, questions, or requests for advice to twopronged@rappler.com.

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