ATHENS, Greece – About 500 meters from Grand Bretagne Hotel, I could see that the street leading to Syntagma Square in Athens was closed. Grand Bretagne is a 5-star hotel located in the Square. All vehicles were turning right on Sekeri Street, near the Benaki Museum. It was a quarter past 3 in the afternoon and I had an interview at 3 pm! After making several detours, I finally reached the other side of Syntagma which was not closed to traffic.
The street was closed due to a strike of secondary school teachers in front of the Parliament. They were protesting the government’s labor mobility scheme that would force some 25,000 civil servants to find work in other government offices within the year or get fired, and receive reduced pay in the meantime.
The scheme is part of the requirements of the Troika for Greece to trim its considerably bloated public sector workforce, to continue to receive succeeding tranches of bailout funding. In fact, the civil servants’ union, ADEDY, primary school teachers, and doctors, nurses, administrative staff of public hospitals also went on strike last week for the same purpose.
These rallies and strikes which have been occurring frequently indicate the worsening economic crisis in Greece. The effects have unfortunately trickled down to the thousands of Filipinos working for Greek employers.
Their salaries have been reduced, from a high of 1,200 euros to just above 500 euros a month. Allowances, bonuses and other benefits have either been reduced or removed altogether, depending on the financial capability of the employer. As a result, hundreds of our OFWs have returned to the Philippines.
“Masyado nang malaki ang ibinaba ng sweldo,” a Pinay kasambahay complained. “At yung nililinisan kong opisina, nagtanggal ng empleyado. Di ako tinanggal pero nabawasan naman ng oras ang trabaho ko,” she added. (The reduction in salary has been too drastic. And the office I work for has been laying off employees. I wasn’t laid off but my work hours were lessened.)
Since the Eurozone crisis, the Philippine embassy here in Athens has noticed an increase in the number of Filipinos holding Greek citizenship availing themselves of the benefits of RA 9225 known as the Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003.
Under the law, “a natural-born Filipino (born in the Philippines or born to a Filipino parent) who lost his/her citizenship due to naturalization as a citizen of another country can now apply for dual citizenship.”
According to the Philippine embassy in Athens, no one reacquired their citizenship immediately after RA 9225 was passed. In succeeding years, only a few of the Filipinos with Greek citizenship availed of the benefits of the law: 5 in 2006, two in 2007, two in 2008, one in 2009 and one in 2010.
With the onset of economic crisis in Greece in 2010, the embassy recorded an increasing number of those obtaining dual citizenship. Fifteen took their oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines in 2011, 8 in 2012, and until September of this year, 15.
Most of those re-acquiring their Filipino citizenship are married to Greek citizens. Consolacion Munio Benou who has been working as a household service worker for a wealthy Greek family in Central Athens since 1986, re-acquired her Philippine citizenship as a guarantee for the future.
She is married to a Greek salesman she met while doing errands for her employer. They set up a store selling various bedroom items such as pillows, sheets, bed covers, curtains and similar stuff. This business flourished in the late 1990s until the onset of the economic crisis.
“Ngayon, up and down ang sales namin (our sales go up and down now),” Consolacion said. “Mabuti na lang meron akong na-invest sa bansa natin nuong malakas pa ang ekonomiya dito,” she said. (Fortunately, I still have investments in our country when the economy was still strong.)
This is one of the reasons why she availed herself of RA 9225. Although her husband has an online business called Pets and Garden, she is not that optimistic. “With the present economic conditions in Greece, it is best to plan for a future in the Philippines,” she added.
Putting up a business
Delia Zamora, who took her oath of allegiance under the provisions of RA 9225 on September 25, said that some Greeks who have lost their jobs no longer hire househelp. They now do the housework themselves.
Delia arrived in Kos in 1991, an island in the Dodecanese group, next to the Gulf of Cos. She had a contract with Alexandra Fashion which was making pants and other clothing for export. When the company went bankrupt in 1995, she worked in a restaurant as cook, server, dishwasher, all in one, until 1998. From that year until now, Delia has been working as a domestic helper.
Like other workers, her salary has been reduced due to the economic crisis. “Ang mga Greeks kasi ay naghihirap, wala na silang pera,” she said. “Karamihan sa kanila hindi na kumukuha ng katulong,” Delia added. (The Greeks are hard up, they no longer have money. Many of them no longer have household help.)
Delia has been working in the island of Kos for 22 years. She was able to bring her son to Greece after several years, and he now works at a hotel on the island. She acquired her Greek citizenship by naturalization, taking the exam which qualified her to become a Greek citizen.
Like most hardworking OFWs in Greece, Delia has also acquired properties in the Philippines. “Dahil sa krisis, napag-isipan kong pumunta sa Pilipinas balang araw at magpatayo ng business,” she said. (Because of the crisis, I thought of going to the Philippines some time and putting up a business.)
April Faith, a mother of one son who has lived in Greece for more than 10 years, also re-acquired her Philippine citizenship early this year. The daughter of a Filipina out of wedlock, she was adopted by Constantine Hadzigeourgiou, a Greek citizen, the first husband of her mother. He was the one who brought her to Greece when she was 12 years old. She finished high school at the Glyfada American School and finished Medical Technology, a 3-year course at the Vocational School in Greece. She also finished Computer Science at TEE in Agiou Dimitriou.
She worked for 6 months in a hospital for practicum and took on other jobs, such as server in Chinese restaurants and coffee shops. In 1999, April and her mother put up a coffee bar named after her, April’s Café Bar.
Over the years, the café bar was able to attract many loyal patrons, and its growing success was due largely to April’s bubbly personality. During its prosperous years, they were able to save and buy properties in the Philippines.
April Faith obtained dual citizenship because she wants to establish a business in Cagayan de Oro City, where they have built a house in a plush subdivision in the area. “The workers’ condition here now is getting worse,” April observed. “When before the salary per hour was 5 euros with insurance (IKA), now it is only 3-3.50 euros without IKA. On top of that, the strikes and walkouts even in schools have become frequent.”
At present, she is taking care of Hadzigerourgio, now 80 years old. Hadzigeroiurgio and her fiancé, Dimitri Tsompanoglou, are supporting her and her son’s school and other miscellaneous expenses. She expressed her concern for the future of her son.
“Pangit ang educational system dito,” she said. (The educational system here is not too good.) “I believe our educational system will be better for him,” she added.
Melinda Magistrado, a Medical Technology graduate from the University of Santo Tomas, met her Greek husband, in Berlin, Germany. They got married in Berlin but settled in Greece. She and Michael Travlos, a well known avant garde musician and composer have two sons who both studied at the Conservatory of Music in Athens. They divorced after 18 years of marriage.
The economic crisis in Greece has also affected her family. The salary of her son who plays with the National Orchestra has also been reduced, and those without items have also been laid off. In fact, her younger son who was already in the line-up to be included in the orchestra was not able to make it. The cut-off point reached him.
Melinda now works at Martinos, reportedly one of the best antique shops in Greece. She re-acquired her citizenship because she wants to be able to stay long whenever she visits her relatives and friends in the Philippines. “With the economic crisis, salaries have become stagnant, making it almost impossible for us to pay the ever-increasing taxes,” she added.
These are just a few of the increasing number of Filipinas who have re-acquired their citizenship this year. Although they have varying reasons for doing so, it appears that the worsening economic crisis has triggered this development. But I also got the sense from my interviewees that the underlying reason is a strong desire to return to their roots.
Delia put it succinctly, “Pilipino ako, at mas maganda sa ating bansa.” (I am Filipino and it’s more beautiful in the Philippines.) – Rappler.com
Contributor Miles Viernes is an Athens-based writer. She currently works on the private staff for the Philippine Consul General to Greece and is a proud UP alumnae.