[OPINION] In defense of those who want to leave
As the votes came in on Monday night, May 13, links to articles about how to migrate to New Zealand, Canada, and other progressive countries started spreading on social media. Some did it out of humor or frustration, but some were seriously considering leaving the Philippines after finding out the initial senatorial election results. I would know because I shared one of those links.
In 2013, right after I covered my first election as a newbie journalist for Rappler, I wrote about how we should not call other voters stupid because everyone has their reasons, and elections are an equalizing exercise. I was fresh out of college and I was very optimistic, as what I wrote shows. Consider this a followup after 6 years of being exposed to the "real world."
Is it escapism?
As many netizens, mostly millennials, posted on social media about wanting to go abroad after Senate seats were snatched by plunderers and liars, there was also a slew of people condemning these as escapism. This is problematic.
First of all, who made you the arbiter of good faith? We cannot assume people want to leave because they want to escape from the impending hard times that the county might be facing. That may be secondary. People may want to leave because of frustration – a deep-seated frustration that their talents might be useful elsewhere, in communities or in countries that value them. (READ: 'Disappointed but not surprised': Filipinos react to initial election results)
People may want to leave because they know they’ll have greater impact outside the Philippines – that they’ll be able to help more people in environments that are less constrained by the backwardness of Philippine politics. Perhaps they want to leave because they know that, from the outside, they’ll be able to resist more freely and have their voices heard better and by a bigger audience.
This frustration is something very familiar to me. I took my Master of Development Studies degree at the University of Melbourne from July 2017 to December 2018. I finished First Class Honours and top of my class. During the time that I was in Australia was the height of the Philippine drug war. I was taking a lot of human rights classes, so you could imagine my frustration every time I was asked to report about what was happening in my country.
But, at the same time, this provided me opportunities to tell my classmates from around the world about the brutality of the Philippine government’s drug war, and how it has mostly been targeting the poor. By conducting research on international law and the United Nations, I was able to write materials that explored the various facets of the drug war. In the end, I raised greater awareness on the drug war in my social circles in Melbourne compared to the silos I belonged to in the Philippines.
Stuck in the nation-state mindset
Let me get a bit academic here. The notion that you can only do good from inside your country, or that nation-building can only be done from within, or that those who leave the Philippines are escapists is small-minded. In the first place, most of our problems are rooted in the fact that we are still using the nation-state system.
Governments around the world that are supposedly protecting their citizens’ rights are mostly the ones causing oppression. Social inequality is heightened because government taxes favor the wealthy, and because government leaders steal from public coffers. Violent conflict still exists because people want to carve their own territories, establish sovereignty, and claim resources.
Let us not be stuck in our traditional notions of nation-building. Instead, let’s do our work to help communities, to establish safe spaces for people to achieve their full potential, and to promote values of human rights wherever we can.
Additionally, we live in a globalized world. Borders don’t exist anymore. You can be vocal outside the Philippines and still be heard by your social circles here. (READ: Citizenship, identity and global Filipinos)
Another thing worth noting is that this country survives because of remittances. Whether you’re planning to migrate permanently or temporarily, you’ll still be doing great service to the country – especially because remittances are less prone to corruption, and go straight to those who need it.
Choosing to stay
After my degree, and as part of my scholarship condition, I had to stay outside Australia for two years. I didn’t have to go back to the Philippines. I could’ve worked elsewhere, but I decided to go back. I did so because I believe I can still help some of my communities here, and that I can still contribute to our democracy.
My advice to millennials who want to leave? Leave! Go out and explore other cultures. Living in another country widens your perspective, and provides you with deeper understanding of how social issues are context-specific. Living in a more progressive country like Australia will frustrate and anger you about your own country in ways that will break your spirit. You’ll question why other countries can achieve social progress and the Philippines can’t. You’ll be frustrated why other countries can hold their leaders to account while Filipinos kiss the feet of plunderers and liars.
Be frustrated and leave for the right reasons. Find other channels to help your immediate community and country. If you end up going back to the Philippines, good! Then you’ll have a plethora of experiences and more resources to give back. If you don’t, make sure you become a productive member of your new society. You’ll always be Filipino by blood anyway – and we know how this country takes Philippine pride.
As for me, I’m still choosing to stay. I’m not certain that I’ll do so in the long run, but for now I’m here. – Rappler.com
David Lozada is associate director for corporate and public affairs at Evident Communications. He worked as a journalist and community manager for Rappler from 2013 to 2017 before taking his graduate degree at The University of Melbourne in Australia.