overseas Filipinos

[OPINION] What the Philippines looks like to Filipinos abroad

Leticia Labre
[OPINION] What the Philippines looks like to Filipinos abroad
'As much as I am aggrieved by the Philippines, I am frustrated that despite my best efforts, I am unable to stop thinking about her'

I’m a Filipina in the diaspora and I have PTSD from reading news about the Philippines. It’s an experience that consistently dishes up trauma and shame.

Lately, my PTSD has been getting worse. Here’s a rundown of some recent news topics that have made me curl into fetal position: Duterte appointing a COVID-19 task force composed mostly of generals, as if the virus could be shot and killed like alleged drug addicts; the crackdown on specific media outlets, putting us in the same basket as countries that think suppression is synonymous with strength like Xi’s China or Putin’s Russia; the Anti-Terror Law recently passed by Duterte and his sycophants, which allows the government to label whoever they fancy a terrorist and have them arrested without a warrant – because of course, this is exactly what enlightened leaders do. (READ: [OPINION] Who needs enemies when you have a President like Duterte?)

I look back with nostalgia at the quaint old days when we used to make the news because of Super Typhoons like Yolanda. At least natural disasters aren’t self-inflicted.

I’ve been running away from the Philippines for decades, grateful that I could choose to live abroad and forget my identity. But when my guard is down, I remember that I come from a place with air so polluted that I have chronic respiratory allergies when I live in Manila but literally breathe freely when I live abroad. 

I recall that we have governance so incompetent that I’ve had to endure humiliation at the hands of various visa officers who judged me to be a less than welcome visitor to their countries simply because of my Filipino passport. 

I relive the feelings of powerlessness that permeated my daily life there, whether it be at the hands of a mean Globe customer service representative who was taking her own frustrations out on me, or while watching Irene Marcos breeze through the NAIA immigration line with her escorts as I languished in it. Such is life in a society without rule of law, where getting screwed is the reality of the majority, and the law is a privilege for an extractive, ever-shrinking minority.  

My country is a country with exploited yet passive masses, a callous and greedy political and economic elite, and a miniscule group of enlightened, engaged citizens who are losing the good fight.

As I ponder my anonymous, inconsequential life in America, I still prefer it to the pampered, mindless one I had in Manila.  

But neither does distance give me peace. As much as I am aggrieved by the Philippines, I am frustrated that despite my best efforts, I am unable to stop thinking about her. The Philippines is a shithole (to borrow a phrase from the eloquent DJT), but it’s my shithole. Putting the maximum possible number of time zones between her and me has helped neither her nor me.

These days I grapple with how to shed my hopelessness, and how to stop seeing my submissive, rapacious countrymen as “other.” Maybe if I can get around to owning that the passivity and selfishness that plague the country are just as much my sins as they are every Filipino’s, I can get to a place of compassion, and from there, hope and action.

On good days, I take baby steps. I overcome my abhorrence of social media and like positive posts from reputable Philippine institutions. I find ways to support the organizations and people doing governance work on the ground. I muster the strength to speak out.

I wage a daily battle against cynicism, because without hope, nothing can ever get better.

On the days I am struggling, I indulge in my preferred antidote: daydreaming. I imagine the Philippines as the island paradise she could be. The whole country enjoys proper infrastructure. It takes 30 minutes to get from Cavite to Makati on a clean, fast train, and 6 hours from Manila Bay to El Nido via a safe speed boat service. Development is widespread, so we can live where we like, whether it be in the peaceful mountains of Batanes, or on the lively beaches of Batangas. We take care of our environment, so the air is unpolluted, and the seas and soils shower us with fresh, healthy seafood and clean vegetables. Coconut trees indigenous to our islands abound and protect us from soil erosion and flooding. Work is plentiful. We are happy that we can be the singers, dancers, chefs or hospitality industry professionals befitting our character, for a booming tourism industry composed of all the foreigners who marvel at our islands. Our leaders govern with conscience; we are kind and generous to each other.

When I imagine the Philippines as she could be, my PTSD starts to ebb away. – Rappler.com

Leticia Labre is a writing enthusiast using this space as a good excuse to embark on some adventures, gain wisdom, and make friends along the wayFollow her on Twitter: @beingleticia.