Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Long Road to Independence

We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.  
- Edward R. Murrow

I am a Filipino working overseas, if you think working abroad and away from my family gives me an unparalleled amount of freedom. Well, I ask you to do yourself a favor and think again. Simply because I have no parents or wife expecting me to come home doesn’t necessarily mean I can now do whatever I want in this place and time. The absence here of overlapping laws and regulations, mostly prevalent in the Philippines, doesn’t constitute a ticket to do what is not prohibited. With great freedom comes great responsibility and being an OFW, this same freedom is what keeps us grounded, trustworthy and tied to our roots. Too bad sometimes, OFWS unwillingly fall as victims of their own good intentions. Some get abused, maltreated and subjected to a great deal of pressures and expectations and it’s all because of the liberty they have taken when they decided to work abroad for the welfare of the ones they loved.

When I went for vacation in the Philippines a couple of years ago, a neighbor approached me to ask some quite disturbing questions. His wife has left for Dubai a few months earlier and until that time he spoke to me, he had never got the chance to speak with her. The agency that flew her to Dubai to work as a domestic helper also has nothing much to say and he has already spent as much worrying about her. He told me that if ever I got to hear any news about her by whatever means, I should let him know. Fortunately, a couple of months later, he was able to talk to her and mirroring the sad fate of many other Filipino domestic helpers, she has fallen into the hands on an abusive and cold-hearted employer. Now she’s has back home and reunited with her family.

A former office mate of mine suffered a different kind of oppression here in Dubai a couple of years back. But it’s not something she had not hoped to happen. She was jailed for her delinquency in paying off her bank loans and credit card dues,adding her ordeals to the many kabayan’s sad tales of financial mismanagement. The laid back credit policies which Dubai has previously implemented have encouraged people to avail credit and spend beyond their means. Given this loose condition and to fulfill probably each OFWs desires to help out their families, some eventually have found it difficult to repay their obligations and ended up in jail. What comes too fast for convenience has flown swiftly with great inconvenience. She then was forced to marry her Arabic boyfriend, had him paid for her obligations.

When I came to Dubai for the first time in 2007, I had suffered the same melancholy many have felt when they left their loved ones back home to work abroad. The freedom, if you may call it, physical in its sense, wasn’t enough the take myself out of the cage I’ve found being in a place where I hardly knew anyone. The loneliness was killing me, I was missing my parents, my brothers, sisters and friends and all other familiar ties that have come to define my daily life. For parents who have left their kids, I bet the anxiety is hundred times more.  Having your kids grow without your presence is a deep stab to a parent's heart. Some people might think leaving for abroad is a meandering way to get away from things you don’t like or eluding things that make you feel bad at home. But honestly speaking,it doesn’t always work that way.

I admire people who have chosen to leave the Philippines to try their luck overseas and exchanged the freedom they have come to love for freedom that is just literally distance. But truth be told, OFWs, based on experience, suffer more restrictions and limitations in their respective country of work. There are the cultural boundaries, norms and laws already set-up that need to be followed, abide by and respected. On a more crucial note, there are countess workers who endure the hands of abusive employers. Many are casualties of financial distress, family disorientation and separation anxiety. I am sure that if they had known ahead what awaited them in this often grief stricken journey, many OFWs would have made a second thought leaving their families and freedom behind.

In a sense, freedom doesn’t not necessarily equate to absence from people you don’t like dealing with or having the absolute right to act or think without restraint. In reality, it is anchored on effective laws and regulations that ensure the exercise of human rights without threat, violence and discrimination. For OFWs, it’s more on having the guarantee that somewhere along this wobbly mission, there are people who care and look upon their welfare, there are laws that protect workers from maltreatment and all forms of abuses, there are benefits that await migrant workers when they decide to come home for good and there are actions more than plans that the government is upfront battling and putting behind bars all those illegal recruiters and is doing its share to produce local jobs making migration as least among option in making our lives better for generations to come.

*image from google

*image from google


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