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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Winnie Monsod to Migrants: You Betray the Filipino People

This video of Winnie Monsod's last lecture haunts me. It represents what I have come to despise about nationalism, false nationalism, that is, combined with simple thinking. The part that got to me the most was this. She says:
If you are going to help this country, you've got to be in the country... If any of you have ambitions of going abroad so you can earn more, please disabuse yourself, because by doing that you are essentially betraying the people in the Philippines..."
I take nothing away from her, she seems to have good intentions. But I must respectfully disagree.

People are not less filipino, wherever they may be. Being outside the country for money does not necessarily mean you betray anything, even if you went to a free public school. And responsibility does not imply having to stay put where you were born.

Suppose Monsod is right, then the same should apply to internal movement. Using the same logic, if you are going to help Cebu, then you've got to be in Cebu. Consequently, let's not have educated Cebuanos who graduated from the top high schools there move to Manila, because that's harmful to Cebu.  Let's not have Cagayanons in Manila since they are much needed in Cagayan de Oro. In fact, let's make it policy and let everyone from the provinces sign a contract when they study in Ateneo or UP that stipulates them to go back where they come from. This is fair. Let's not have people move for money, because it would hurt their hometowns. And let's call these people who escape our grasp, betrayers to Cebu and CDO.

Many of us, I assume, would be uncomfortable with this. Perhaps because we implicitly know that the linkages between Cebu and Cebuanos are more complex than it seems, are less simple than whether the latter is absent or present, whether he/she sends money home or not. Perhaps because we know of people, fellow classmates, who have come to Manila from the provinces and stayed, and have been better for it. We dare not call these people traitors. Neither do the ones left behind in Cebu think that way. But we apply a double standard to international migrants.

My girlfriend is from CDO and is now an investment banker in Manila, although her family is back down south. The Philippines (and CDO) are now better because she stays in Manila and does the productive work that she does. If CDO forced her back to Mindanao, then what would she do, it's not like there's investment banking there. She would be unhappy. She would contribute less to the general economy. And in the first place, she would not have invested as much in her human capital as she did. Would this be a great development strategy?

Nobody ever leaves strictly for money. This makes Monsod's claim trivial (i.e. it applies to no one). Either that or she means it to apply to all migrants. Because surely, people move in some part due to economic opportunity. But it is never only that. If you talk to most of OFWs, it's also to give a better future for their kids, etc. To the more educated ones, its probably for career opportunities, to be at the cutting edge of their fields. Or to explore different countries and to learn more. These people do not necessarily love their countries less. Okay, maybe some do not care at all, but the median person, if you look at the data, does. And the average migrant does not send merely trinkets of money home; he sends loads.

Let's not even talk about remittances. Let's talk about Leah Salonga who spent much of her career abroad. Would it have been best for the Philippines, who produced her, nurtured her, to have kept her in its shores? No. She could have been performing at Repertory Philippines all her life but it was much better for her, for her country, that she remained in NYC to become the brilliant star of Miss Saigon. She brought more acclaim to the Philippines than she could have if she had stayed. For this, we celebrate her. I would find it ironic if in a different breath we called her a traitor.

If Monsod is right, then let's call the biggest betrayer of all Jose Rizal. After all, he spent most of his time abroad after being educated by an elite university. That ungrateful bastard! He, who wrote Noli Me Tangere outside the country, surely did nothing to contribute anything towards our nation. This guy would not stay put in Manila; in fact if I remember correctly he was on his way to Puerto Rico when his boat was seized and turned back.

But Rizal could not have written the things he did had he not lived in Madrid, Paris, Germany or even the US for a short while. Alternatively, he could have settled to be the village doctor like he became in exile in Dapitan, and stayed put, but his impact would have been far, far less. History would have taken a different course.

Should responsibility be confined to staying in the place you were born in? It shouldn't be. But if it must be so, then call me irresponsible. I am glad to betray the filipino people.

(to be continued...)