HONG KONG—It was troubling to see the photograph on the front page of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post on Jan. 19 of a patient lying apparently unconscious, his head heavily bandaged and in a neck-brace, with Algerian Minister Youcef Yousfi and a doctor looking anxiously down at him. The photo caption only said it was a “freed Filipino hostage” and the accompanying AFP (Agence France Presse) report did not identify him.
The recent crisis at an Algerian gas facility near the Libyan border which was attacked by Islamic terrorists showed that a large number of various nationalities worked at that outpost in the Saharan desert. British and Norwegian interests are involved in that project. Men from many other parts of the world would naturally have been hired to do the heavy work. And, as is often the case, there were Filipinos toiling there as they do throughout the globe.
Because the Algerians tightly controlled releasing details about casualties, it was only on January 22nd that they reported having identified six Filipinos who died, along with three Britons and three Americans. Obviously other nationalities suffering casualties will eventually be reported, but initially it was reported that 23 Britons, one Frenchman and a couple of Japanese had been killed.
All this occurred despite the allegedly heavy security around the facility which the terrorists succeeded in storming, even mining the area with explosives before they attacked. When they breached the area, they began rounding up hostages, many of whom they loaded with explosives.
It was only a June 19th Canadian report that interviewed a Filipino, 49-year-old civil engineer Ruben Andrade who managed to escape with only minor injuries during the melee. He had been hired by the Japanese JGC corporation and had been working in Algeria for some years. That report also described a freed Algerian hostage saying the militants had urged everyone to come out of hiding, declaring they were only looking for Americans. When some non-Westerners did go out, they were mown down.
It’s no secret that Pinoy workers are ubiquitous around the world because they’re known to speak English and be hard working. In American and European cities, Filipinos (mainly women) work as nurses, housekeepers, nannies and caregivers for the elderly in the Mideast and Asia, while Pinoy men have long made up a large percentage of crews manning foreign ships. Indeed, during many hijacking incidents of ships and tankers along the Somalian coast, Pinoy seamen have often been among those taken hostage and held for years before ransoms are paid.
In the mid-1970s, my late husband and I met at a pub a barmaid who hailed from Bulacan. A relative recently recounted meeting a Pinoy man running a Chinese restaurant in Oman’s capital of Muscat, and in Dubai, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Pinoys toil at various jobs.
I still retain the memory of running into our compatriots during a working assignment at a cruise on board the British-owned Sagaford liner. This is because I wrote about it for the Inquirer Sunday Magazine in May 1993. Of course it was nice to meet Pinoy waiters in the ship’s restaurants and Pinay chambermaids, but I wanted to meet those invisible ones who toiled in the bowels of that grand floating hotel. There I met 98 of our kababayan who described their jobs as wipers, oilers, engineers, quartermasters and bosuns. They were the ones who kept the great engines going, supervised by Norwegian and German engineers. Most of them had not risen beyond “Reefer assistant engineer” as had Leonardo Laurencio from Pangasinan who gladly posed for a photograph to go with my article. Today, of course, many more have obtained higher positions on board those ships, as well as on tankers and freighters, thanks to globalization which has made the world shrink.
One can indeed give the label of ubiquity to our migrant workers who evoke much national pride while they serve in countless positions the around world.