The Dynamic of the Filipino DiasporaBy Rodel Rodis
Organizers of the 2nd Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora—set to convene February 25-27, 2013 at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City—hope that the conference will “track the progress and highlight the best practices of Diaspora engagement.” This is the broad mission laid out by the Summit’s principal sponsor, the Commission of Filipinos Overseas (CFO) which seeks to harness the resources and energy of the 12 million overseas Filipinos in support of its “flagship program- Diaspora to Development (D2D)”. cfo.gov.ph
CFO hopes that all this harnessing of global Filipino talents will contribute to domestic jobs generation and economic development. This will be accomplished, according to the CFO, by matching ventures of overseas Filipinos with Philippine business partners in areas like technology transfer (Alay Dunong), educational exchange (Balik Turo), Diaspora philanthropy (Lingkod sa Kapwa), tourism initiatives, medical missions and arts and cultural exchanges.
Among those attending the Summit will be members of the Global Filipino Diaspora Council (GFDC) which was formed at the first Summit, members of US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) and other Filipino associations overseas along with recipients of the CFO Presidential Awards for Filipino individuals and organizations overseas; local Philippine-based participants, resource persons, speakers from the government, multi-lateral agencies, academe, and civil society.
While “Diaspora” generally describes historic mass dispersions of people with common roots like the Jewish, African, Indian and Chinese diasporas, it is also defined as a “transnational community” referring to a people with a shared identity as a singular ethnic group extending or going beyond the national boundaries of their country. They are united by how they are collectively viewed and treated by the people in the host countries they live in.
When overseas Filipinos were lobbying for the right to vote in Philippine elections in 2003, Rep. Teddy Locsin fiercely opposed the move by arguing that Filipinos who “abandon” the Philippines should not have the right to participate in its governance and, besides, he said, they do not have enough knowledge of Philippine current events.
If Locsin ever watched Ted Unarce’s documentary “Modern Day Slaves” (moderndayslavesmovie.com), he would be disabused of the absurd notion that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) abandoned the Philippines. If anything, it is the Philippines that abandoned the OFWs to their cruel fates just so that OFWs can remit huge chunks of their hard-earned salaries to the Philippines ($23.5 B in 2012).
As to the other point raised by Locsin, former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban noted that with interactive news websites, cable TV programs, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, cell phones, Skype, Magic Jack, e-mails, teleconferencing and other electronic wonders”, actual physical presence in the Philippines is no longer required to acquire a thorough knowledge of Philippine political life or to participate in it.
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), those temporarily working in the Middle East and other countries, constitute only one group within the overseas Filipino community. Among those who reside and work permanently abroad, there are Filipinos who have integrated themselves in the countries they live in and who have acquired the citizenship of their adopted countries.
Among them are those who Sorbonne French Prof. David Camroux described as those with “binary nationalism” which he defined as “a double mirrored identity in which a sense of one identity is contingent on a sense of the other, leading to dual – and indeed multiple – senses of non-exclusive loyalties”.
In his essay, The Philippine State and the Filipino Diaspora, Camroux asked: “Does a dual citizenship Filipino-American, for example, feel a sense of dual loyalties and allegiances, a kind of dual nationalism, concomitant with his/her dual citizenship?” Dual nationalism is like loving a mother and a father equally without deciding which love is greater than the other.
Filipino Americans expressed this “binary nationalism” when they assumed the lead in mobilizing the global Filipino community to protest China’s encroachment in the Spratly Islands in 2011 with simultaneous rallies and demonstrations in front of China’s consular offices in North America and in Europe on July 5, 2011. This simultaneous protest action was repeated on May 11, 2012 after China invaded the Philippines’ Scarborough Shoal (uspgg.org).
The Summit’s goal of “Diaspora to Development” (D2D) envisions overseas Filipinos contributing to the welfare and development of the Philippines. But, and this should be asked by the Summit delegates, what about the Philippines contributing to the welfare of Filipinos in the Diaspora?
India provides the Philippines with a role model for how to engage its Diaspora. In May of 2004, a cabinet-level department was created, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), which its website describes as “dedicated to the multitude of Indian Nationals settled abroad.” It seeks to “connect the Indian Diaspora community with its motherland” by providing information, partnerships and facilitations for all matters related to Overseas Indians.”
The MOIA established the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) in the 43 Indian Missions across the world in countries that have a significant overseas Indian population. This ICWF is “aimed at providing ‘on site’ welfare services on a means tested basis in the most deserving cases including: (i) Boarding and lodging for distressed overseas Indian workers in Household/ domestic sectors and unskilled labourers; (ii) Extending emergency medical care to the overseas Indians in need; (iii) Providing air passage to stranded overseas Indians in need; (iv) Providing initial legal assistance to the overseas Indians in deserving cases, (v) Expenditure on incidentals and for airlifting the mortal remains to India or local cremation/burial of the deceased overseas Indian in such cases where a sponsor is unable or unwilling to do so as per the contract and the family is unable to meet the cost.”
The MOIA focuses on “developing networks with and amongst Overseas Indians with the intent of building partnership with the Diaspora.” It aims to “engage with the Diaspora in a sustainable and mutually rewarding manner across the economic, social and cultural space.”
In the program of the 2nd Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora, the issue of what can be done to help Filipinos in the Diaspora is covered in only one workshop – Global Legal Assistance – to be led by the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FILDEF) which provides free legal defense to Filipinos in the US facing criminal prosecution (notably a teenager in Texas facing the death penalty) and deportation. That’s it.
Will there be any discussion about how the Philippine Commission on Elections (Comelec) undermined overseas Filipinos by disenfranchising 238,455 OFW voters by a resolution passed in December of 2012? What about the clamor for Pres. Aquino to appoint an overseas Filipino to the Comelec to protect and advance the interests of Overseas Filipinos?
Every departing OFW contributes $25 to a trust fund set up by Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), an adjunct of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) which is mandated to provide programs and welfare services to OFWs and their dependents. This trust fund has now reached P14.8 B, including assets and investments.
According to John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator, this OWWA fund only covers those who are still legally working abroad who pay into the fund. Monterona’s group is advocating for OFWs to have lifetime membership in the OWWA Fund which “must serve the needs of OFWs — whether documented or not, whether with or without contract — and their families as well, through concrete services and benefits including medical assistance, burial, repatriation, social security, pensions and other welfare essentials.” Will the Global Summit advocate for these OFWs?
Global Filipino diaspora council
While it is understandable that the CFO cannot stake out political positions or criticize co-governmental entities like the Comelec and OWWA, this limitation does not apply to the Summit delegates who can advocate Filipinos in the Diaspora.
An offshoot of the First Global Summit was the formation of the Global Filipino Diaspora Council (GFDC) which plans to organize overseas Filipinos in all the continents into a potent group advocating for the interests of overseas Filipinos. The first regional summit was held in Rome, Italy in September 2012 attended by Filipinos from virtually every country in Europe, resulting in the formation of the European Network of Filipino Diaspora (ENFiD). The next regional summit will be held in Dubai in 2014 to organize Diasporic Filipinos in the Middle East And Africa. Other continents will follow in the future.
India views its Diaspora community as a ’bridge’ to access knowledge, expertise, resources and markets for the development of the country of origin. “The success of this bridge is often predicated upon two conditions: the ability of the Diaspora to develop and project a coherent, intrinsically motivated and progressive identity and the capacity of the home country to establish conditions and institutions for sustainable, symbiotic and mutually rewarding engagement.
Diaspora to Development (D2D) is the goal of this Summit but the CFO should also look towards forging a “symbiotic” engagement with the Filipino Diaspora - ”Development to Diaspora” (D2D). These should be the “mutually rewarding” twin goals of the Global Summit in the future.
Perhaps the Commission on Filipinos Overseas can be elevated to be the Department of Overseas Filipino Affairs following the mission of the MOIA as stated below.
Ministry of overseas indian affairs (moia.gov.in)
“The emergence of significant Diasporas has in recent years brought into sharp focus two key facts. First, there is a large expatriate population of skilled people from emerging economies in the developed world. Second, overseas communities can constitute a significant resource for the development of the countries of origin. The movement of the high skilled and low skilled workers from less to more developed economies and back opens several new opportunities for development. To view the Diaspora only through the looking glass of remittances and financial flows is to take a myopic view. Not all expatriates need to be investors and their development impact measured only in terms of financial contributions to the home country.
An overseas community can and does serve as an important ‘bridge’ to access knowledge, expertise, resources and markets for the development of the country of origin. The success of this bridge is often predicated upon two conditions: the ability of the Diaspora to develop and project a coherent, intrinsically motivated and progressive identity and the capacity of the home country to establish conditions and institutions for sustainable, symbiotic and mutually rewarding engagement. Home countries are now beginning to recognise the need to pursue and promote the dynamic of the Diaspora and development.
The overseas Indian community thus constitutes a diverse, heterogeneous and eclectic global community representing different regions, languages, cultures and faiths. The common thread that binds them together is the idea of India and its intrinsic values. Overseas Indians comprise People of Indian Origin and Non Resident Indians and today are amongst the best educated and successful communities in the world. In every part of the world the overseas Indian community is recognised and respected for its hard work, discipline, non-interference and for successfully integrating with the local community.
Overseas Indians have made significant contributions to the economy of the country of residence and have added in considerable measure to knowledge and innovation. Overseas Indians share a strong bond with their country of origin. This is reflected in their language, cultures and traditions that have been maintained, often over centuries, and continue to be vibrant and unique. It is now being witnessed in the growing popularity of Indian films, dance, music, arts and culture on foreign shores, the strong surge in remittances back home, the return of many to live and work in India and in their increasing engagement with India’s development. The relationship between India and its overseas community is growing, new partnerships evolving and newer multi-faceted dimensions being explored.
India’s engagement with its Diaspora is symbiotic, the strands of both sides of the relationship equally important to create a resilient and robust bond. To engage with the Diaspora in a sustainable and mutually rewarding manner across the economic, social and cultural space is at the heart of the policy of the Ministry. To create conditions, partnerships and institutions that will best enable India to connect with its Diaspora comprehensively is central to all our programmes and activities.
As a new India seeks to become a global player of significance, the time has come for a strong and sustained engagement between India and overseas Indians. The time has also come for overseas Indians to benefit from the exciting opportunities that India provides. The time is now.”
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