Here’s a story written by a kailiyan which pretty much reflects the experience of thousands of Igorots/iCordilleras and millions of Filipinos who, despite their misgivings, end up working abroad. Our best wishes, Rolly.
Originally published in the Inquirer’s Youngblood section:
By Rolly Allan Matinek
Little did I know that one day I would join the ranks of Filipinos dispersed around the world, who now make up more than 10 percent of the Philippine population. While it is no secret that most Filipinos harbor the desire to get out of the country in the hope of improving themselves and upgrading their socio-economic status and living standards (as well as that of their families), it was not really my “cup of tea”—as they say here in England—to work abroad.
On board an international flight with a one-way ticket, my priced laptop and my passport stamped with a foreign visa, I still could not believe that I had turned my back on my idealism. I love my country, especially my little town of Sagada in northern Philippines; and I consider myself a patriot. If I try giving this as a reason for not leaving the country to someone I meet on the street, I’d be met with rolling eyes and be called crazy. Every time a colleague or a friend left Philippine shores for the same job but with a much better compensation abroad, I wished him all the best, yet at the same time felt not a pang of envy, only sadness for the loss of one more talent.
I thought I would resist the lure of the greenback (or the sterling) and tough it out in Manila so that I could serve our country. I was wrong. In the end, I succumbed to the relentless call from afar, that call promising a pile of cash and world-class luxury. It was like a sweet mermaid’s voice that no ordinary Odysseus could resist. I was caught in a bog that sucked me deeper the more I struggled to get out of it. And I became one of them, the expats worshipped by most of my countrymen for their deep pockets but scorned by some for the inflation they cause.
Some time back, I held a very good job (by Philippine standards) in Makati City, the financial heartland of the country. My job was stable and the pay was enough to feed me and provide pocket money for my siblings, with a little left for a getaway in the resort town of Puerto Galera once a year. The company provided a cozy working atmosphere and a steady annual pay increase. It was a career my family and myself were proud of, but this was not enough to keep me from leaving. And I did leave, so that I might get a little more financial security along with the possibility of seeing the rest of the world, a luxury someone earning in pesos can hardly afford.
Yet today, I realize that I have contributed to the much-discussed but never-resolved brain drain of highly skilled migrants who could have helped more in the task of nation-building had they opted to stay. I am not a brilliant physicist or a world-class artist whose departure would matter a lot to my country; but the apathy and indifference to the sad plight of able-bodied Filipino workers abroad, the massive exodus of educated people who find menial jobs abroad, and losing highly skilled individuals weigh our country down and condemn it to stagnation. Will this lack of foresight and vision and selflessness among our people, coupled with their unwillingness to serve the country, not bring our country down? Jose Rizal must be turning in his grave today.
It’s clear that we are pursuing a different path from that of our more progressive neighbors. If we cannot keep up with them, we will be relegated to the backwaters and reduced into insignificance—just another populous country of unrealized potentials. The fact that communist Vietnam has overtaken us in economic terms makes me question the supposed advantages of being a democratic country. I hope that our leaders will develop effective policies and programs that will stop the migration of highly skilled workers instead of wasting their time on endless bickering and a never-ending power struggle.
In the meantime, I will try to convince myself that in working to improve myself and my lot, my homeland will surely benefit if only because the remittances of Filipino workers abroad keep the economy afloat. I am leaning toward the conclusion that being a patriot has less to do with where you live but more on what you contribute to the motherland.
Rolly Allan Matinek, 27, graduated from the University of the Philippines, Baguio, and used to work as a database administrator at Philam Insurance Co. until last January. He is in the United Kingdom looking over some job prospects.