By Frederick Arceo
Editor's note: The following Philippine Daily Inquirer article is one of the most shared articles on OFW sites and blogs. Written in Filipino, it has been tossed around so much that many sites don't even know who wrote it anymore. Some have edited it and put in their own remarks. It goes by different titles like, "Iba pa rin sa Pinas," "Ang OFW ay Tao Rin" or "Pagpupugay sa OFW," among others. It often comes with an introduction, like the one posted on qatarliving.com that says, "Here's something for those with spouses, siblings, children, or relatives who are OFWs and especially those who hope to work abroad one day. This may help you better understand what it means to be an OFW."
This is a translation of the original piece, published with the permission of its author, Saudi Arabia-based Filipino, Frederick Montilla Arceo.
Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are not rich. We have this notion that when someone is an OFW or based abroad, he or she is loaded. Not true. An OFW might earn from P50K-P300K a month, depending on the location. Those in Saudi Arabia or the United States might earn in the high range. But to say that they're "rich" is a fallacy (amen!).
Many Filipinos seek work abroad because their needs are great. They have so many mouths to feed. Often, 3/4 or half of their earnings go to paying school tuition fees for their children and keeping up with the family's household expenses.
It's hard being an OFW. You need to scrimp and save as much as you can. Yes, food can be good abroad but often you stick to paksiw or adobo or eggs in order to save money. Come the 15th or end of the month, the first thing you look up is the conversion rate of the peso to the dollar, rial, or euro. It's okay to make do with what little is left than let the family go hungry. Come leave time, you also have to have some money left because many relatives will be waiting at the airport or at home. You know how it is among Pinoys, word gets around that you are an OFW and it attracts a lot of kin.
If you don't bring pasalubong (a traditional homecoming gift) they may feel slighted and say bad things about you. Well, not all. But I'm sure some OFWs here have had that experience. Abroad, OFWs are also looked at differently. Very many have experienced not getting their due or being discriminated against in workplaces. You just take it, keep going, cry it out alone, because you think how miserable your family would be if you packed up and went home.
Besides, you really can't count on a job waiting for you back home. And prices of rice, milk, sardines, and apartment rentals are high. So you suffer on--even though you have to work with a lot of jerks (kahit maraming kupal sa trabaho), even though you are sick and have no one to take care of you, even though the food sucks and working conditions bad, even dangerous, and the job difficult. Then when you have remitted money home, everything seems okay again; you call, "hello! kumusta na kayo(how are you all doing)?"
OFWs are not unfeeling (Hindi bato ang OFW). You are human--not money or cash machines. You get tired, lonely (yes, often); you get sick, hungry; you stop and think, too. You, too, need support, if not physically, at least emotionally or spiritually.
OFWs also grow old. Those I have met and spoken to, many have receding hairlines or are balding. Most of them have signs and symptoms of hypertension, coronary artery disease, and arthritis. Yet, they continue to work thinking about the family they left behind. There are many abroad, after 20-30 years, that still have not put away a savings stash. No matter how hard they work, they can't seem to save enough. It's painful when you know that the family you support back home still can't make ends meet, that a child is a drug addict, a daughter, pregnant; and one's spouse is in a relationship with someone else. It recalls that popular old song "Napakasakit Kuya Eddie."
OFWs are heroes. That's true. I, for one, realized this only now, that OFWs really are heroes in so many ways. Not icons or household names like Nora Aunor or Flor Contemplacion but heroes in the truest sense of the word. They could surpass even Rizal or Bonifacio: They have braved more wars and conflicts in order to give their families a better life; they have battled more political intrigues just to keep their jobs in hostile environments; they have exhibited more patience than your usual congressman or senator in the Philippines--all because of the fear of losing that precious pay check.
OFWs are survivors. Pinoys are survivors (Matindi ang Pinoy). They are more tenacious than rats or cockroaches which are said to be able to survive cataclysms. Yet for all their sacrifices, they have yet to see solutions or results.
OFWs are unlucky--unlike politicians. They don't sign autographs or give interviews to media (unless they were kidnapped); they stay on the sidelines. When they leave the country, they are sad and on the verge of tears. When they come home, the lucky ones are welcomed by relatives at the airport. But if they come home without money, relatives are hard to find.
If only OFWs had a voice in Congress like politicians who are financed by the Filipino people and don't have to work under the hot sun, or get scalded by hot oil, or shouted at by foreign employers, or eat paksiw day in and day out to save money, or live in a compound with conditions less than favorable, and be forced to live with people with strange ways if only to be able to live. Politicians are lucky, really lucky.
OFWs are steadfast. Stronger and more steadfast than soldiers or other groups you might know. They are masters of reverse psychology, negotiations, and counter-attacks. Will the OFWs last? Most likely because we still don't know when change and progress will come to the Philippines. Will it come? Is there a chance?
Happiness is imagining yourself in the company of your loved ones every day, watching your children grow in a healthy and loving home. Happiness is eating sitaw, bagoong, lechon, inihaw na isda, taba ng talangka. Happiness is watching a Filipino movie, whether old reruns or new ones. There's still nothing like knowing your neighbors. There's still no place like the Philippines, being with other Pinoys (well, except those with crab mentalities). There's still nothing like being able to tell stories and know that others around you understand what you are saying. There's really nothing like the sound of "mahal kita!", "'day, ginahigugma tika," "Mingaw na ko nimo ba, kalagot!" "Inday, diin ka na subong haw? ganahan guid ko simo ba." There's really no place...like home.
Sige lang. Tiis lang. Saan ba't darating din ang pag-asa. So be it. just suck it in and keep going Somehow, you hope, things will work out.