"In societies where Robbing Hoods are treated like a celebrity it is but natural to expect political parties to act like a Mafia syndicate" Political Jaywalker "In a nation where corruption is endemic people tend to confuse due process with aiding and abetting criminals" Political Jaywalker "War doesn't determine who is right, war determines who is left" Bertrand Russell "You have just one flash flood of money, you keep your people poor. It's like a time bomb and it's scary" Philippine Lawmaker

OFW Empowerment

Guest Editorial
Perry Diaz

The recent furor over Malu Fernandez's controversial "From Boracay to Greece" commentary has brought to the forefront of debate the issue of political power -- or lack of power -- of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Little did Fernandez, a Manila Standard society columnist, realize that the article she wrote for her targeted audience -- Manila's elite -- would incite a riot in cyberspace. A torrent of emails flooded the Internet blogs. Her arrogant response which was printed in her column further infuriated the OFWs and the protests snowballed into an avalanche that knocked her out cold. Stunned, she quit her job. Call it "mob" justice or any other term.
She deserved it.
What really irked the OFWs was what Fernandez said in her commentary: "While I was on the plane (where the seats were so small I had bruises on my legs), my only consolation was the entertainment on the small flat screen in front of me. But it was busted, so I heaved a sigh, popped my sleeping pills and dozed off to the sounds of gum chewing and endless yelling of 'HOY! Kumusta ka na? At taga saan ka? Domestic helper ka rin ba?' Translation: 'Hey there? Where are you from? Are you a domestic helper as well?' I thought I had died and God had sent me to my very own private hell." In another part of her commentary, she said: "This time I had already resigned myself to being trapped like a sardine in a sardine can with all these OFWs smelling of AXE and Charlie cologne while Jo Malone evaporated into thin air." Well, now that she's jobless, she'd probably switch to Old Spice deodorant which reminds me of that popular television commercial in the 60's, "So it's you they're talking about…"

Clearly, the OFWs have demonstrated that they have immense power. With a strength of 8.5 million, they comprise the largest group of Filipinos -- a tenth of the population. Think of what they could do as a political power block with the capability to raise tons of money for political action.
The government's recent announcement of the strong performance of the economy -- 7.5 % GDP in the second quarter -- is very encouraging. However, the growth was consumption-driven and was due in most part to the candidates' "spending spree" during the election campaign in the first half of this year. In the past ten years, roughly 74% of the GDP came from "personal consumption expenditure." Yes, Pinoys have been on a spending spree… in the malls. Ultimately, the question is: Is the growth sustainable? The true test would be the amount of capital funneled into long-term investments and trade -- two sectors that are needed to turn the country's trade deficit around, a prerequisite to achieving "tiger economy" status.

Now, with Fernandez consigned to oblivion, what's next? Should the OFWs go back to their daily routine and wait until another Malu-ko comes out of the woodwork? Or should they come to the realization that they have the power to institute reforms in the Motherland and participate in governance?

Today, there are OFWs all over the world who are planning or in the process of forming political parties. The new buzzword is "Global Filipino Empowerment" which has its roots in the three million-strong Filipino-American community. In this year's senatorial elections, a Filipino-American ran for a seat and lost. His campaign slogan was "Kampeon ng Overseas Filipinos" (Champion of the Overseas Filipinos); however, he was unable to galvanize the OFWs to turn out for him. Was it because he lacked the ability to deliver a compelling message? Perhaps. However, I believe that the OFWs are not quite ready for political action. In other words, they have yet to reach "self-actualization," a term coined by Dr. Abraham Maslow, which is the "pinnacle in the hierarchy of human needs." Or, perhaps they don't see the value of representation in government. Interestingly, the Filipino-Americans have the same mindset. And that is the reason why Filipino-Americans are perceived as powerless in America. During election time, they're looked upon as the "cheering squads" for other Asian and minority candidates. The main event of political gatherings is the photo opportunity or "kodakan." And the most treasured trophy from such events is a photograph with a politician.

While the OFW political organizers mean well in their endeavors, the question that comes to mind is: Are there any groups -- or individuals -- in the OFW community who have the capability to coalesce the various groups under one political party? Not that they don't have what it takes. Yes, they do. However, in my opinion, they have yet to learn how to work together. The "kanya kanya" attitude still prevails in our community. Undoubtedly, they have the interest of the OFWs in their hearts. But do they have the gumption -- and logistics -- to launch a political movement? To begin with, they have to establish a presence in the Philippines. As some people would say, "Out of sight, out of mind."

Like in any campaign, whether it is political or military, logistics plays an important part. As a matter of fact, logistics determines the outcome of most campaigns. Before the advent of modern military technology, the "baggage train" was the lifeline of any military expeditionary force. In the 13th century, the Mongols succeeded in their conquest of Asia, Eastern Europe and as far as Syria in the Middle East because of their speed in moving -- and protecting -- their baggage trains.

In today's political campaigns, "logistics" is money. That is, lots of money. Needless to say the OFWs have money. But they have to build a war chest that they can tap for any campaign -- political or otherwise. Can they do it? Or, more appropriately, would they even do it? That's the ultimate challenge.

There has been discussion in government circles of starting an OFW Bank. This is a great idea. The only problem is: It is a government initiative. In my opinion, the government should not be involved in organizing an OFW Bank.

Last year, Migrante International -- one of the OFW coalition groups -- protested President Arroyo's plan to use one billion pesos in Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) trust funds to convert the Philippine Postal Savings Bank into an OFW Bank. President Arroyo backed off. That's a victory for the OFWs. The time has come for the OFWs to take full control of their immense wealth and flex their political muscle. They can do it. The road to empowerment is within sight.


Related articles:
Annoying Malu Fernandez & equally annoyed Blogs
Malu Fernandez on Technorati WTF
Move On or Bring It On?
Malu Fernandez & the Overseas Filipinos Worldwide (OFW)
Blog post Complilation on Malu Fernandez
More on The Diva or was it Di Na Bale (Never Mind) Malu Fernandez
DIVA or Di Na BALE (Never Mind)

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