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A World without Filipinos
7/4/2008 11:13:17 PM

Public Lives : A world without Filipinos

By Randy David
Columnist
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: July 05, 2008


MANILA, Philippines—At the end of their brief June 24th meeting at
the White House, US President George W. Bush and his visitor from the
Philippines, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, faced the press for a
photo opportunity. President Arroyo arrived in the United States
around the same time a powerful typhoon was battering her country and
a Filipino passenger ship carrying almost 800 people was reported to
have capsized in stormy waters.
The American President's opening remarks at the press briefing were
reported in several US broadsheets and drew some scathing rejoinders
from bloggers. They give us a glimpse of the state of mind of the
world's most powerful leader whom Nelson Mandela once called
a "thoughtless man." Here is a fragment of the transcript:

President Bush: "Madam President, it is a pleasure to welcome you
back to the Oval Office. We have just had a very constructive
dialogue. First, I want to tell you how proud I am to be the
President of a nation that—in which there's a lot of Philippine-
Americans. They love America and they love their heritage. And I
reminded the President that I am reminded of the great talent of the—
of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House."
(Laughter)

President Arroyo: "Yes."

President Bush: "And the chef is a great person and a really good
cook, by the way, Madam President."

The LA Times summed up the rest of the briefing thus: "Arroyo thanked
Bush for the compliment, and for the offer to send two assets the
Philippines need desperately now: U.S. Navy ships to help with ferry
rescue, and rice to feed a country suffering a rice shortage. `We're
happy to do it,' said Bush. `We want to help our friends in a time of
need.'"

The Filipino-American chef that Bush was referring to is, of course,
none other than Cristeta "Cris" Comerford. Many Filipinos greeted her
appointment as White House head chef in August 2005 as a major
national achievement. Bush must have been reminded of the tremendous
pride Filipinos take in the success of this compatriot in the
American President's kitchen. He might have been so captivated by
this charming thought that he momentarily forgot he was talking to
the President of a nation that had just been visited by a tragic
calamity. Reading the transcript from the Oval Office, one can't help
asking if this was the meeting that Ms Arroyo could not forego and
for which she traveled all the way to America with half of her
Cabinet at a time of gloom and mourning in the country she left
behind.

All over the world, the nations that Filipino overseas workers have
served well by their labor, talent and dedication never fail to
express their appreciation for the cheerful way Filipinos perform
their duties while contending with the vicissitudes of living in
strange cultures. While they note the immense contributions Filipino
workers make to their countries, however, even the most appreciative
among them tend to be oblivious to the personal suffering that
migrant workers often bear as a result of their isolation from their
families and communities.

Once in a while, one comes across a reflective piece that articulates
the gratitude of host communities that have greatly benefited from
the labor of Filipino guest workers. Such is the short essay written
by Abdullah Ai-Maghlooth for a local newspaper in Saudi Arabia. The
author muses: "Whenever I see Filipinos working in the Kingdom, I
wonder what our life would be without them. Saudi Arabia has the
largest number of Filipino workers—1,019,577—outside the Philippines.
In 2006 alone, the Kingdom recruited more than 223,000 workers from
the Philippines and their numbers are still increasing …. Nobody here
can think of a life without Filipinos …. We could die a slow death if
they chose to leave us."

These are heartwarming sentiments, and they could form the basis of a
global solidarity with migrant workers everywhere. But they are
necessarily self-referential: they note the indispensable
contributions that Filipinos make to the wellbeing of the host
nation. They single out Filipino workers for their skill, their
tenderness and their loyalty. But they do not see the human being
that performs all these services and possesses all these traits. They
do not see the families these workers have left behind, the
relationships they have put on hold because of migration, and the
experience of humiliation and helplessness they often go through as
virtual exiles in strange lands. Away from their loved ones and
circle of intimates, their lives tend to be bare. Wrenched from the
culture that is their medium, their identities tend to wither.

They help maintain and reproduce the social systems that host them,
but these soci



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