Skip to main content

An OFW's Letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Dear Mrs. President,

How I wish I were home when you had your 2009 State-of-the-Nation Address. I would have joined the millions of Filipinos excitedly awaiting for your yearly report over the broadsheet, radio and television stations. I would have been so vigilant in monitoring crowd formations near MalacaƱan Palace, EDSA-Ortigas, Paseo de Roxas, or near the House of Representatives in Commonwealth. Over the years I was an active spectator --- joining public opinions about the possibility of changing our nation's course of events through the strengths and opportunities that formed part of your SONAs.

This year, however, is the first time that I failed to have an access to the first-hand account surrounding your State-of-the-Nation Address. I will surely miss the blow-by-blow reports and analysis of top-rated journalists whose words charismatically provoke citizens, even in the margins, to speak and to take a stand, for or against our country's social issues.

I failed to join the public opinion this time because I am away from my country and my family. My decision to leave the Philippines is not simply for pleasure. I am working in great hardships to provide my family a decent living. The sacrifices are always underway. There had been countless sleepless nights since I came to the United States due to homesickness. The amount of tears poured was almost out of my number chart. My only child has not spoken with me for quite a while because of my failure to convince her that this separation will be "for the good of everyone."

I have made my decision to leave the country and my family, no matter how painful it may be, because our country has failed to provide people with ordinary lives a decent way to survive. The meager income that I received as an ordinary teacher, after earning a master's degree and advanced courses leading to a doctoral degree from leading universities in the country, coupled with more than a decade of experience in the field, has never alleviated us from poverty.

For several SONAs now, your administration has always uplifted the morale of my fellow Overseas Filipino Workers around the world as "partners in rebuilding a strong economy." The dollar remittances that OFWs earn are a powerful fuel in our economic growth, you have emphasized as a constant reminder. These words have been very encouraging, Mrs. President.

But has your administration ever asked why OFWs flee the country? Because of the national economy's failure to provide adequate jobs for the millions of skilled Filipinos. Your administration has statistically blurred us with tons and tons of jobs available in the market today. But what are these? Call center jobs that require high proficiency in a loaned language that has always been thought of as a culturally divisive factor? This can only be assumed by linguistically-trained and emotionally-hard graduates who could get through their erring foreign clients. Human Resources administration jobs whose required qualifications can only be met by a few? How about jobs for engineers, nurses, teachers, IT specialists, and the likes who spent painstaking years in school in order to acquire their much-needed title? How about jobs for the semi-skilled workers who are breadwinners in their respective households? Has your administration asked about jobs that are appropriate for the unskilled workers whose only fault was that their parents failed to send them to school due to poverty?

Has your administration ever thought what happens to the OFWs and their families after receiving that impressive title, "partners in rebuilding a strong economy"?

The fancy impression is that they are now living in plenty. But let me show you some real, down-to-earth illustrations that your fellow economists and intellectually arrogant statistics experts in various government agencies may have not gleaned from "available data".

A family whose parent went to the US recently is now being threatened by a financing company due to a failure to pay the interest of their loan's interest in the amount of Php500,000. This money was used for processing the application, but when the worker landed to the US, there was no available job for her. Another family decided to send their breadwinner to the US recently, but due to the agency's neglect to provide a link to employers, the worker didn't earn for months. This led to two of her children quitting their college studies. Another hopeful family brought all their children abroad, but failed to send them to universities due to high cost of tuition. They would have enjoyed quality education in the top universities in the home country, but the family realized how harder life is in the Philippines.

In the Middle East, numerous workers exchanged their Php15,000 salary back home with Php20,000 in Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar. In Dubai, a number of Filipino workers took chances of it being an "open city" but were sent home afterwards due to retrenchment. Overseas Filipino Workers in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan would have been enjoying their pay but their brutal sacrifices from the hands of employers are not just a game of chance. They are real, and they happen on a regular basis.

Mrs. President, I never blame you for the course of events that happen in the country today. True, the effect of global recession has severely affected even the hardest and most stable economies in the world. But have you not done anything about changing paradigms --- selecting good leaders whose foresight can at least matter in alleviating our country's desperate economic condition? Have you not challenged leaders who have been suspected of continually engaging in massive graft and corrupt practices? We all would have enjoyed what they deposited in their personal bank accounts. Have you not thought of any other strategies to empower citizens, improve morality, affect change in various social institutions, and clean every corner of the public offices with wealth that were obtained in an evil manner or by dishonest means?

Mrs. President, time and again, you have suggested to us that after the SONA, there is much work to do and progress is underway. But after years of being our leader, you have only showed us that poverty is in its constant motion. We have not withered from what our parents, and our parents' parents have suffered in the course of Philippine History.

A quote from your 2009 SONA says, "When my father left the Presidency, we were second to Japan." What happened to us? Why have we not sustained that record? What has your administration done to at least set a direction to meet that record again?

I know you should not be blamed for this alone because you are just an heir to a nation that had been struck historically by structures that have made our people a predestined poor people in this generation. Our colonizers did, together with the leaders who were trained by them, with the participation of the past presidents and government officials who thought they could make things better.

But let me appeal to you, Mrs. President. And as I do this, please reflect carefully upon our situation as OFWs, together with the situation of our families back home...

There are still a few remaining months to do something extraordinary. Please clean our government. Please regain the confidence of the people. Please provide the poor majority with decent ways to live their lives. We, too, are uncertain of the time after your administration because the same old personalities are playing the game called politics in our country. But you can still make a difference.

May God bless us all.


M. Fernandez
Overseas Filipino Worker
North Carolina, USA