Like many of the youth aged 18-35, we are asked if we’ll still be in this country five to ten years from now. But the question has its roots in our Diasporas, at an estimated 8 to 10 million Filipinos, documented or undocumented; are working and living overseas as either professionals or skilled labourers, remitting precious dollars and fuelling the consumption driven economy of our nation. Almost anyone you ask has one form of connection to a relative or friend tagged as an OFW in one of the inhabited continents. Without any prospect for gainful employment, high costs of living, and unreasonable low salaries in our country, they opt out to sacrifice social bonds, face maltreatment, and isolation for the sake of giving one’s family a better quality of life.
There are many socio-economic reasons why Filipinos are leaving this country. Some would leave for societies that value fairness, and justice. Others would find ways to work in a place of peace, progress, modernity and tranquillity. Still for others, it’s a personal choice for the advancement of their careers and financial liberation. Yet, the underlying reason for this phenomenon is an undeveloped local economy that could not accommodate its own people for productive endeavours.
Referring to the official statistics of the NSO, “the unemployment rate rose to 7.1 percent in January 2013, from 6.8 percent in October of 2012.” In addition to that, we still have over 26 percent of our population living in poverty based on studies by the National Statistical Coordination Board. While taking note on the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, around 5.2 million households are identified as poor nationwide. To add Calamansi to our wounds is the latest Human Development Report of the United Nations where the Philippines was identified as lagging behind in reaching our millennium development goals by 2015.
We have fallen from grace, and the inferno we got ourselves into did not happen overnight. But how could this have happened? We proudly claim to be the best post World War 2 economy next only to Japan. We proudly profess the skills and professionalism of our people to the world. Yet, our socio-economic system based on free enterprise and democracy is supposed to level the playing field. Innovation and invention were the values of competition envisioned in the free market system. This idea that posits prosperity for all those who work hard and outsmart competition is supposed to create wealth and affluence for the masses. Eventually, it worked for those who were successful; but in its huge wake were social inequality, unfair distribution of wealth and power, and a tendency toward monopoly, oligopoly and oligarchy. All of these problems we see in our society today, the latter with a potent mix of political immaturity and entitled rent-seeking political dynasties.
Another reason why some of us probably consider packing their bags and leave is to escape the estimated 16 million unemployed youth by 2016 if the government could not produce job generating investments and growth of at least 1 million new jobs every year. So far, we are 100 million Filipinos among the diverse ethno-linguistic groups spread out across an archipelago of 7,100 islands. Imagine where 16 million restless youth, disappointed and angry without any outlook for a better tomorrow; this is the militant’s wet dream for a Battle Royale.
It’s probably still not too late to become a doomsday Prepper, because let’s not miss out on the good news of positive investor sentiments toward good governance and systematic reforms, a higher than expected GDP rate in 2012, a looming investment grade credit rating upgrade, and a bullish local stock market outperforming its counterparts in the region; I guess we have something to look forward to. But where are we going, really? The rich are buying luxury goods left and right, and living in more gated communities in highly developed real estate, while the poor are still there; waiting for opportunities to take them out of the poverty trap, hoping for their messiah while being supported by government social safety nets. And for those who are neither poor nor rich, the souls of purgatory, they are falling in line outside of embassies applying for immigration or work visas; patiently treading their way into Paradise.
And so here we are; the post-Edsa 1986 generation inheriting a democracy, a society and an economy fresh from a conjugal dictatorship through a series of colourful elected characters by a housewife, a coup general, an actor, an economist, and now a bachelor. Sounds like the cast for a bad joke with the punch line that ends in the ordinary folk getting pie in the face. But our state is no laughing matter when people are deprived of living in human dignity and social justice. How could we pretend to see that the rose is not as pretty as it was sold to us? The thorns of reality prick us in a slow and deep recurring vice as we grip it out of necessity and ignorance.
Should we ignore the social ills that hound our people and live to each his own or should we stay and step up to the promise that our heroes dreamt for us?
I may or may not be living in Manila, diving in Cebu or climbing in Davao by 2023, but the fun thing about the future is that it’s supposed to be a mystery. And like the protagonist whose decisions affect the outcome let’s take ownership of our inheritance with all of its liabilities and do what we can now for it to grow, and see what happens. Who knows, maybe the ending is what we always thought it to be.