A problem of community

People are noticing and commenting — from the Public Attorney’s Office in media statements to a broadcast journalist who interviewed me during the wake for Carl Angelo Arnaiz in Filipino: “Have you noticed that both Kian delos Santos and Carl Arnaiz’s mothers were OFWs (overseas Filipino workers)? Maybe we shouldn’t have mothers leaving to work overseas?”

The next day at the university, a dean at UP discussed the same issue with me, but expanded her concerns to include some of our students with serious mental health issues and she observed in all the cases she mentioned that the mothers were working overseas.

When mothers leave by Michael L. Tan, Philippine Inquirer

Indeed, the problem is not the mothers (or, women) leaving for work abroad, because with the masses the choice is often the devil or the deep blue sea ie. get a job that will at least provide basic needs for the family and where else is that but abroad, or stay and live without dignity like a sewer rat consequentially setting in motion a slow onset trauma among family members, but rather it is the lack of decent work right here, in the town or municipality and city the mothers or any jobseeker for that matter reside in, not 2,000 miles away, in the “big city” ie. Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, Metro Davao.

Today, the big news on TV is New Zealand opening it’s doors to 5,000 foreign workers, and to show how bright the beckoning light is from the land of Lord of the Rings, it was reported that a driver there stands to receive PHP150,000 monthly and an opportunity to bring in the family after a year. That figure here is in the range offered to senior executives, if not the head of office. This inequality begs the question, why couldn’t employers here pay the same fair price for the same skilled service rendered? Must Filipinos, women or men, mothers or fathers, leave their families years on end just so to receive what they deserve as workers? And we complain about human rights violations!

In Baguio City, a highly-urbanized city, classified ads are the most depressing section to look at. Week after week, for years, jobseekers who are mostly graduates of the several recognized universities here, will go nowhere with their future with “online English tutors”, “call center agents”, “frontdesk clerks”, “sales clerk”, “domestic helpers for Hongkong and Taiwan”, and the like. If it’s like this here, what about the provincial towns? Eh, putang ina talaga. 

It is worse for men especially the unskilled, skilled but with no or limited demand for it, or those wanting to get a new skill. There’s TESDA, but if they’re from the masses, even the agency’s “minimal fee” is beyond their reach. So, in comes the women. With the women, they can fall back on DH or domestic helper that, abroad, more or less, rakes in PHP30,000 monthly. Compare that to at most PHP5,000 here (for same job, same skills set). Saan ka pa? But with the jobless men, thank you traditional views about gender, there’s no such thing as a male DH. Would guys go into it though?

In biology, there’s a topic on symbiotic relationships, one of which, commensalism, comes near to defining the relationship between the jobless frustrated male at home and the financially fulfilled focused female abroad. Commensalism is a type of relationship in which one benefits and the other is neither benefited or harmed. In other words, wala lang. The male who’s left at home is, obviously, the one benefitting. You’d think because he is, he’d happily take on the role of mother to the children. But the arc of the female OFW story doesn’t end happily ever after, for many. Men who are left behind, in the long term, oftentimes, become neglectful of their households including the children. Apparently, they’re taking a longer time coming to terms with their new role in the family.

It takes a village to raise a child.  Spouses left behind by their partners who need to work abroad are in need of their communities’ support. But, what is community to today’s Filipinos? The answer is easy. The image that we are seeing now in government, national and local, reflects our new community: lying, cheating, power play, betrayal, looking the other way, one-uppance, laziness, planning for the next bright move, always looking out for mine, mine, and mine. Gone, particularly in urban communities, is the mindset of looking out for each other. No wonder the children are growing up on their own.

Bayanihan as the term suggests is about building community. The behavior shouldn’t be manifested only during disasters. It should be an intuitive act- for instance, a women’s or mothers group may want to go cook a whole day’s set of meals, say, on father’s or mother’s day, for that household whose mother/wife is abroad working. Or, the therapist in the neighborhood to volunteer some time to go visit households that have one spouse abroad in order to listen. Most of the time, people just need someone to listen, without judgment, to their inner selves, and after that, we’re OK and ready to face the world. This reminds me- once, I hugged my oh-so-tall son on the street, before sending him back (as he isn’t living with me). I haven’t seen him for the longest time and I missed him. I heard from a passer-by, surprisingly, a child, commenting that it’s very, very bad to have a relationship with a much younger guy di ba mommy? To which the mommy said, yes indeed it’s evil blah blah blah. Bayanihan can also be about not going into wholesale judgment about a person until you know all the facts.

Community is not built arguing about it in courtrooms or lecturing about it in the classrooms. We know most everything about it anyway. We just have to do. The Catholic Church (instead of joining in the rah-rah-rah which mostly rings hollow anyway) has a key role in inculcating this in Catholics through it’s Basic Ecclesial Communities. In the barangays, there’s the day care for young children, which, by the way, needs major upgrade in infrastructure and service. There’s also the barangay health center for psychosocial needs of families, which is also in need of overhaul. These, and several more, are facilities being paid for by taxpayers and to be taken advantage of therefore.

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Community in urban metropolis: proximity and the stranger

The urban metropolis is a space in which one encounters “strangers” all around. Strangers are not “far away” and therefore beyond engagement. They occupy proximal space. Sociologist Georg Simmel, who wrote in the mid-1800s, was intrigued with the combination of the Stranger and the Metropolis. According to Simmel, in order to live in the midst of strangers, people must cultivate a posture of indifference. You and I are able to occupy the same physical space, even to transact certain business dealings, without being required actually to engage one another–as long as we remain indifferent or blase. In an urban setting in which strangers are forced together indiscriminately, indifference is a civil response. The well-mannered person of the modern age knows just how much social and psychological distance to grant strangers. Too much engagement entreats a response from the Other, and this would be considered a violation of “their space” and poor conduct. This cultivated indifference is what Miss Manners might call the “cuticle” that guards against the friction of the proximity of strangers. It is indeed a civil response for modern society, but the effect of this indifference is a loss of face. We soon learn not to see the Other at all.

– Social Prisms, Jodi O’Brien