Life and Lemons

Love in the Time of Diaspora


Since the day my elementary mind started absorbing a few truths of the world, I have been taught that the Filipino overseas worker is the new breed of hero. Bagong bayani, they were called. It mattered to me because my father was one of those modern heroes, and because of it we became one of those modern absentee-parent families. It was the in thing, and 20 years later it has evolved to more than that. The trend was fortified not only into a social norm, but into a significant economic driver. The news now says nothing else but that the Philippines is the new darling of Asia, posting historic high growths while the first world giants are folding, fueled largely by OFW remittances. 20 years later and my father is still the new breed of hero.

Let me tell you about the true value of OFW remittances. Economics will present you with a scientific answer. GDP is Consumption + Government expenditure + Investment + Exports – Imports. GNP is GDP plus remittances. That remittance figure has grown to $21.4 billion dollars for 2012, up 6.3% from 2011 digits and showing no signs of slowing down. But as economics would also tell you, not everything is captured in a straightforward computation. One must always add the opportunity cost–the cost of opportunities forgone for an opportunity answered. For the OFW, these are many and mostly non-quantifiable:

The cost of missing the graduation of the kid you put through school, the cost of having to resort to Facebook to be updated on your own family and friends, of thanking Skype, YM and international roaming because their opportunity costs are much cheaper. The cost of non inclusion; from daily family dinners, movie dates and debates, to the annual summer vacations, to weddings and funerals. For the more unfortunate, the cost of rebellious children who lacked guidance, of coldness, or broken relationships. The cost of abusive bosses and abusive work environments. In summary, the general cost of distance and loneliness.

If there was a scientific way to calculate this, OFWs would think of asking more for their salaries. Double the current rate might not even cut it, double the number of vacation leave days and double the frequency. But they would not think of abandoning their foreign post, oh no, because they are not called heroes for naught. They have the hearts of lions. If you ask them, surely they know the perils of their chosen occupation. But in the country they call home they can still not find the means to provide for their families the way their foreign bosses can. So pay for the costs they shall, in prayerful hope that love in the time of diaspora will prevail. My father the hero, for one, knows that it always does.

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