by Don Jaucian

In Remton Siega Zuasola’s Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria (The Dream of Eleuteria), a criminally underseen film and quite possibly the best Filipino film of 2010, the titular character is, in a sense, shooed of by her parents, particularly her mother, to Germany to marry one an aging, rich German and eventually rescue her family from the mounds of debts that they have incurred. It’s not exactly a circa-2000s scenario where Filipinas are still traded as mail-order brides (in the film, a woman actually arranges the marriages) as a possible gateway to a better life but in a sense, it embodies the ills and the heartaches that form the core of the Filipino Diaspora.

Teria’s cousin, who has been to Germany and has married a rich German, willingly flaunts the comforts of her new found life, even sporting a ridiculously accented English. The promises of a better life abroad can be gleamed through her brightly colored clothes, her seemingly endless romance with Germany and her expensive shoes, one of which she lends to Teria.

It’s as simple as shedding off the worn, discarded clothes that reek of poverty and donning shinier, new ones that bear the stamp of a progressive and forward-looking fortune. Amidst the backdrop of an unmistakably third-world coastal town, we witness the signals of Teria’s journey from her hometown to making her first steps out into the wild blue yonder.

The Great Filipino Dream 

Teria isn’t exactly going to be working as a domestic helper in Germany, although the woman who arranges these marriages give the, for the lack of a better word, unfortunate looking ladies a chance to catch a droplet of The Great Filipino Dream by working as helpers in the aforementioned country. It’s an opportunity laid out before their very eyes and it’s up to them whether to seize it or turn it down.

In many ways, Teria’s plight mirrors the hopes and dreams of every Filipino who has sought out a better life by working overseas. Seeing the opportunities brought about by the economic boom in the Middle East during the 70s, the Philippine government has since sent millions of Filipinos to work in oil companies, construction sites, hotels and hospitals and tend to the needs of the ruling class and rake in dollar remittances in return.

In their February 2011 issue, global affairs magazine Monocle has looked into the story of our Overseas Filipino Workers as one of the pumps that keep the heart of the Philippine economy going. Writer Liv Lewitschnik observes the astounding feats of our OFWs and the lengths that the government goes through to ensure their welfare and protection.

“Today, one in nine Filipinos works abroad, where they can earn salaries five or six times higher than they can at home. During 2010 alone, 53, 532 people left the Philippines while those nine milion already settled across 180 countries sent 17bn euros home to their relatives. Only India, China and Mexico receive more remittances than the Philippines. At 12 per cent of the GDP, it is a source of income the government is more than happy to see coming in,” wrote Lewitschnik.

OFW remittances has long been a core element of the Philippine economy. Just February this year, a healthy surge of 6.2% growth in overseas remittances has posited a positive gain for the economy, bolstering the confidence of local and foreign investors.

A long running plight

It’s a story that has been written so many times in national publications yet it perfectly reflects the attention that the OFWs warrant; an alarm call for the government to actually do something to preserve the brilliance of Filipino minds that has been slowly trickling away since the brain drain. Although the government has taken measures to pamper OFWs by giving them privileges, the increase in the number of people going abroad still reflects the tired attitude of the rest of the nation.

Like Eleuteria’s long and obstacle-ridden walk to the port, where her journey is yet to begin, Filipino overseas workers ultimately leave a lasting proof of our kind of bravery, withstanding challenges to give their families, and eventually themselves, a better future to look at.  

This article was originally published in the OFW Special Section of The Philippine STAR.