You know a country has really sunk to an unprecedented depth of wretchedness when its own citizens would prefer to remain in a war zone over taking their chances on a return to the “safety” of their homeland.
Such is what describes the rather embarrassing situation in the Philippine government’s efforts to repatriate up to 13,000 Filipino nationals living and working in Libya which has been wracked in recent weeks by internal strife between various armed groups.
The violence in Libya has been escalating since fighting erupted between armed factions within the sprawling desert nation. Civilians — including Filipinos working there — have not been spared. A Filipino construction worker was reportedly beheaded by militants in Benghazi in mid-July. In Tripoli, a Filipino nurse was reportedly abducted and gang-raped.
Despite the danger, many Filipinos in Libya have ignored the government’s order for mandatory evacuation, DFA spokesman Charles Jose told reporters on Monday.
“The usual reason we hear from them is that they would rather take the chance. They think they have greater chances of surviving the war [there] than of surviving uncertainty [without jobs] here,” Jose said.
To most, it is quite difficult to imagine how one’s chances of survival in a war zone could be regarded as much “greater” than that in a relatively peaceful and stable country like the Philippines. But time and again, it’s been proven that Filipino overseas foreign workers (OFWs) who find themselves in the middle of war are likely to think twice about returning to the Philippines.
Many of the Filipino workers deployed to middle Eastern countries like Libya are highly-trained professionals in the health care and engineering fields. Whilst their work is highly-valued in their host countries (as evident in the high wages they earn there), many of these workers face poverty-level wages in the Philippines. Nurses in the Philippines even get paid negative wages thanks to a crushing supply that utterly dwarfs demand there.
Recently, prized meteorologists employed by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) too had voted with their feet and headed for the greener pasteurs of the weather services in foreign countries where their expertise is better-appreciated. This is remarkable considering the Philippines is completely vulnerable to the hundreds of tropical storms that ravage its islands every year. Much of the death and destruction wreaked by these storms could have been prevented by improved (or, at least, sustained) weather monitoring and forecasting capability — a critical service PAGASA struggles to provide.
But even for relatively-affluent Filipinos, life in the former US colony is no bed of roses. Even in Metro Manila, where most of the country’s movers and shakers live, the lifestyle is, to put it mildly, an acquired taste. The country’s premier city the development of which, one would think, would be prioritised by its wealthy and influential elite inhabitants remains one of the world’s least livable cities. The teeming megalopolis was referred to as the “Gates of Hell” by novelist Dan Brown in his recent book Inferno. Metro Manila’s notorious traffic gridlock dooms most of its residents to spending from three to four hours of their lives stuck in traffic everyday. And because of this, real estate prices in the inner city, specially within the areas of its central business districts, are far beyond the reach of even upper-middleclass Filipinos.
As such, many Filipinos who rely on a daily commute through Manila’s choked steaming streets endure appalling living conditions in hovels and dormitories just to be within a 2-3 hour commute of their places of work. Considering that agriculture in the Philippines no longer provides a decent enough income to millions of Filipinos, cities have come to represent the hope for decent employment for Filipinos.
This is the so-called “alternative” the Philippines presents to the average OFW eking out a living in hostile desert kingdoms half a planet away. For all the lip service paid to “inclusive growth” (made even more tragic by the supposed ‘positive’ macro-economic numbers the Philippines had attained over the last couple years), there is very little confidence among ordinary Filipinos that their homeland will be a better one anytime soon.[Photo courtesy Women Under Siege Project.]
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