Migrants' Stories: Duality in Migration

Shalom* (not her real name)

Posted at Jan 02 2013 03:04 PM | Updated as of Jan 02 2013 11:04 PM

Editors Note: The story is from the book “Migrants’ Stories, Migrants’ Voices 4" published by the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW) with the support from CEI (Conferenza Episcopale Italiana) or the Italian Bishops' Conference. The book contains a collection of 10 stories of the realities of migration as faced by Filipinos abroad and their family members in the Philippines. ABS-CBNnews.com obtained permission from PMRW to publish the stories online.

I grew up in a home where the presence of my father is few and far between because of overseas employment. The same reality is true with my five cousins belonging to two families whose respective fathers are also working abroad.

Practically, we all have only our mothers to take care of us, guide us, and tend for us. Now that I have grown up, and enjoying my last year in one of the prestigious universities in the Philippines (kudos to my Papa), I have understood that my own personal experience as a daughter of a migrant worker and those of my cousins’ are special but not isolated cases. I have come to realize that the six of us, cousins, are just a small portion of the millions of Filipino children who are migrant-related.

Many would ask if it is worth being a daughter of a dollar-earning father, and my immediate reply would be a YES for the material frills that come with it! But reflecting on it, it’s still a big NO after all. For more than a decade now, my father has been working overseas. My heart could have developed callousness in feeling the pain of separation every time he would say goodbye. But this has never been the case.

Nowadays, I no longer shed tears whenever he goes away but a tinge of pain remains. I remember that as a young child, I would start blubbing every time my father would head off to the airport after a short vacation with us.  My shrill cry every time I lost sight of my father at the airport when I was a kid was perhaps my way to express the pain I felt because we would be separated again. Now the pain is still there because I miss him more, and am always hoping to see him again soon.

Going home from the airport, my family would usually be silent, everyone praying that God would allow our family to enjoy being together in one roof, praying for my father’s safe trip, good health, and better work situation in his destination.

Through my own experiences, I could identify with my younger cousins’ happy feelings when their fathers are around, as well as their sadness whenever their fathers have to leave again.

Togetherness in Separation

I consider it a blessing that despite the distance, my family has managed to maintain the bonding and good relationship it has. After 17 years of separation caused by overseas employment, we are still strongly bonded and complete. I believe that our family has invested more for our frequent and constant communication amidst distance.

During the early years of my father’s stint abroad, when the only available means of communications were the costly overseas call and the slow postal letters, my mother never failed to send letters and cards to my father. In their usual conversation, I could hear my mother always assuring him that it will be okay if an extra amount from his remittance would be deducted for overseas call if that will help relieve him of his homesickness. I grew up having not missed the phone calls from my Papa as often as possible. In fact, we have maximized phone conversations.

He would help me in my home works, particularly in mathematics and science subjects. Moreover, my father would always ensure that his vacations would fall on important dates for the family that include birthdays, Family Day in school, and even my Confirmation and First Communion. Today, with the cellular phone era, my father would call us almost every other night to check on us. With the advent of Facebook and other social networks, we are able to update each other by exchanging pictures and sending private communications anytime of the day at a lesser cost. It’s like almost not missing much of each other’s activities from our respective locations despite the long distance.

Moreover, with cheaper airfares nowadays, we could see each other as often as thrice a year including our trip once a year to visit him during summer vacation. We try to make sure that even the simple activities that we share together are opportunities to make up for the lost time that we've had.

Happiness and Sadness

Being a child of a migrant and having been surrounded by families of migrant workers, I am aware that not all children of migrant workers are as blessed as I am. Without discounting the poignant effects of international migration that have been publicized in the tri-media, I have witnessed first-hand and felt how migration has shattered the families of my five younger cousins.

The husband of my Mom’s youngest sister works in the Middle East. After almost a decade of working there, I have seen how my three cousins were pampered with material goods that growing up boys like them would enjoy including toys, branded shoes and clothes, play stations, and many more. I also witnessed how happy they were every time their father would be on vacation. However short one month is compared to the 11 months of separation, the family would enjoy every single opportunity they have.

Of course, I know that relationships of husbands and wives have imperfections and misunderstandings every once in a while, just like with my Mama and Papa.
That is why I considered it normal whenever I hear that my Aunt and Uncle would have their episodes of arguing over the phone.

Until one day, I heard my Aunt complaining of problems regarding their relationship. Irregular and delayed remittances have become a big issue to the family. There were instances when bills were due including the tuition fees, and the remittance has yet to arrive. Such a situation persisted and this forced my Aunt to look for a job so that at least she would have something to augment the means to pay for the basic expenses of the family. I saw how the family had difficult adjustments and had to sacrifice when it comes to finances.

Their father has changed in a very strange manner. He became unreasonably suspicious of my Aunt, and would always argue with her over the phone. The once very happy family I knew ended up sad and separated. My cousins were devastated when they discovered that their father had another family in Saudi Arabia. It could have been the reason why remittances were delayed or not sent at all.

I felt sad for my cousins. I felt how difficult it must have been for them. I was furious at their father who happened to be my "Ninong" (godfather) in Baptism. The situation never crossed my mind. In fact, earlier on, we were expecting that they will be together soon in Riyadh as a family. My three cousins were so excited over this prospect. Their school was even advised that they will not be enrolling for the next school year.

However, the plan was shelved off eventually because according to their father they have yet to complete processing the documents. That led them to transfer to another school as they were already late for enrollment. The subsequent vacation of their father seemed to provide a glimpse of what was about to happen then.

By chance, my Aunt discovered another cell phone of her husband. She read some text messages of endearment from someone addressed to her husband. When confronted, he said that those messages were wrongly sent. My Aunt blindly believed him and they continued to be together as usual. But after that vacation, her husband became unreasonably suspicious and jealous.

When my Aunt found out about his mistress and their child, all the hopes and expectations of the family were shattered. We realized that my Uncle’s paranoia over my Aunt’s alleged affair was after all a reflection of his own guilt. He tried to hide his infidelity by pointing suspicion towards my Aunt.

The happy family then was gone and the dreams of the children were all shattered. My cousins believed that their father left to work abroad in order to provide them with a better life and to give them good education. However, what their father has done was to compromise their future schooling and even some of their basic needs were sacrificed. He did not uplift the lives of his children; rather he made them suffer more emotionally.

I am just hoping at this point that he has realized how deep the wounds he has inflicted on his three boys. But more so, I hope that he will be led to the right path in order to heal the pain that he caused his children. I pray that even if they could no longer be whole as a family again, my cousins could still recover from the emotional and psychological pain that the situation has caused them.

Content but wanting

I thought after that sad experience of my Aunt’s family, everything will be calm since all of us in the family are trying to recover from the heartbreaking affair. But barely a year has passed and another appalling episode happened.

This time, it happened to my Uncle, my Mom’s only brother, who is also an OFW. He has been working in different countries for more than a decade. After barely two years of working abroad, he decided to settle down and start his own family. He and his wife were blessed with two kids, a girl and a boy.

As the only son in the family that was orphaned by a father when he was only 2 years old, my Uncle matured responsibly. In fact, according to my Mom, my Uncle finished his college degree as a working student. The difficulties and hardships in life could have been his driving force that was why he strove harder and prepared a better life for his own family.

Aside from enrolling his children in a good quality school, my Uncle also allotted money for their extra-curricular activities like ballet, piano, and art lessons. My Uncle is aware that his job is not for life so when he found a better paying work contract five years ago, he decided to start building their house, and availed of a short –term loan from a bank. In less than a year the house was constructed and his family moved in immediately, vacating the small room that they were renting in Manila.

Other than this property, he also acquired three more properties as investments, bought a car, and provided a capital for his wife to invest in a small snacks stall in a college near their residence.

Earlier on, he agreed to the request of his wife to study for a two-year computer course. My Uncle consistently sent his remittances covering all their financial obligations and budget. In fact, even the family of his wife has also benefited from my Uncle’s generosity. He was able to send to school the younger brother of her wife, and provided capital for a variety store for her mother.

I salute my Uncle’s commitment to his family’s welfare by providing the best for them. However, we were caught in disbelief when surprising realities one by one unfolded. The first was a notice from a law office asking payment for a credit card loan amounting to a little more than two hundred thousand, which was not known to my Uncle.

Several months after, another notice came, this time from the bank where the newly constructed house was placed as collateral and supposed to be in its last year of payment. The notice informed my Uncle that their property was for public auction due to one year delay in monthly amortization. My Mom had no choice but to inform my Uncle who at that time was still overseas. He was shocked to learn of these circumstances because he never failed to send the remittance for all the financial obligations of the family, aside from the regular amount of their monthly budget in the household.

My Uncle was forced to come home so that he could personally attend to the problems at hand. As if these problems were not enough, when he arrived from abroad, he learned of other misdemeanors of his wife.

He discovered that aside from the house and lot, another property was pawned, while the other one was sold without the consent of my Uncle. He also discovered that the car was pawned for the second time, and each of the educational plans of my two cousins was also auctioned. I cannot find a word to describe my Uncle’s devastation upon the discovery of these problems. He trusted his wife so much that he cannot imagine all these misfortunes have happened, unfolding to him one by one.

But one thing I admire most about my Uncle is that in the midst of hurting and frustration, he never confronted his wife with physical violence. He said that his deep faith in God and his love for his two kids were the reasons why he did not want to resolve their problems with another problem.

My Uncle provided a comfortable life for his family. They were pampered with all the basic needs and wants, plus other extravagance to enjoy. But I cannot comprehend why all these blessings were not valued by his wife. If those were just because of plain mishandling of money, why did his wife allow them to lose almost all their properties?

She and the children were provided with a secure life far from her beginnings and perhaps she was unable to handle the sudden change in her lifestyle and the extravagance. But as the saying goes, one cannot have it all. She might have enjoyed a “full life” at the expense of my Uncle’s sacrifices abroad, but today she lost everything including her family. It was sad. Another member of my family experienced devastation because of migration.

Different but the same

With the turn of these sad events, first to my Aunt and now to my Uncle, I have witnessed two different circumstances but the conclusions are the same... hampered dreams and broken families. In the case of my Aunt’s family, it is the OFW husband who went astray. On my Uncle’s side, it is the wife left behind who went off track. Obviously in these situations both the OFW and the members of the family left behind are both vulnerable to risk factors. The one who leaves the country has to be emotionally strong to combat loneliness and longing for the absent family.

On the other hand, the family members left behind are vulnerable to different challenges. Without any preparation, eventual change of lifestyle mainly due to the material benefits that come with remittances may have an effect on family relationships.

As an only child nurtured by a loving mother and a migrant father, I know that many people in our neighborhood regard us as a “well off” family, expecting that we have more money to spend for our whims and caprices.

With no grounding, we might have conformed to their expectations and led an extravagant lifestyle. Fortunately, I grew up knowing very well how to save money and budget my allowance. I was taught by my mother how to be responsible, so as to lessen the burden of my father abroad. Having witnessed how my Uncle’s sacrifices have been taken for granted by his wife, I now better understand the importance for the family to be prepared for the new set-up of having an absentee parent and the sudden change in financial liquidity. The migrant’s family has to become frugal and ensure that remittance is used for its intended purpose.

Questions and more questions

Migration comes in duality. The consequences of migration to the family may be good or bad, depending on how equipped the members are to cope with the challenges that come with it. Probably, migration worked for my family because each one of us - myself, my mother, and my father - is committed to our goal to live a comfortable life as a family, to be together soon, and to make up for the many years of sacrifices during the separation.

As I mentioned earlier, my father started to work overseas when I was just two years old. Now that I’m turning nineteen, he still keeps his overseas job because he said he is still getting pleasure from the job and its fruits which our little family is also enjoying. He also said that he will ensure a sustainable investment when he comes back for good for lack of better employment opportunity for a returning overseas Filipino worker (OFW).

I guess the lack of good employment opportunities has forced many Filipinos to work away from their families. I have friends within the neighborhood whose parents are overseas workers.

Indeed, employment abroad seems to be the only path available for most Filipinos who want to improve their quality of life nowadays.

I cannot help but be worried about the future of the young generation, people like me who would soon be graduating from the university.

How many thousands of us will resort to overseas employment? What is the future of young couples or families just starting? How many more children will grow without a complete set of parents around? Up to what extent of pain due to separation can children endure? Will Philippine society just accept the looming threat of international migration at the expense of Filipino families? Is this kind of reality in the Philippine economy inevitable, or could it be reversed?

I know that international migration is not bad at all. In fact, when a good opportunity comes, it provides better life and future to families, especially if the family has set a clear perspective and goals. However, the impact of migration is not always good, just like what happened to my cousins’ families. The purpose of leaving may be clear but if one member of the family goes off target and did not hold on to their goals along the way, then everything may be lost.

For me, with my experiences and those that I have witnessed from my relatives, the best lesson I learned is to prepare and come out with a clear perspective of migration.

Families of migrants must always be in touch, remind each other about their dreams and aspirations, and share their daily difficulties so that hand in hand they can work out solutions before it’s too late. Yet for now, there is one more question that keeps on flashing in my mind; will it be possible that international migration in the Philippine context be just one of the many choices in the menu of employment opportunities in the future? If yes, I hope it will be soon, before the time comes when the likes of me join the labor force.