Filipinos are known for their fierce devotion and loyalty to their families. It’s not uncommon to find three generations living under one roof. Rearing their young children themselves and taking care of aging parents at home are time-honored family traditions. Married couples who split apart are generally frowned upon. (This is probably why the proposed divorce law will never see the light of day in this conservative and staunchly Catholic nation.)
But not all is well on the Filipino home front because poverty has crept into a large percentage of the population. According to a 2015 Asia Development Bank study, about 21.6% of the Philippine population lives below the national poverty line.
Since the 1970s, hundreds of thousands of Filipino men and women have joined the global diaspora either as skilled workers or professionals, leaving behind their parents, husbands, wives and young children in search of so-called greener pastures even if these pursuits will point them to strife-torn countries where they have to risk their lives. We call them “overseas Filipino workers” (OFWs).
They work long hours as miners, construction workers, nurses, caregivers, seafarers, domestic helpers, or hotel staff in faraway Scandinavia, Europe, or the Middle East, and yet their vacation time lasts only a few weeks in a year! Imagine these unsung modern-day heroes (acknowledged as having kept the Philippine economy afloat) being given only a morsel of time to spend with their families every year.
Most OFWs are husbands leaving behind their lonely wives back home. Yes, the phenomenon of solo parenting has swept across Philippine society. In 2015, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) placed the number of solo parents in the country at three million, of whom two million were female – not counting the number of Filipino women who want to have children but don’t want husbands!
Certainly, OFWs cannot be blamed for wanting to make both ends meet, pay the bills, send their children to good schools, and save for a rainy day. And their life stories are often tragic: many have been wrongly accused in their host countries of drug dealing. Others have languished in jails awaiting execution; many domestic helpers have suffered at the hands of abusive employers. Likewise, husbands are often shocked to suddenly find out that all their “dollar remittances” have been squandered by their wives.
Another Work Motive
Then there is another set of OFWs who have chosen to work outside the country to enable their families back home to maintain an affluent lifestyle. Their families live in large, nice, three-car-garage homes. They take expensive vacations, wear designer clothes and shoes, and buy top-of-the-line smartphones, laptops, and home appliances.
The wives do not seem to mind that their husbands come home only at Christmas or when there’s a death in the family. The husbands also don’t seem bothered that they are total strangers to their neighbors. Their children don’t miss them and often see their homecoming fathers or mothers as overstaying house guests.
If you happen to dine in malls and restaurants in Metro Manila, you can see families seated together at table — but they’re not talking to each other. Children are busy poring over the latest gossip about their favorite celebrities on Twitter. If they ever speak a word to each other, it is said and met with a frown, not a smile or a gesture of respect or affirmation.
A Crisis We Have Created
How has it come to this: spouses who are strangers to each other; children who don’t know their parents or what they do for a living; solo parents with secret lovers; lonely husbands who have picked up a gambling habit; wives given all the comforts of life but no husbands to share them with; babies born out of wedlock; children who define their self-worth by messages on Facebook? We have the problem of self-absorbed teenagers who easily give in to depression or entertain suicidal thoughts because they failed the college entrance test and Millennials who cannot cope with the harsh realities of life because they have not been taught the value of hard work, along with the virtues of fortitude, modesty and temperance.
The diaspora has also given rise to self-centered parents obsessed with the pursuit of material wealth. Doesn’t this show a lack of faith? How can OFWs be so clueless that they are paying such a dear price for being away from their families? Are they all so naïve that they don’t know what hit them?
Yes, communication technology has made it easy for family members to talk, even if they’re at far ends of the globe, but must technology be an excuse for skipping the family dinner even on weekends? Would we call this a life?
How has it come to this – what Pope Francis calls “the frenetic loneliness of modern life”? These are honest questions for Filipino society.
Let me hazard a guess: it is discontent triggered by unbridled materialism. The result? People give too much attention to the things of this world and not much attention on building strong family bonds, or, more importantly, on their own mortality.
There is a crisis happening among Filipino families – a crisis that has eroded a value system once anchored in perseverance, Christian charity, and faith in Divine Providence.