My editor asked this question right after I went back to work: “Bakit umuwi ka pa? (Why would you want to return?)” The Executive Producer of a morning newscast asked me the same, with additional input: “Something is very wrong with you.” This was not the first time I heard these remarks.
I have just returned from a two-week vacation from London, not just as a tourist though. By virtue of a visa, I’m also technically a resident of England.
People have been telling me for years that I should stay in the land of the Beatles and Harry Potter — in a tone as if it’s really a general rule to want to live outside the Philippines.
And why shouldn’t it be? 12 million of our fellows are unemployed, according to independent polls. Our Social Security System has an unfunded liability of P1.07 trillion. Now the SSS is transferring the burden on its members by increasing the contribution rate just so funds won’t go dry. The government shoulders only a quarter of our healthcare spending.
And I can leave all that, for the United Kingdom no less — for a country that gives me partial medical benefits even if I’m not its citizen, yet I have always returned to Manila, time and time again.
Here are the entitlements I could have had in England: a job that will pay P100,000 monthly, an apartment and a car which the government would help me pay
But I didn’t and this is how I turned out. I’m a contractual employee who has no social security whatsoever. I just tend to my illness with a P10 paracetamol or a P300 massage if I could afford it. My vacation leaves from work will not be paid for too. I live in a condominium unit which my mother pays for. Threats of eviction loom every other month whenever she feels like she should no longer be supporting her 24 year old daughter who’s supposed to be a professional.
“I swear you have to move out and get your own place soon.”
“Sure, I’ll just rent a room in Quezon City. It’s near work.”
There is always a sigh at the end of these conversations. They were sighs that used to be: “just move here and that wouldn’t be a problem.”
Except for the house, I have lived within my means and fended for myself after graduation, to assure her I’m okay. I want to believe I have lessened her worries. After 11 years, I think she has accepted that as much as I enjoy being in England, I will never call it home.
I was the child lent only to her by my dreams. I defied her wishes, one after the other. I chose to come back after only a year of living in England. I chose to take up Journalism instead of Nursing which would have eventually brought me to the 1.4 million-strong Health Care Industry in England.
Instead of leaving the Philippines immediately after graduating from UST, I chose to get a job at a newspaper — later at a little-known magazine which would pay me just above the minimum salary. I chose to take on the struggles of the “overworked and underpaid.”
Despite all the apparent advantages of a first world country, why is Manila better than London?
My answer is simple: it is here where my dreams came true. If I move to England, what are my chances to still be a journalist? To still get to write, even? But that’s not to say Manila is the safer choice. If anything, it’s the more difficult one to make.
Times are hard for the dreamers, especially in a city with too many people but so little resources to spare. But that is exactly what’s pushing us to strive.
British students are offered free Nursing Education just so the UK government could fill the countless jobs they refuse to offer to non-European citizens. If you get knocked up, the government will provide you a house, send you to school and give you an allowance so you can continue being productive. Blue-collar jobs pay enough so you can get a house, have a family, send your children to school and still have enough left for some luxury such as out-of-country holidays. Contentment comes very easy.
But I do not live to just be content. Neither do Filipinos.
In England, a lot of people stay in their counties and go by never getting to see London, to try and make it there. Here, young people are moving to Manila every chance they get. Stories of boys and girls from small towns making it happen in the city are unfolding everyday. Because perseverance is what we’re made of.
It’s in our DNA. We are hard-wired to always try and seek better opportunities.
It doesn’t justify this kind of set-up though. For one, our provinces should be able to provide the same opportunities for its locals, precisely what the pork barrel should have done had it not been for corruption. Our government should be providing more jobs. 300,000 unemployed licensed nurses is an anomaly; 7 million graduates working below their skills is not acceptable.
Our system is problematic. That has been known for a long time now. But allow me to use a rhetoric that celebrates the fact that we strive to defy the odds.
It is here in Manila where girls in denim shorts hang out in malls, sing karaoke in stores, and later, at the Ellen Degeneres Show.
It is here where street children learn the intricacies of soccer, and later, compete at the Homeless World Cup.
It is here where a crippled boy from Tanauan, Batangas battled poverty to become the Brains of the Revolution.
It is here where the people topple a 21-year dictatorship, and declare the corrupt system of pork barrel illegal.
How did we do it? Because we said we would and we said we can. We dreamed and made it happen. There is no other place filled with so much accounts of perseverance and triumph than here.
Daniel Dejapin, a street vendor in Manila at the age of six, is on his way to the Robert Bosch College in Germany for a full scholarship.
Yeb Saño from Leyte now negotiates for the country in the global discussion of Climate Change.
The young boxer Mark Barriga from Davao del Norte competed in the 2012 London Olympics
Manny Pacquiao, the scrawny kid from General Santos City who we now call the “People’s Champ,” was the richest statesman in the House of Representatives — and is now a Senator!
I’m not in their league yet but I also came from the province. I was a girl from Tarlac who joined every campus journalism contest since I was 10 and lost every one of them. Now I find myself with a few minutes of national TV airtime everyday, getting to do what I have always dreamed of.
There are a million others like me, who will one day have the choice to leave the country. They should; some would. I am not closing my doors too. But in the meantime, let me pay homage to Manila, the city that has taken care of me, inspired me, and made me see that we are not a hopeless case. It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible.
Dreams come true here. They do everyday. You just have to give it a chance.
[Entry 30, The SubSelfie Blog]
Post Script, July 22, 2014:
To address issues raised by some readers, I just want to clarify that this essay is in no way meant to romanticize my labor plight. I don’t like being contractual, it hurts me every time I’m reminded I have no social security. If anything, I wrote this to raise awareness, a call to authorities and corporations, that this country is abundant with young people who are willing to contribute even if they don’t get anything much in return. And it’s probably high time that we are taken care of, nurtured, and given importance so more of us will stay, without sacrificing a lot.
About the Author:
Lian Nami Buan is the Associate Editor of SubSelfie.com. She leads the #SubStory and #TanawMindanao segments of the website. She also produces special reports for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. She wants to shift focus to human rights, particularly indigenous people, women and migration. Whenever she has money, she travels to collect feelings for writing material. Journalism 2010, UST. Read more of her articles here.
39 Comments Add yours
You are 25 and young … the best time to be a dreamer. I feel inspired reading your words … and I am one of those who chose to leave. I do not reget my decision, I feel grateful for having a nice paying job with social benefits in a land that is not my own. I worked for over 10 years in our dear motherland and did not feel the validation I hoped for after long years of service. I wish you the best in your intentions and endeavors … wherevery they may lead you 🙂
Ang ganda ng mga sinusulat mo Lian. What a gift. Natawa ako dun sa “been joining journalism contests since 10 and lost every one of them..” something na part. Ako din kasi, pero di ako kasing tapang and confident mo para ituloy yung pangarap ko maging journalist nung bata pa ako. Dahil hanggang division level lang ako nananalo, sabi ko sa sarili ko hindi ako magiging journalist. period. 🙂
Tingin ko maraming Filipino young professionals would choose to work here if only opportunities were better. Forced by their circumstances madalas kaya umaalis ng bansa.
Naku, buti ka nga umaabot ng division!!!! Ako sa district pa lang talo na agad 🙂 I think it’s what made me so persistent. I never get things on a silver platter and I think that’s what helped me, and it’s what I always think of whenever I doubt my decision to stay here. Is it an easy decision, no. But is it the right one, yes, it feels like it all the time 🙂 Maraming salamat sa pagbabasa mo ng mga sinulat namin! 🙂
I can truly relate with your essay. I’m a retired enlisted personnel from the Philippine Air Force and at my advanced age(62) still works as a caregiver here in California . I could choose to stay in our beloved country with my monthly retirement pay which I think is sufficient to live a quality life, but the political/government environment prevailing at home forced me to stay here, I’m a greencard holder though. If only our government leaders will do their job honestly and give to its citizens what is due them we could prosper and not lose homegrown talents.
Your piece is an eye opener. There is no place better than home, so I make it a point to enjoy a month vacation annually.
I am going to fly back within this week to Manila,leaving the comfort of Dubai which became a home for me for more than three years. It is a choice I made, a choice people questioned and doubted. This article just explains everything I feel. I felt kahit papaano nagkaron ako ng kakampi, someone who would understand my choice. I’m not even sure if I made the right choice. I just felt I have to give it a try. As you’ve said, “Dreams come true here. They do everyday. You just have to give it a chance.” Thanks for writing this!
I watched a local documentary tonight about an Education Graduate in the province who is cleaning houses so she can pay to review for the licensure exam. She also works as a volunteer teacher, a job that she spends on more than she earns from. If she can make het dreams come true in the most difficult circumstances, there’s no way that we can’t. I also felt that realistically speaking, we are a land of broken dreams, but its people like her who picks up the pieces and tries hard to put the country back together. And if she can do that — I also dont see why we shouldn’t.
Thanks for reading, and welcome home! 🙂
I want to be in London someday 🙂 Great article!
I stopped reading the rest of your article right after this, “My answer is simple: it is here where my dreams came true. If I move to England, what are my chances to still be a journalist? To still get to write, even?” This simply shows you do not have confidence in your own talent. Really? I think a lot of Filipinos worked hard and excelled in other countries. It would have been better if you said you wanted contribute to the welfare of your motherland. But your article is merely for your own sake.
Talent is not everything, neither confidence – the reality is that a Filipino journalist accepted in a foreign country is one in a million. “Your article is merely for your own sake” – you misread Lian.
Thank you for reading.
The reality is, Journalism is not a lucrative career for Filipinos abroad. It transcends race, anyone who was raised in her native land and wishes to pursue a Journalism career in a foreign country would have a hard time. The training is different, the landscape is different, one would have to master cultural nuances in order to put stories in the proper context. The reason why the great journalists of our time are great is because they have spent years observing the nitty gritty of this country; that would just be too difficult to do if you’re switching countries. Many have tried and many have succeeded, yes, the likes of Maria Ressa and Sheila Coronel, for example. But let’s be practical, I’m no Maria Ressa or Sheila Coronel, and that is not a lack of belief in my talent, just the acceptance that I am still so young and has A LOT to experience and learn. And I am willing to do the experiencing and learning here, whatever it takes.
As per the contributing to the motherland, I will not parade myself as someone patriotic, I’ll give that to the ones who are truly working for the country, but I will not dismiss my job as a journalist as nothing. It’s something, and something is a big thing.
No matter the difference of opinion though, we agree on two things: that Filipinos are talented and that it’s important to contribute.
Salamat sa pagbabasa 🙂
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Hi! I got here from GMA News Online.
Thank you so much for the hope you still have in this country. I observe blog comments and it saddens me how the status quo is really more cynical than hopeful, how “better” is always “not Filipino,” how we deplore that there’s crab mentality in this country yet continually bring down positive, empowering stories like yours. The way your essay was received was evidence of such: the hopeful turn of the second part got eradicated, if only for them to emphasize that you made the wrong choice and they know better—you shouldn’t be here.
To a better Philippines!
(If you’ve been to where BBC’s Sherlock was shot, though, I’m mighty jealous. Hahaha.)
Thank you so much for reading! This is a story I’ve always wanted to write. Since 11 when I came back. But I couldn’t write it at the time because I couldn’t justify it yet. Having worked in Media, having been witness to a lot of stories — it finally gave me the validation I have been waiting for all my life. That we are not hopeless. I don’t blame the ‘negative’ commenters, though, I get their point. There are a lot of flaws about this country. There are flaws to my decision, too.
But I live to prove them wrong.
To a better Philippines, indeed!
(PS Hindi ako Sherlock fan e, so hindi ko sinubukang puntahan ang set nila. I have been to the Harry Potter Warner Bros studios though, if you’re an HP fan — a fickle attempt to make you “mighty jealous” — haha 🙂
“I live to prove them wrong.” Powerful stuff.
I want to see the day when we don’t need to prove anything. “I live.” Full stop. Haha.
(You don’t need to try HAHA the fact that you’ve been to England is something I’m jealous of. Mightily. Hahahaha.)
Let’s take back the power! We, young ones, rule. Pa-powerful. :))
Salamat sa pagbabasa sa Subselfie. Read our other blogs, too! 🙂
Umpisahan mo na sa England travelogue ko, for more envy: https://subselfie.com/2014/06/16/entry-12-england-memoirs-london-cambridge-and-hertfordshire/
You don’t know how happy and inspired this article made me. Ang astig nito! Feeling ko nakahanap ako ng kakampi. 99% of people I talk to doesn’t get why I would give up on the “high-paying job.” And this explained it well. Gusto ko rin sa field ng media. Film, to be specific. Ilang buwan pa lang mula ‘nung dumating ako dito sa states at nagdecide na ‘for good’ na ako. Gusto ko lang dito, eh, magaral at kumuha ng experience. Babalik rin talaga ako sa Pilipinas. Salamat sa article na ‘to! Madami ka pang maiinspire at marami din ang makakaintindi sa wakas. 🙂 I’d like to meet you one day. See you sa daan, baka magkabanggan lang tayo.
Hi Lara! Salamat sa pagbabasa! Yung comment mo ay validation din na marami rin talaga tayong magkaka-kampi 🙂 I’ve gotten shit for my decisions in life, but I guess they just don’t understand. Enjoy USA! Ako man ay pangarap ko ring mangibang-bansa para matuto pa at sa pagbalik, ay maraming ma-apply sa mga natutunan.
Hi Lian! Because you got wonderful stories in your website, I decided to make one of my own. HAHAHA But I’m not good about this. I appreciate your positivity … about our country and the rest. I hope there are many Filipinos just like you. So I hope to know more about you. 🙂 I hope we’ll be friends. I have a lot of stories to tell too. 🙂
Thank you for reading. Glad we have inspired you to write, too. Looking forward to reading your stories!
This is really an inspiring message to those who want to come back and serve our beloved country. 🙂 When I finish my grad studies, I would like to go back too! Hopefully, I could contribute a little to improve our environment.
Thanks for reading! Saan ka ngayon nag-aaral? You know I have always said I would study abroad someday, but it’s just so expensive. I hope someday I can afford it 🙂
Write about studying abroad for those of us who have wild dreams of it 🙂
have you tried to pursue journalism in London?
Not yet. Applied for a 2-week program at The Guardian but didn’t get in. Have wild dreams going to Grad School there but I need to save up first 🙂
I am a teacher; I taught myself how to write. I give you a high grade for writing. I give a higher grade for staying. And I give you the highest grade for sharing all these things.
I was trained to be a teacher; I taught myself how to write. I give you a high grade for writing; I give you a higher grade for staying; and the highest grade for writing all these things.
Thank you so much for reading! 🙂
I love the way this was written. Manila is home =)
Thank you for reading! 🙂
what an inspiring story…i will share this to your fellow alumnus who dreams of going to japan for her first job. may your lifestory continue to inspire others. mabuhay ka Lian!
Thank you, Judy!
Let me make it clear though that I am, in no way, saying that leaving the country for greener pastures is wrong. It’s not. Everyone deserves to chase after their dreams, wherever they may be. Mine just happens to be here at home. And whether they become citizens of that country, they will always be Filipinos, and they’re always welcome to come back home. 🙂
You write really well (as you always have) but now with even more depth and insight. Everything in life is a choice, one that we each must make for ourselves. My hats off to you for choosing the Philippines, there are indeed many great opportunities in your home country, but to hear of your condition – contractual, no benefits, and a measly paycheck each month – that too dear is a result of choice. Your article cites examples of people that were not victimized by their own circumstances. Sure you can be “in their league” when you realize that you have within you the power to reach for what you aspire to be.
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Hi Pan (?) Do we know each other? Hehe.
Thank you so much for reading. And for the concern. It was very difficult in the beginning, but it’s gotten so much better now. I get by, I’m happy, and I’m young 🙂 Call it disillusionment, but I think if I just continue, more of my dreams will come true.
Again, thank you! 🙂