What answer can you possibly provide to a question that has more often than not been answered with more than just a term of office or a business deal in mind?
The Philippines is a country with more people than Australia, the Netherlands and South Korea put together. Yet with all of these people, a third are under 15, that is almost 26m children, that is 6m more people than in the whole of Australia and 10m more than in the Netherlands. What can we do with all these children?
To quote a cheesy line from a cheesy song… “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way…” Are we doing enough with the children back home? Are we just simply getting them through the education system or are we building the hopes, dreams and ambitions of these children? It is a fact that we have an excellent adult literacy rate and a population with an above average grasp of the global language, English. However, is that still the case? Are these truths created by a system designed to get workers to go abroad and send money home? Or to get Foreign companies to use Filipino call-centres? Has the focus now switched to getting Filipinos jobs in the Philippines? Where does the Filipino child stand in a country with 170 languages?
There is a movement in the Philippines which follows the MLE or Multilingual Education model which sets out that the mother tongue of children should be used in the classroom to facilitate their learning, development and grasp of communicating knowledge. This of course is difficult when there are 21.5m Tagalog speakers, 18.5m Cebuano speakers, 7.7m Ilokano speakers and 9 other languages with over 1m speakers. There has always been confusion on formal language in the Philippines, which is why you often hear ‘Taglish’ on Filipino TV and in the malls and boardrooms of the country’s major cities.
The 1987 constitution states the national language as Filipino, including its evolution as it is developed and enriched by existing Philippine and other languages. Yet in the next section it states ‘For purposes of communication and instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English.’ No wonder ‘Taglish is now the language of choice by many of the Filipino ‘elite’ and ‘Teleseryes’.
This is where it gets complicated, should policy be driven regionally or nationally? This is a question that needs a more informed and astute head than mine. What I do know is if children in the Philippines are being taught that escaping to work abroad or working for a foreign company is the goal then we are not doing the children justice. And what of the children born outside the Philippines? Five children of Filipino origin are born in the UK a day, what is in place for their Filipino experience?
An idea that has been tabled by many people across many continents that will provide more opportunities for both parties is of relocation, repatriation and exchange. By providing a support system for those of Filipino origin to learn the national language, learn Philippine history, get jobs, homes, schooling for their children in the Philippines then we will see a greater difference to our country. Unlike Israel, India and South Korea, Filipinos born abroad do not go back to make a life or make a difference, seeing family, shopping and hot weather is often the only reason people ‘go back home’. If ‘going back home’ actually meant something more permanent, then the level of skills, knowledge, experience and investment in the Philippines would surely increase. It is no secret that foreign investment in the Philippines today is actually lower than the level before the current administration came into power.
One thing the Philippines can do is make it easier for ‘Foreigners’ to own property, land and businesses in the Philippines. This extends to repatriating the many children of migrant workers and offering more active educational and professional exchange programmes.
Another issue commented on by many tourists and bakilbayans, is the state of the country’s infrastructure. The national roads are good in places, you can travel freely and a lot of investment has gone into this area, however it is not enough. I once asked the mayor of a town why he doesn’t fix the roads (the pot holes and cracks meant even tricycles had to swerve around each other, delaying journey times and making for a less than comfortable ride) he replied by simply rubbing his thumb and fore finger together. Local investment is often not there.
So how can we make a difference from here in the UK? Does all this actually affect me and my family? These are the questions people often ask me. Well the most important thing is that we should care what happens in the Philippines. As a second generation Filipino, policy and government do affect me here, my family there and most importantly when I go back home. These affects are both direct and indirect, from legislation defining what I can do in the country to legislation that affects the image of a country that I represent in my day to day life.
We are at a point where the Philippines is in need of inspiration, the current Presidential battle of dynastic savior and proponent of the anti-corruption campaign, Nonoy Aquino and supreme capitalist with a rags to riches story, billionaire Senator Manny Villar may provide a spark, however it does have a strange feeling of familiarity about it all that is less than inspiring.
The biggest way we can help the Philippines in improving education, infrastructure and development socially and economically is by registering to vote, then using that vote. Also, if the appetite is there, find out how easy it is to relocate to the Philippines, what you can do at a very local level or on a much larger scale. This could include volunteering in the Philippines or helping your family with their own business. Another option would be to take a bigger interest in the country and what is happening, the more you know, the easier you can identify problems and explain possible solutions.
Ultimately, it is down to the future Government to put in place a clearly defined programme of how to engage with those of Filipino origin or the diaspora, a term used here in the UK.
At Philippine Generations we have a pilot Filipino language scheme running for four consecutive weekends in March, we have also partnered with VSO (Volunteering Services Overseas), to offer support and opportunities to those who want to volunteer in the Philippines. As I write, money that we raised last year is being presented in the Philippines to two organizations, one building houses in Manila and Baguio for those affected by the Typhoons of last year and one rebuilding a centre used by PWDs (people with disabilities) that was badly flooded. Aside from these very direct ways of connecting the community here with the Philippines, we have many smaller projects that are constantly happening.
By Adrian Williams