The Inquirer.net story by Nikko Dizon says it all, the title of the piece underscoring the sorrows of exiles, those fellow Filipinos driven by despair and the dream to be redeemed from it, to go to other lands, this Lebanon of war and terror and death included. The title is apt, a social drama unto its own: “We slept with a dog, ate leftovers for $200/month.” We exiles in the United States do a quick calculus of our economic benefits and we can say we are better off here, plus or minus the terrors and surprises of living the life of second class residents and citizens, the second one if you are luckier than the rest.
That statement in open and close quotation permits the voice to come into the open and own up the ultimate tragedy behind them, not because they cause the tragedy to happen but because they are at the receiving end of this social drama. This time around though, the setting of that statement--the dialogue in that social drama--is Lebanon, a home of both the Christian and the Moslem God.
Paradise is empty now, emptied by this war that has wreaked havoc on the Lebanese as well as the Israelites.
But this war has wreaked more havoc on the dreams of the Filipino exiles in that land, those workers from the home country who have to leave home and heartland to earn the equivalent of $200 if the employing boss has some sense of justice and fairness, or $150 when the better of him makes him beside himself and sees not human beings in the Filipinos under his employ but servants and slaves of old who were only valued by their hands and labor they could contribute to run his household.
The Filipino workers in Lebanon have reached the Promised Land of God, the very land promised in the Old Covenant.
But this land of the Lebanese, as is the land of the Israelites, is as empty as the deep and dark abyss of hell. With brothers and siblings killing and murdering each other in the name of humanity, freedom, liberty, rights, and all those that are linked up with the right to live a humane life, we can never go wrong in this program of annihilating each other. And this annihilation is commencing in the sacred ground of the sacred God. Oh, the sorrows of our people in exile, in the land of God, is sacred and divine.
Here we go again with these ironies of believingness and belief, the same ironies that brought about the reign of terror during the Christian crusades, with warriors annihilating enemies in the name of a god, small letter, with no other goal in life except to win and keep the winning in the war at the expense of human lives.
And at the expense of the lives of the overseas Filipino workers in Beirut and the country’s other cities and districts.
What the war told us is the untold sufferings of our people in this land. The Inquirer account tells us more of the details that make you puke and realize that what happens in Beirut happens everywhere, with impotent and callous government officers tasked to protect our people in other lands unable to help those who need to be helped: “In their employer’s mansion in Lebanon, they slept in a little room, ate leftovers and worked from daybreak until midnight so they could earn $150 to $200 a month to send to their families in the Philippines.”
Darren Legaspi said in an interview with the Inquirer that “their contracts were not being followed by their Lebanese employers” and that this “was a common grievance shared by the returning overseas Filipino workers.” Legaspi also said that in that wealthy Lebanese extended household not unlike an extended Filipino household, “she and Filipino companions had to deal with a nasty Lebanese governess who makes them eat leftovers, at times nearly spoiled.”
Legaspi’s voice is personal and singular.
But it is in this sense of the personal and this sense of the singular that this voice assumes a new tone and pitch, temper and urgency. That voice is universal as well. And no less.
Of the estimated number of 3,000 OFWs already repatriated at the time of the Legaspi interview, you have with you tales of suffering and sorrow and exploitation and oppression numbering no less than 3,000.
We can even imagine here a multiplier, with many of the 3,000 OFWs telling tales that appear to be fantastic and imagined but are as real as the missiles and rockets Hezbollah fires up in the Israeli heavens to announce an untold destruction of life and limb; the same act is returned, in a calculated ritual of revenge by Israel’s army of warriors trained to protect a fragile homeland and to maim foes if necessary, with the United States on its side in this singular act of putting together a decent homeland for all of its people in the homeland and in the Diaspora.
I think of all these facts and figures, these numbers and this non-sense even as I end up an inutile spectator to all these forms of violence and war and inhumanity around me.
I am a writer, true, but the power of word is not there to account the misery that I see, this contradiction that I see, this meaningless act of destroying others in order to create one’s own dream. Why would destruction be the backgray of creation? I do not know and the answer is beyond me.
Such rationalizing and questing for an answer escapes me now as I stand to watch those who arrive at Manila’s international airport, the faces of the repatriated one of mixed joy and sorrow, but more of sorrow for the loss of livelihood in another land, a livelihood that nets one’s family some meager amount each month to tide them over, just to tide them over each month. In the homeland, those who live from month to month are a bit on the luckier side. But this Hezbollah-Israeli war has put an end to that luck, if we can call the conditions of the OFWs one such luck.
The sad part of the story is that this exodus goes on and on and there seems to be no let up to this exporting of warm bodies to other peoples and other climes.
We know, of course, that life and limb have been sacrificed and in this conflict between the Hezbollah and Israel, the conflict has become one of those who supply the war materials, with the United States providing the sophisticated rockets and missiles, and Hezbollah’s patrons providing their own armaments to kill Israeli cities and soldiers and civilians.
Wars, indeed, begin in the minds of men and women.
And the war in the empty stomachs of Filipinos eking it out in distant lands, wars or no wars, has just begun.
I think of these wars as tropes of the Filipino condition, the Filipino who leaves the homeland in order to be welcomed by another war somewhere else.
The OFW’s luck in life is tough, so damn tough.
A Solver Agcaoili
August 11, 2006