Why I Became an Advocate for Philippine Issues

A speech delivered on 22 Feb 2013 at “Activate TO”

by Anakbayan-Toronto Chair, Rhea A. Gamana.

Rhea SONA 2012

I used to say that activists, especially the youth, were just complaining, paralyzing the traffic, and that they should do more productive things rather than going out to yell on the streets. I used to say to myself that they should just go abroad and earn a living.  Then they would have a better life and could be able to provide their families. I changed my attitude when I reunited with my mother.  Now I understand why they do those things. I am now one of them.

My mother used to be a government employee in the Philippines, but since her salary wasn’t enough to provide for us, she decided to come to Canada and be a live-in caregiver. She left my brother and I behind.  This is a common story for Filipinos.

In the last four decades, a Labour Export Policy (LEP) has been implicitly implemented to address the economic crisis in the country. This is not a long-term and people friendly solution to poverty.

OFW Deployment photo

The Philippine economy does not have a national industrialization plan to end underdevelopment. Instead it depends on remittances from overseas Filipino workers. Their numbers continue to rise under the administration of current President Benigno Aquino III. The LEP divides families. There are now 4500 leaving every day to work in different countries. The Philippines is the number one source country of migrants to Canada.

I was a good student and daughter in the Philippines. I took care of my family. Yet I was always sad that I couldn’t speak to my mother face-to-face if I needed advice from her.

When the time had come that we were going to reunite with her, I was nervous but happy. Prior to coming here in Canada, we attended a few orientations where they told us that Canada was a better place to achieve the future I wanted.

My Philippine educational attainment was considered nothing here in Canada. I had graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English, and wanted to become a lawyer or a teacher. A week after our arrival here in Canada almost 7 years ago, I applied for a job at a fast food chain.

I resigned myself to working as a part-time cashier while waiting for the right time to go back to college. After working for almost a year, my workplace got robbed.  I thought I would die that day. The robber pointed the gun towards my stomach, and hit my head on the cash register.

That day changed me. I was diagnosed with PTSD, and that lasted for three years. This was not what I expected from a country like Canada. It was not what was described to us in the pre-departure orientation session we received in the Philippines.

According to a study titled “Filipinos in Canada: Economic Dimensions of Immigration and Settlement” by Dr. Philip Kelly of York University, Filipino immigrants have the highest educational attainment of all migrant groups yet still tend to be deskilled. For example, if I was a nurse in the Philippines, I could only work here as a nanny or personal support worker. In my case, I wasn’t able to use my education here in Canada at all.

Research also shows that children of Filipino migrants make less money than their parents and have a lower educational attainment.  According to Statistics Canada, 32% of first generation Filipinos have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 28% of the second generation.

The Philippines is a semi-colonial country, which means that the country itself is not independent and remains under the control of Western imperialism. The Philippines is a semi-feudal nation. Big business landlords and elites exploit the natural resources and the cheap serf-like labour of the country. This results in the displacement of families who then migrate to urban areas or to other countries to find a better living.

It makes me wonder why the Canadian government only allows one family member to come to Canada if they need more people here.

The Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) is a program of the federal government allowing Canadians to import temporary migrant live-in caregivers, known around the world as domestic workers.

If they complete the program they can become Canadian citizens and sponsor their family through the reunification program.  This takes an average of seven years, sometimes more.  That’s a long time to be separated from your family.  A long time spent taking care of the children of others, while your own need you at home.

This aspect of the program causes damage to family relationships, one that affects the children deeply—this I can tell you from personal experience.

Canadians need to be aware that we are part of this system. Not only here in Canada through our immigration policies, but also in the Philippines where Canadian imperialism contributes to forced migration. Part of our taxes goes to fund Canadian companies in the Philippines (especially in the mining sector), and Canadian military training of the Philippine armed forces to help protect those companies and forcefully displace Filipinos from the countryside through militarization.

I want a Philippines with true democracy and true independence. I want justice for the marginalized and underrepresented.

Today I am the Chairperson of Anakbayan-Toronto. We advocate for human rights, and we struggle for national industrialization that will keep Filipino families intact and ensure that no one will have to leave the country for a better life.  I don’t want any child to suffer what I went through.

Anakbayan-Toronto will not stop calling for national industrialization and genuine land reform in the Philippines, This is the only way that Filipinos will be able to work decent jobs, and not have to leave the country.

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