Tag Archives: OFW

Dave Chappelle is wrong about Filipina OFWs.

Dave Chappelle opined on the impact and importance of Manny Pacquiao. He mentioned that the women being sent overseas to do domestic work contributes considerably to the Philippine economy, leaving behind men to take care of children. Generations of children in the Philippines are growing up without their mothers. I quote, “Men are left rearing their children, twiddling their thumbs, waiting on their wives’ cheques. These men have been fucking emasculated.” But then suddenly, Manny Pacquiao, with his fists, reinstates Filipino men’s masculinity with his fists. Now, this was a small part of a longer spiel that involves Manny Pacquiao’s views on the LGBTQ community, and yeah, Dave Chappelle has his own issues with them as well, but I’m here to talk about his rather skewed view about Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) women and male masculinity.

He got this wrong. He got this so wrong.

I remember Chappelle saying that he read Pimp: The Story of My Life, and that he’s basically a student of Iceberg Slim. I can’t believe how he can’t see the similarities between Iceberg Slim’s life of taking advantage of women and having them work for him to the life of women OFWs. Chappelle himself said that fathers are “twiddling their thumbs” while their wives are out there in the Arabian peninsula and other places overseas working for slave wages and opening themselves to abuse and exploitation. Now, pardon me, and I don’t mean to compare Filipina OFWs to prostitutes, but I have issues with Chappelle seeing the men in these relationships as emasculated victims when they are more closer to being pimps.

Patriarchy is ingrained in Philippine culture. The first man in Philippine mythology was named “Malakas” (strong) and the first woman was “Maganda” (beautiful). As head of the household, he used his strength to beat his children out of the house because there were simply too many of them. He treated them more like pests than children. All of this while his wife simply let it happen, a passive actor. To this day, men are the heads of households. Celebrities and politicians still make hay out of their macho image. And despite twice having women heads of state, Filipino women still lag behind in women’s rights. The Catholic church doesn’t help in this matter either, with abortion being illegal and access to birth control a perpetual controversial issue.

According to a recent survey, 25% of Filipino women have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from their husband or partner. As surveys go, I tend to think that with such a sensitive topic, the percentage could be higher. Shame, denial, and fear makes reporting partner abuse more difficult to do compared with other types of crime. And now let’s look at OFWs. There are an estimated 2.2 million OFWs. 56% of OFW’s are women. 58% of these women work as living assistants and domestic workers. That’s around 700,000 women working as OFWs. In 2020, only 5000 cases of abuse were reported by OFWs. This can be anything from physical and sexual abuse, to workplace and contractual disputes. Let’s imagine that half of these cases are with women. That’s 2,500 out of 700,000. But again, as with surveys and sensitive subjects, I tend to believe that abuse is under reported, especially if the women’s employers are holding their passports and virtually control their existence in their respective countries.

Or maybe I’m just imagining things. Maybe my math is totally off. Maybe things are so good overseas that only less than 1 percent of women OFW ever suffer abuse.

The world is not made of candy and rainbows.

So women are sent overseas to live as domestic helpers, basically on call for most of the day as they live with their employers. They’re in a foreign environment, away from their children, friends, and relatives, probably occasionally facing discrimination and abuse, and most of the money they earn, they send back home to their husband and children back home. All of this, while the husbands twiddle their thumbs as Chappelle puts it. Does this sound like Filipino men are emasculated? Was Iceberg Slim emasculated when women worked for him while he twiddled his thumbs waiting for his cut of their pay? No. He was seen as an alpha male, in control of his women. And I can’t help but see the men who send their wives overseas to work as domestic helpers while they stay at home and wait for their remittance cheques as being lazy. They’re not pimps, but they sure get the better end of the deal in the relationship.

44% of OFWs are men. Why can’t that be higher? Why can’t the roles be reversed and have Filipino men be out there working while their wives stay at home, take care of their children? I’m not trying to be sexist and put women in the kitchen. But women are physically more vulnerable than men. Why would so many men put their wives at so much risk when there’s overseas work that men OFWs can do? Maybe they don’t want to be living assistants or domestic helpers, but they can work in other unskilled labor sectors like agriculture and manufacturing. I’ve met a few of these men OFWs in these fields before. (I sold my old computer to one. Gave him a great deal.) They are sending their money home to their wives and children. Why can’t there be more of them?

The thing is, the men who stay at home, I’m sure not all of them are lazy, perhaps they are also working. Good for them. Perhaps they are setting up their own businesses with the help of remittances from overseas. But it’s very hard to argue that they aren’t living a much better and more secure life in their home country compared to their wives overseas. Their neighbors are probably jealous that they get to spend time at home while they receive remittances which are likely higher than the average wage in the Philippines. They get to still be with their family and friends, heck, they can even go drink with their buddies late into the night. There is no isolation, prejudice, and constant risk of abuse. They are not emasculated. And if Dave Chappelle thinks that merely being the primary caregiver of children is emasculating, then he needs to get on with the times. The man doesn’t have to be the primary breadwinner. And yes, perhaps that “woke” statement is going against my main argument here, but I suspect that the majority of the men whose wives are overseas aren’t helpless actors in their situations. They don’t have to be “emasculated.” They can actually take action, keep their wives at home, and go overseas instead.

They don’t have to just sit there and wait, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Their wives are out there, working hard, missing their family, and sacrificing so much! These husbands could actually take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing them, end them. (I apologize, I just saw ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ and have Shakespeare’s lines from many of his plays on my head all day.)

Lastly, the idea that a boxer holding a long undefeated record would reinstate another person’s masculinity is laughable to me. Pacquiao’s success is his success. His masculinity is his masculinity, not the country’s; the same way his dumb comments about the LGBTQ is his and not anyone else’s. Yeah, he’s a boxing champ, and some Filipino men are still at home waiting for their wife to send them cheques from Dubai while they take care of the kids. It doesn’t change anything. This Filipino infatuation with macho figures is a pox on the country and just reinforces outdated patriarchal ideas. And if anything, I would say Filipinos and Filipino men need to get off from idolizing Pacquiao already and have better figures to look up to.

Dave Chappelle is wrong. Women OFWs, just like all OFWs, are modern-day heroes to the Philippines. But the husbands of the women OFWs are not emasculated. That is an insult to their autonomy.

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The OFW

Since the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, Filipinos seem to have been used mainly for their skills and labor. First it was within the country, growing and exporting crops for the Spanish empire. Then when the Americans took over in the 1900s, Filipinos started working in the US’ agricultural sector. They were sent to Hawaii as well as Mainland United States. This partly explains the considerable Filipino population in Hawaii. The other reason is that Filipinos also served in the US military, beginning in World War II. The Americans also began drawing educated Filipino professionals, including nurses, doctors, accountants, and engineers. Non-professionals also began working in other countries as artists, musicians, and laborers.

The former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos instituted the Labor Code of the Philippines, which eventually created the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (later becoming part of the Department of Labor and Employment), which basically functioned as the middle man between countries and Filipinos looking to work overseas. By 2023, the Department of Migrant Workers is set to be launched, looking over the rights, benefits, and welfare of overseas workers.

The country’s main industries are varied, from manufacturing, ship building, tourism, etc. But as of writing this article, around 10% of the country’s GDP is through remittances sent by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). This can be any laborer from skilled doctors to house helps. For decades, they have helped support countless of households and raised them to the middle-class, especially with the average monthly salary in the Philippines being 12,500 pesos ($240 US) in 2021. One can only imagine how much remittances can help with such a dire salary. One person working overseas can significantly improve a household’s lifestyle even if the OFW is only earning a meager salary by the overseas country’s standards. Now, imagine if this OFW is doing technical work. The remittances could potentially cover the salary of one or two people working in the Philippines of more, depending on the amount.

This is why it is in the best interest of the Philippine government to encourage Filipinos to work overseas, despite the long-term brain drain it might incur. Sure, the country is losing medical professionals, scientists, and engineers who decide to work abroad, but A) can companies in the Philippines compete with the salary these professionals can potentially earn in another country? And B) the remittances they send would be significantly higher than an OFW working as a blue collar laborer. This is not unique to the Philippines, however. One of the nurses who helped my mom was from China. Working in Canada as a hospice nurse, he used to be a surgeon in China. Better salary plus democracy, I don’t blame him for moving and working in Canada.

As countries develop and their populations move to jobs in cities, more and more industries in countrysides need migrant laborers to supplant the shortage of local workers. Take South Korea for example. Most Koreans are leaving their hometowns and moving to Seoul and its satellite cities in the hopes to work in its many conglomerates. Agricultural and manufacturing industries are then increasingly becoming more dependent on OFWs. It is not uncommon to see farmers or fishing boat captains leading a group of Filipinos to work in the absence of willing locals. An interesting aside, farmers in Korea are also left wanting for brides since many Korean women do not want to work in farms and take care of their in-laws in the countryside. This leaves Korean men in the countryside looking for partners overseas, particularly China, the Philippines, and Vietnam, creating matchmaking industries in Korea and these countries.

Growing up in the Philippines however, I learned of the term “japayuki,” which had a derogatory implication, suggesting that women OFWs in Japan working in the entertainment industry or “japayukis” are actually working in some form of prostitution. Technically, “japayuki” means any Filipino working in Japan, so foreign men doing manual labor or people working in a technical or medical field are indeed “japayukis,” but the word and the nebulous meaning of an “entertainment” visa feeds into the term suggesting prostitution. A couple of things however. One, in Korea, many foreigners who are arrested for prostitution in the country are either in the country on an entertainment visa or a tourist visa. Two, when I was in Hong Kong, I happened to stumble upon a very upbeat and packed bar with a big band playing. Lo and behold, it’s a group of male Filipino musicians on stage, most probably in the city on an entertainment visa. So yeah, despite the two things I mentioned not being in Japan, there’s probably a bit of truth on either takes on the term “japayuki.

OFWs are referred to locally as “modern-day heroes” not only for the fact that they are overseas, away from their families and scrimping away in order to send money back home, but sometimes they are subject to abuse by their employers, not to mention sometimes stigma at home, especially with the term “japayuki.” And again, working overseas or being away from one’s family in order to support them is not a uniquely Filipino thing; Nearly a quarter of a million Sri Lankans live and work in the UAE. But in the Philippines, it is about 10% of the GDP. One in ten Filipinos work overseas. In Korea, they have a term, “gireogi appa” or goose dad. This refers to Korean fathers working in Korea in order to finance their families overseas. These fathers probably deal with the same loneliness as OFWs, but they’re definitely better paid and the money they send goes outside of Korea and does not come into the country.

13% of male Filipino workers are categorized as unskilled laborers. This mean they could either be working as living assistants or domestic workers. For women, the percentage is 58%. These are low-wage, unskilled work, and women are more vulnerable to abuse by their employers. They can also suffer stereotypes of being uneducated, submissive, or simply be mail-order-brides. It’s a heavy burden to bear and yet, Filipina domestic helpers seem to be ubiquitous. I’ve seen them here in Seoul employed by US expats. Also in Hong Kong, I’ve witnessed thousands of domestic helpers gather on their Sunday day off around Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to have lunch together, catch up with friends, gossip, and pray. Often living with their employers and having limited free time, I thought the gathering in Hong Kong was a way for local domestic helpers not only to reconnect with the Filipino community but also as a survival skill, to collect a bit of peace and sanity after a busy six-day week.

As I mentioned in another article, the concept of a poorly paid house help was a product of Spanish colonization. Rich families would employ someone from a poorer caste to perform domestic chores. To this day, many Filipino families would employ “katulong”s (house helpers) or “yaya”s (nannies), and these families don’t necessarily have to be especially rich in order to afford a house help. It seems that Filipinos have taken the concept of “katulong” and turned it into a service that could be exported.

OFWs are not just limited to working in different countries however. Many are working in companies whose countries are questionable at best.

A friend of mine from the Philippines once surprised me when I learned that she started working as a photographer for a cruise ship. “What a totally random occupation!”, I thought. Later, I learned that Filipinos are some of the best targets for cruise companies to employ. For one, many Filipinos have a strong maritime heritage, and another is that English is spoken as the official second language. Filipinos also have a reputation for being polite and hospitable. Unfortunately, cruise companies work in a legal limbo. Royal Caribbean for example is registered in Liberia. Policing labor practices or even investigating crimes is a gray area at sea and the government of the Philippines is willing to turn a blind eye to these things. Compensation for injury or a lost limb while working in a cruise ship can be notoriously low, if they’re even awarded. Cruise work is also notoriously long with time off counted in hours rather than days. Despite all of this, however, Filipinos are willing to risk working in a cruise ship in order to send remittances. Looking at the salary of different cruise ship occupations, the lowest ones are more than double the average salary in the Philippines. Twice in Manila, I’ve chatted with bartenders in hotels, later learning that they both got their training working in cruise ships. Apparently, about 30 percent of OFWs work in cruise ships, tankers, or other shipping vessels.

So yes, God bless the OFWs. They are indeed heroes, working away from their families and opening themselves up to abuse and exploitation. If only the Philippines had a better economy and the lure of working overseas will no longer be as strong. Fortunately, business process outsourcing seems to be getting more and more popular in the country, with the Philippines being more attractive to businesses than India. I hope those jobs get to replace working overseas and that more people get to stay in the country with their families.

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