Friday, April 28, 2006

The First Salvo of the Diaspora

It's that line snaking up Bangoy street's Mintrade Building---there's something evil about that line!

On the second week of April, the line at the National Statistics Office serbilis center in Bangoy corner Monteverde streets reached Uyanguren street, three blocks away. I arrived at the scene at 8:30 in the morning aboard a jeepney from Matina and fell in line in between a 23-year-old new graduate from Notre Dame of Kidapawan applying for a job as factory worker in Taiwan and a 37-year-old short, plump and domineering woman applying for a domestic job in Lebanon. We were there to get our birth certificates authenticated by the NSO on the third floor of Mintrade, the first step one has to make before getting one's passport. I took a passport for the first time for this journalism fellowship.
The woman at my back was full of praises about her Lebanon would-be employer. "No cellphone, no Church, no letter, no radio, no communication with family nor with other workers" she said was the standing policy in that country. "And do you know where to go in times of trouble?" I asked. "Of course, the company gave us cellphone numbers and contact numbers of government offices in Malita. "How about the location of the Philippine Embassy in Lebanon, did you look it up?" She stared at me as if I came from another planet and insisted that her employers were really good to take her in. She was forced to wean her one and a half year old child because of this trip. She had five children. Her sari-sari store in Malita was not earning that much and her husband was not earning at all. On the major newspapers that day were headlines about the Arroyo government pushing for Charter change.
The girl from Kidapawan had quite a different story. She never thought of going abroad until her sister from Taiwan insisted to take her there. Her sister has been working there in the last five years. Her income was quite good. It helped her pay off all her debts which was the reason she was forced to leave the country and worked in Taiwan in the first place. The girl from Kidapawan had to be on board the plane to Taipei in May. She loved going to the farm in Kidapawan. She went to the farm even before she took the van to Davao to get her authenticated birth certificate from the NSO serbilis center for her to take advantage of the one-stop-passport processing scheduled in her city the following weekend. She was fair. She had the eyes and features of a Chinese mestiza. She graduated from an accounting course although she kept postponing taking the CPA Board Exams. She worked instead as a sales clerk or a cashier at a certain warehouse in Kidapawan. Most of her neighbors are already going out of the country, leaving behind small children in their wake. Most of her neighbors work as domestic helpers abroad. Her mother and father were having a hard time sending her siblings to school. She still had four other siblings she had to help out. The woman bound for Lebanon said she had to borrow money---from the usurer, perhaps---to pay for the expenses of her trip.
The line going up to the third floor of Mintrade building was long and full of stories. It was here that Filipinos wanting to get out of the country started their first steps to a strange country.
We waited for the line to move, staring at a gray poodle on the dirty floor of a Chinese store advertising hot coffee or tea. A man carrying huge bundles of merchandise and sometimes, pushing a cart full of cartoon boxes would bump on us from behind and the line would bend or break to give way and then reconnect again as soon as the intruder was gone.
The girl talked about never having to fall in line before. Back in college, her mother did all the queueing for her when she had to take the exams. But she was taking a different step this time, the first steps to the diaspora.

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