ESSAY: The Filipino History That’s Overseas – And That’s Missing

THE topic comes as a surprise: A national conference about the historicity of Filipino heroism, and ordinary people are included.

This is not to denigrate overseas Filipinos, or even us ordinary Filipinos.

But knowing the established criteria of saying who is a hero, and how historians document a person’s heroism, it will take a lot of deliberations to include some 8.7 million Filipinos into the hallways of heroes.

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HEROISM is [a] subjective topic, even if there’s a national heroes committee deliberating who qualifies as a hero (Diana Galang, 2008).

[According to] Dr. Esteban de Ocampo…a hero [is]: “A prominent or central personage taking an admirable part in any remarkable action or even, or a person of distinguished valor or enterprise in danger, or fortitude in suffering.”

Quoting book author Asuncion David-Maramda (2006, page v): “Who can measure greatness? Who can define a hero? Even without any criteria as to who is a hero and who is not, people will know a hero when they see one. Like love, heroism is better felt than defined, better recognized than analyzed.”

Then we take stock of the deeper meaning, if you ask Ed Aurelio Reyes, of the word bayani: bayani as the person, kabayanihan as the heroic act, and bayani as a heroic group, community, or nation.

So are overseas Filipinos heroes? Giving the tag “modern-day heroes” to this visible subgroup of the Filipino population was former President Corazon Aquino during the early years of her administration.

But are they really heroes? I asked that question to some of them overseas.

One was an undocumented or irregular migrant, a handyman who repairs compatriots’ houses and leaked pipes. Inside an intercity train, he told me: “I think I am a hero for my family.”

I asked another undocumented migrant …a female dental assistant, who wonders why she is called a hero.

“We don’t feel like heroes. We can’t even explain to others why we are heroic.”

Says a ship captain, a resident of the land of heroes, Imus, Cavite: “What I care most is myself and my family. That is being heroic.”

The tag “modern-day heroes,” however, became a sales pitch for government (to showcase how the country address the socio-economic needs of overseas Filipinos and their families), as the tag also became a marketing person’s tagline.

In my limited knowledge about the economics of Filipino overseas migration, Filipinos abroad are called heroes because their dollars are the major lifelines of the Philippine economy.

Even in times of homeland economic slump, remittances have not gone down. These monies also improve the country’s balance of payments (or the summary of transactions between a country and the rest of the world), and beef up our foreign exchange reserves which the country also needs.

For a country that relies heavily on consumption, remittances fuel spending. All these happen because Filipinos with the opportunity to go overseas took the chance to earn higher incomes and too elude homeland unemployment.

These are the reasons why overseas Filipinos are the saviors of the Philippine economy, and are tagged “modern-day heroes”.

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[FILIPINO] overseas migration is as old as the numerous historical accounts of the Filipino nation. The history of the Filipino people suggests that migration is a natural tendency of the Filipino race (Vilardo Cabuag, 2003).

Sadly, while there are snippets of written material (not much from history) about the first-recorded movements of Filipinos to other countries, I think there are no authoritative materials that weave altogether the first movements of Filipinos to various countries that are then linked to the events that have shaped Philippine history.

A definitive and authoritative historical material about the overseas migration of Filipinos during the 20th century is missing, so is a well-written historical piece of how the Philippine government handled overseas employment.

(To be continued)