Last Sept. 24, 2023 was celebrated as the 37th National Migrants’ Sunday by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI).
For this year, the theme is “free to choose to migrate or to stay.”
Migration used to be coated under a veneer of desirability in the 1970s. A relative who left for the United States to work was often the pride of the clan and the envy of the neighborhood.
When the migrant brought her or his family to live overseas for good, she or he was viewed as living the Filipino dream of finally escaping from the dreariness of poverty and Third World woes constricting life in the Philippines.
Over the decades, the underside of this reality gradually filtered through the dominant narrative of escape and affluence in America (or any other country as long as it was not the Philippines) after the trimedia reported migrant Filipinos’ suffering, exploitation, violent death, and—worst perhaps for a people obsessed about fleeing from poverty—depressing reunions with their family worse off than they were before departure: marital infidelity, broken marriage, delinquency among children, and more debt.
According to Radio Veritas News in an article posted on Sept. 22, the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development focuses on the significance of freedom of choice among migrants when the theme was announced during the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
The Philippine government extols the modern heroism of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) but is not able to protect, assist, and provide for the safety and welfare of Filipinos working abroad and their families.
It is essential that responsibilities are shared by stakeholders, like the church. The CBCP establishes chaplaincies overseas but admits that there are problems in having access to overseas Filipinos, especially in non-Christian nations.
Last Sept. 24 was also observed as the 28th National Seafarers Day of Stella Maris Philippines.
New media has helped the communication of families physically separated by a parent working overseas. Yet, in the Internet also lurks perils, such as human trafficking and online sexual exploitation of children and minors.
The emotional ties of OFW families are challenged by inaccessibility of their seamen fathers who are in between ports.
The lack of freedom of choice challenges the lives of workers and families who resort to internal or domestic migration or movement within a country.
Many Filipinos, due to fewer resources but an equally compelling need to survive or escape poverty, leave families for work that involves resettlement and long absence.
Domestic help, construction workers, and blue-collar service workers massing in urban centers are vulnerable to the same risks as OFWs.
Government is still mandated to protect and uphold their welfare. Based on trimedia reports, these migrant workers cannot always expect better, equitable treatment from fellow Filipino employers.
How can workers have the freedom to choose to migrate or to stay? Access to adequate opportunities to work, live, and provide for the needs of the individual and her or his dependents is a prerequisite to enable Filipinos to set down roots and build a home and community.
Being free to consider migration not from desperation but only as an option taken jointly and without duress by an individual and her or his family implies the instillation of values that prioritizes family wholeness, cooperation, and the full development of human potential over the material, transitory, and alienating.
Given the importance of communication, the dominant narrative of migration as modern-day heroism must be questioned and replaced with stories of self-sufficiency, financial literacy, and sustainable development.