I could not believe, but the phenomenon is true that Filipino OFWs or migrants compose 10% or 8 million out of a total 80 million. This “diasporic community” of Filipino migrants are in 193 countries out of the 224 UN-registered countries in the world. We can almost say that there is no country on the face of the earth in which there is no Filipino; if there is, probably the Filipino in that country has not yet been registered of has no travel document.
To cite some statistics of diasporic Filipinos: 85,000 Filipinos yearly migrate to the United States to be added to the more than 4 million who are already there with documents. Two million Filipinos have already made the Middle East their home. Would you believe that 30% of the entire population of Malaysia, that is 900,000 are Filipinos? Of the 140,000 in Hong Kong, majority are Pinay domestic helpers. In Italy, only one half of the more than 1 million Filipinos are listed; the same is said of the 1 million in Japan. These few examples are only a portion of the migrant Filipinos we find present from America to Asia, from Africa to Oceania, from Russia to Australia and also from Jordan to Saipan.
Add to this phenomenon of global migration of Filipinos is the quality of the new OFWs. We are exporting not only housekeepers and domestic helpers but also, contributing to the phenomenon of brain drain, skilled workers, doctors, accountants, nurses, engineers, etc. This phenomenon is not without problems both for the migrants and the families they temporarily leave behind. They become part of our social concern. How many of them are made to suffer because they are deprived of employment rights, their salaries and/or travel documents unjustly withheld? How many of them, mostly women, are abused, assaulted or sexually harassed by employers? How many of them suffer the pain of isolation, alienation and discrimination? And need we talk about the innumerable cases of broken families and conjugal infidelities? These are far from being considered problems of the State which is simply bent on sending them as “super domestic helpers” because they bring in to our country between 10 to 12 billion dollars to help our local economy. And so we say these are problems of the Church, the sending Church. These are one aspect or the challenges of the Filipino diaspora. (I hope you have discovered some answers to these concerns and at least discussed how to address them).
But I would like to draw your attention to a positive aspect of the global migration of Filipinos. I am not referring to the 10 – 12 billion dollars they send to our country, inspite of which we are still considered among the poorest countries. Are we really? More than contributing to the work-force in 193 countries, our diasporic Filipinos have something else, more important, to offer to the world. Along with our smiling faces, we are offering to the receiving countries or Churches, our Christian Faith lived in the context of different cultures and religions. According to one study “The Filipino diaspora has put one out of every five Filipinos in a more multi-ethnic and multi-religious milieu.” This positive aspect is likewise the new challenge of the Filipino diaspora. It is both a challenge and a concern.
Our Filipino migrants go to other countries in search of work and livelihood to support themselves and their families back home. Before we were sending missionary priests and religious sisters expressly to be in mission, to evangelize; but their number has started to dwindle. And what a providential coincidence! Coming from a predominantly Catholic Christian country, these migrant Filipino workers in search of livelihood could be equipped with the disposition and skills of lay missionaries, who will not necessarily preach, but live the Gospel of Jesus in the context of cultural and religious pluralism. They are Filipinos in dialogue with other cultures and religions, which for them would be a new way of being Church and a new way of being in mission, beyond adding to the number of church-goers in the receiving Churches which have fallen victims of materialism and secularism.
The new situation of our compatriots in diaspora is an opportunity to redefine our notion of becoming migrants and our understanding of being church and in mission. What we said in the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines find some practical application here: “In the Church, nobody is so poor as to have nothing to give, and nobody is so rich as to have nothing to receive.” (no. 98). This offers the Filipino Catholic Christian migrant a new focus, a new vision.
For both the sending poor country and the receiving wealth country, there is something to give and to receive. What is received and given may be different in quality and quantity, but that is not to be measured. Work and livelihood on the one hand, faith and the new way of being church and of being in mission on the other: how do we compare them? It is just they are both given and received by one and the other. A new focus and vision for both the giver and receiver.
(Homily of Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo at the closing Eucharistic Celebration on the occasion of the Fifth International Consultation on Filipino Ministry Worldwide
held in Tagaytay City on September 11-15, 2006)