The latest brouhaha surrounding the diplomatic row with Kuwait that erupted following the going “viral” of a video of a “rescue operation” instigated by Filipino diplomatic personnel there has attracted much debate. The “discussion” surrounding this circus focuses on the minutiae of the debacle the Philippine government finds itself in in the immediate aftermath. What of the more than 250,000 OFWs deployed there now? What happens if the Philippines’ diplomatic mission to Kuwait is crippled? Who’s fault is it that this video was even made and why was it wrong (or right) to spread it over social media?
Thing is, all of those “concerns” miss the bigger conversation that needs to be had. That conversation is easily started with a simple question: Do Filipinos want to continue to be known as the world’s servants?
It’s a confronting question but it is a valid question nonetheless. The answer is obvious of course. OFWs are a liability. They suck foreign service resources, imperil the nation’s social fabric, depreciate the global image of the Philippines, and weaken the Philippines’ position in most negotiations with foreign governments. The Philippines cannot take its place in the global stage on an equal footing with other nations if it has a master-and-servant relationship with most of these nations. This current situation of pathetic dependence on OFWism is, in fact, worse than being subject to imperialism. As a colony, at least, Filipinos had only one colonial master. As a society with an economy dependent on OFWs, Filipinos are subject to a hundred masters.
Like the fight for “freedom” from imperialism, the fight for freedom from the clutches of OFWism should be regarded as the new Independence movement. The Philippines will never be a truly independent nation if it cannot host the means of livelihood of its own citizens. It is highly-imperative that the nation be completely purged of its addiction to OFWs.
The alternative is the continued self-inflicted emotional blackmail on a national scale that we are seeing today. The national “debate” is completely framed by this emotional blackmail. Politicians, the media, and so-called “activists” pander to the “plight” of OFWs. Indeed, at the centre of the current diplomatic row with Kuwait are bloggers identified with the current administration of President Rodrigo Duterte who made names for themselves pandering to OFWs.
Understand this. Soldiers and warriors are heroes. People who invent longer-lasting lightbulbs are heroes. People who risk financial ruin to pursue an unprecedented business venture are heroes. OFWs? These are not heroes. They don’t add to the collective national equity of the Philippines. As can be seen today, they are a mere political bargaining chip pushed back and forth in a dysfunctional “national debate”.
President Duterte is at a crossroads today. He will need to choose between two paths: (1) the safe pwede-na-yan path of upholding a status quo of debilitating dependence on OFWism and (2) the scary path of weaning or quitting the Philippines cold turkey off OFWs. The second path is scary because it is an unpopular path involving big risks and lots of pain. But the payoff, though uncertain, is potentially big. Compare that to the first path which has proven to be no more than a slow death unfolding over several decades. It is not a path truly excellent societies tread. Duterte could very possibly be that rare man for such a job — to lead Filipinos down the scary path that Filipinos need to tread if they truly aspire to build a great nation.