Nov 12, 2010

Does the Philippines value its people?

Howdy Filipino!

Hello! First off, let me say, I'm loving the blog. I'm a 1st generation Filipino who has lived in America for about...23 years (out of my 25 years). I wonder about the mother country sometimes. It seems that the Philippines is not fully utilizing a lot of the country's natural resources (though I could just be grossly misinformed). Also it seems that the country is not doing much to maintain it's most important natural resource - it's people. From what my relatives tell me, most people try to get out of the Philippines. My cousin in-law (who graduated at the top of his class in medical school) commented on how it's hard to intern (or do his residency) at a really good hospital because you have to pay the doctors there a lot of money - skills and ability are secondary. He's now doing his residency here in America.  He commented that the good thing about America is that they pay you for your abilities. I realize that a lot of this is based on familial anecdotes, but is there a degree of truth in any of the scenarios listed above?


Dear Fil-I-Am,

I don't know where to even begin, so let me start with your question outright: "Is there a degree of truth in any of the scenarios listed above?"

The short answer is: Yes, of course.  But let's parse it a bit more...

I'm imagining your relatives who share these familial anecdotes are not doing so to spread lies about the country, because I don't know of a lot of Filipinos, even if they've gone AWOL in the Philippines, who hate the country per se.  I'm sure they've experienced similar situations related to these anecdotes, personally or vicariously through their friends, classmates, acquaintances, etc. 

For instance, let me share some stories myself: A person I know who was working as a consultant for a top American consulting firm was only making about $400 per month in Manila, but she was always being sent to the US to help out at the site of their American clients.  Her stateside peers were easily making salaries by a factor of 10.  Thus, being a US resident herself, she quit the Philippine office and then applied and was accepted for the same role, same position in the US for ten times the salary.

I also know of doctors, some of whom are friends of mine, who labored through their residency and early years as practicing doctors being paid about $300 per month.  Even with the lower lower cost of living in the Philippines, that's still NOTHING! 

What about nurses, some of whom make in excess of $100K in the U.S. working in two hospitals?  Well, in the Philippines, you're lucky to be making $400 per month if you're an experienced nurse.  If you're a new nurse, you basically pay a hospital to hire you as a "new trainee."  (I guess, in fairness, you can't really blame the hospitals too much -- most of these new nurses are just looking for experience to be able to go abroad and they have thousands to choose from.  In other words, it's a classic supply and demand question: who has more leverage if there more supply than demand?)

But as you probably already know, the underlying themes with these anecdotes are the seemingly intractable problems of poverty, lack of opportunity, government corruption and culture.  (Of these, I will discuss the last one (CULTURE) in more detail in a different post.)

As a result, a lot of Filipinos go abroad in search of better opportunities, better lives for themselves and their families.  It is estimated that at least 10% of Filipinos are now living all over the world.  You and I are among them.  Is it a waste of human resources?  In large measure, sure!  Because imagine the brain drain that this situtation causes:  For instance, it is estimated that there are about 20,000 Filipino doctors who are now living in the US alone, because as you said yourself, in America, "they are paid for their abilities."

Personally, the sad part for me about the whole thing, as someone who migrated myself to the US, is when other Filipinos begin to deride those who leave the country as "traitors," as people who "bailed out" on the country, without regard to the complexity and multi-facetedness of the issue of leaving the Philippines "for greener pastures."  Many people don't realize it's really a very personal and often difficult decision.  As Jose Ma. Montelibano, a well known columnist and an executive of Gawad Kalinga (an amazing nonprofit which is aiming to end poverty in the country) recently noted in his column, "greener pastures have more to do about opportunity, about choices, than just plain income."

He went on:

"Leaving the motherland is hardly because there is a diluted sense of patriotism, but because patriotism itself is denied development in a citizen's heart. To the life of a poor person or family, what then is country? What would make a poor person or family, landless and without the right to be in any square meter in their land of birth - and without the means to rent that right? What benefits are derived from a land of obvious plenty by a Filipino family who is only a step ahead of hunger while public officials of the land can spend millions for a dinner in New York? What can make a Filipino love the Philippines other than a birth in a motherland not yet of his or her choice?"

What to do?  Mr. Montelibano has this to say:

"The challenge now rests heavily on the shoulders of Filipinos who have reason to love our motherland. It may be that, like me, the circumstance of birth favored me economically, socially and politically. It may be like those who built on their boldness, on their education, on their perseverance, and, most likely, on their business sense, and can now help others. It may be that, like most Filipinos, a basic goodness, a sense of bayanihan and a commitment to walang iwanan, transcends personal interest in order to give succor to a fellow Filipino. When Filipinos go beyond the boundaries of family and clan to care for another as a brother or sister of the same motherland, then even the impoverished and marginalized are given good reasons to love country and race."

Thanks for your email (especially your "loving the blog") and I hope you will find a way to help the Philippines in your own way from time to time, not just "wonder" about it. 

P.S. I can tell you right now I'll have much more to say later about this issue of out-migration and the Philippine brain drain as the blog further develops.

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at

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