Can the Philippines Save Barack Obama?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 2/01/2009 10:02:00 AM
Browsing new titles online, I came across an interesting new book entitled Pareng Barack: Filipinos in Obama's America. Being called "Pareng Barack" is a large compliment, equivalent to "our pal Barack." The story of Philippine migration has been widely cited as an example of successful integration into the fabric of American life. Representing the second largest Asian diaspora after the Chinese, most Filipinos conform to the Asian stereotype of diligent workers who don't cause much trouble. Being taught English instruction from primary school onwards has always been a trump card. The author Benjamin Pimentel--erstwhile writer for MarketWatch--expresses hope for Obama's accession to office, seeing in him the political recognition of America's mulicultural society. In Obama, Pimentel maintains possibilities of being different as a springboard to further opportunity instead of being a limiting factor.

That's not to say that Filipinos have been discouraged much from seeking employment Stateside as waves of Philippine migrants continue to arrive on foreign shores. 2008 was a landmark year which saw an astounding 1.3 million Filipinos deployments for work abroad. The Philippines has long lacked the ability to provide employment for its large and growing population. Hence, they have sought their trade in all ends of the Earth. Given this inability to generate local employment via strong export industries, for instance, the Philippines has often been viewed as a development laggard compared to its neighbors. However, an interesting twist to the story circa 2009 is that the Philippines is set to do relatively well compared to them. Why? It seems those export-oriented economies are eating dirt as Western demand for consumer goods dries up. Instead of dwindling export revenues, the Philippines can bank on workers' remittances from abroad--also expected to set a record in 2008.

Demand for the Philippines' main "export" won't go away anytime soon. While the requirement for less skilled manpower has declined, that for skilled manpower isn't going away. Today, let us consider two pertinent cases, the first for education and the second for healthcare. America's population is kind of unique among industrialized countries in births meeting the replacement rate. A growing population will need schoolteachers at the primary and secondary school levels--something already in short supply. It is no secret that the US has been hiring teachers from the Philippines to bridge this gap. For, the sad truth is that teaching primary and secondary school in the US is not an attractive proposition as teachers are treated with little respect instead of being venerated alike in Asian cultures. It can even be dangerous, hence the odd cultural experiment of pairing Filipino teachers with inner-city youth. Indeed, it's admirable that they try their best despite these difficult situations. The argument for southern border immigration of "they're only doing stuff the gringos don't want to do" is reprised here, albeit in more skilled fashion.

Similar conditions hold for nursing in America where working conditions are often characterized by low pay, understaffing relative to the number of patients, and overworking through long hours (see this IWPR report). Consider that a large retiring group of some 78 million baby boomers is already straining the country's medical system--something which would be further exacerbated if universal health care were adopted. Once more, Philippine nurses have to come to the rescue. The title of this post was inspired by a recent article in the Philippine Inquirer about how the country, hit with job losses in export sectors, is looking to President Obama to grant more work visas to Filipino professionals. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report suggesting that the process of granting visas to qualified nurses should be expedited. Out of America's self-interest, this ought to happen soon on Obama's watch. He has no choice.

Sometime ago, I came across a Manhattan Institute paper discussing how Filipinos have been at forefront in assimilating on the economic, cultural, and civic fronts. However, some friends doing cultural studies in the US have cautioned me about citing this study too much. While the Manhattan Institute probably means well in championing less restrictive labor policies unlike certain race-baiting immigration protectionists, others may perceive a racialized undertone about how Filipinos and other Asians are the "good" minorities compared to those troublesome ones who make loud demonstrations in LA or demand slavery reparations. Here's an excerpt:
Immigrants from Vietnam, Cuba, and the Philippines enjoy some of the highest rates of assimilation. However, these groups assimilate more rapidly in some respects than others. For example, they are far more assimilated economically than they are culturally. Curiously, all of the countries mentioned have experienced U.S. military occupation.
Ultimately, I believe that the news article reinforcing the Obama messianic complex had the right idea but expressed it backwards. Should Obama be able to deliver on campaign promises to improve the public provision of health care and education, the Philippines will have to save him by providing the manpower necessary to deliver these services. Robots won't do the job. Misinformed commentators have described the United States as "The Great Satan." Leaving the demonic part to the theologians, I am rather underwhelmed by a country which has neither the capital (which it cadges from countries like China) nor the labor (which it cadges from countries like the Philippines) necessary to make it in the 21st century world economy. Make no mistake: China is far from the only country Pareng Barack should make nice with lest he depart in Bushian ignominy.

UPDATE: I was watching Super Bowl XLIII where Journey made a bravura performance of their arena rock staple "Don't Stop Believing" during the pregame show. I had heard of Journey's head honcho Neal Schon looking for a new lead singer by flipping through YouTube channels. And there he was, Arnel Pineda--airlifted straight outta Manila. Filipinos entertainers are another notable labor export, plying their trade from Saipan to the Seychelles. Talk about "cultural assimilation" [!] I'm forever yours, faithfully.