By: Brady Eviota
BERN — To someone just back from vacation in the Philippines, we use this queer remark: “Welcome back to reality!”
We call this world where we live and work in “Reality” and the Philippines as “Fantasyland.” At the least that tells us that our boots are squarely on the ground in our adopted country, as some people call it. We do not romanticize living in a foreign land, we are used to the challenges of living in a wealthy but cold and sometimes alien alpine land.
But to call the Philippines “Fantasyland” tells us something about the mindset of the immigrant. In our heads, the mother country is still the best—where we were born and grew up in; had the first or the best experiences; or where the life is still viewed as easy and carefree.
I even heard Surigaonons call the Philippines as the “P.I”. It sounded incongruous to me, like it was an Ilocano working in the pineapple fields of Hawaii calling his homeland two centuries ago.
But fantasy land it is, a place where the homesick Filipino plays the daydreams he has, putting into reality the scenes and situations that he has imagined he would do when he goes home to visit.
And that translation to reality is oftentimes expensive, sometimes even too steep. I have heard Filipinas who brag that they treated their family – including kasambahays and hangers-on — to an expensive dinner in a restaurant. A one-time P30,000 groceries bill? Chicken lang daw yan. I know of someone who has brought a dozen of her family to a trip to Bohol and back, expenses all hers. And someone claims that he had spent in a one-month binge of a vacation in his home province in Agusan and in Manila, something close to a million pesos! Incredible? I believe these stories to be true.
It seems that when it is fantasy that wills the Filipino balikbayan, there are no boundaries. There are countless stories of balikbayans spending money like they were bigshots. One is that of a Batangas couple playing hermana mayor and mayora in their hometown’s fiesta and feeding the townsfolk for three straight days. A common story is that of hosting nightly eating and drinking sprees for family and drinking buddies. How about the trips to the mall, compete with meals, ang cine and playland treats for the kids? Sagot lahat ni kuya o ate.
Why do the balikbayans do it? There are various reasons and motives. What I can cull out from them is that splurging is their way of giving thanks for their “blessings” and sharing it with others they feel are less privileged. For others it is a compensation thing – trying to give back the time they spent away from their families with material things. For others, it is bragging rights: ‘I was once deprived, now I can indulge,’ they can now say.
These are reasons and motives that I do not question, even if I do feel that hard-earned money should be spent more prudently during vacations. Families of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) should always be made aware and learn that the money is hard-earned; that it is spent for a reason; that it is not boundless; and that there should be savings for the harder times.
Alas, it seems that the OFW forgets that even in Fantasyland, reality will bite.
He delights in the high exchange rates, pleased that his Swiss franc money transfer will bring his family more; maybe not realizing that a weaker peso only makes imports more expensive. Indeed, in our globalized world, what item is not imported? Packaged food and canned goods, clothing, school supplies, machine parts, house amenities — everything imported that is needed daily in the Filipino household will turn out expensive from a weaker peso.
The OFW delights that almost everything in the Philippines comes cheaper, certainly much cheaper than good and services in Europe. He does not discern that higher inflation may have actually made his last vacation more expensive. The taxes on aviation fuel and gasoline and oil; the taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks; more items on value-added tax – all may have conspired to make him dig deeper into his pockets.
He marvels at the plans and the initial infrastructure build-up that is taking shape, and imagines his family enjoying the benefits of modern infrastructure. Maybe he is not aware – or conveniently forgets – that this massive infrastructure leap is funded by foreign loans that will be paid back with up to 3% interest. Everything – even development – comes at a price.
Higher inflation, low dollar reserves, a bigger accounts deficit, a jobs crisis – all means little or nothing to the OFW who is in Fantasyland.
Sadly, the realities in Fantasyland may soon pull the OFW back to land. Kung ang pamilya na mismo ang dumadaing, kung ang mga gastos na mismo ang umaaray- that moment may prick the bubble that we OFWs have created for ourselves.
(Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and a newspaper in Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps.)