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Migration, Sir Duncan, Instant Spouses and Inflight Barry Manilow: Final Impressions of the Philippines

Duncan Green's picture

As always after an intense ‘immersion’ in our programme work, I left the Philippines with my head buzzing. Here are some impressions, memories and ideas that don’t fit into a more structured blogpost:

Migration: One in 9 Filipinos are outside the country, constituting a major export sector (the government deliberately trains more nurses than the country needs, to encourage outmigration). On the way in from Qatar, I sat next to a Filipino gold miner, working for an Australian/Filipino company in Tanzania, 2 months on, 1 month off. OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers – this country loves acronyms) even have their own immigration channels at the airport (see pic).

I rather  like being called ‘Sir Duncan’ – makes me feel vaguely like an Arthurian knight. Alas it applies to all older people.

Philippines signage: ‘Sorry, instant spouses not allowed’ (at a hotel reception); ‘goat for sale, cell #7635420’ (by roadside).

Jessan, our livelihoods guy, neatly sums up the feel of Filipino culture as ‘300 years of convent; 50 of Hollywood.’

Work seems to be accompanied by a lot of food, even (especially?) in food justice workshops: forget the half-hearted British biscuits, we’re talking snacks, bowls of noodles, cakes, fruit, and that’s just during the seminar  – full meals follow straight afterwards. Can’t work out why everyone isn’t huge.

And music is everywhere – as we left the rubber project we passed one motor bike lugging a videoke machine up almost impassable roads. Inflight entertainment on one domestic flight included air crew singing snatches of Barry Manilow or Adele, and then prizes for the first passenger to guess the singer.

And a lot of positives:

Civil society space is opening, not closing as in so many other countries (that extends to the new government nicking many of its best leaders). A sense of political optimism, with new laws on reproductive health and land use currently before Congress.

Anecdotal evidence that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme (CARP) has made a difference over the last two decades. It broke up many plantations, handed out title to small farmers, but shortchanged them on the support services, as with so many agrarian reform programmes.

A massive spread in the government’s conditional cash transfer programme – reaching 76% of the population in one area we visited, with models based on Brazil’s Bolsa Familia.Women get US$7 a month per child under 15 (up to a max of 3 kids) and US$12 for the mother. They say it helps them with school and healthcare.

But some things don’t change: ‘when men sell the abaca, they come home drunk. When women sell it, they spend it on rice and school.’

Finally, no trip would be complete without a photocap competition – here’s a choice: inspecting some kind of pruning exercise for rubber saplings or slurping a coconut. Pics c/o the indefatigable Ipe. Over to you.

And one last plug – if you want to follow Oxfam’s work in the Philippines, sign up to its blog.

This post was originally published on From Poverty To Power 

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