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4 New National Heroes Patriotism and Citizenship Reconfigured The week of the signing of the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, or Republic Act 8042 (RA8042), was officially declared “Migrant Heroes Week” by the Philippine government. All the Philippines’ migration agencies mark the signing of RA8042 with commemorative activities every June to showcase the expanded support and assistance Philippine government agencies in the Philippines and throughout the world promise to Philippine citizens working abroad. The opening ceremonies for Migrant Heroes Week in 2000, however, seemed especially significant for migration officials at the POEA, given that 2000 was declared “The Year of the Overseas Filipino Worker” by then–Philippine president Joseph Estrada. The main entrance of the POEA was flanked by a huge mural depicting a man and a woman standing atop the globe with hands clasped and arms raised triumphantly. Nearly all of the several hundred chairs in the main foyer as well as the additional chairs set up for the occasion were filled before the event’s official start. Additionally, the back wall of the foyer was lined with people while others were queued just outside. In all, there were more than five hundred people present by the time the opening activities of Migrant Heroes Week 2000 commenced. Most of the people present were prospective migrants waiting to have their documents processed at the POEA. The motto “Migranteng Pinoy Kabalikat sa Pag-Angat sa 2000” (Migrant Filipinos Side by Side for Progress in 2000) was emblazoned on banners, balloons, and the sashes adorning flower bouquets 75 76 New National Heroes scattered throughout the foyer. The program featured an assortment of high-ranking government officials “including the undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s administrator” as well as a representative from President Joseph Estrada’s office. All of the officials who spoke repeatedly thanked and praised migrant workers for their economic contributions to the Philippine economy, often characterizing them as “heroic.” The program was interrupted, however, by the clamor of protesters from the Philippine-based groups of the transnational alliance of grassroots Philippine migrant organizations, Migrante International, gathered just outside the POEA compound. “It’s time people wake up to the wrongdoing of the government. Where is the protection of workers?” an activist on a megaphone demanded Not to be deterred, the undersecretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) began his speech with his own rallying cry, raising his fist and calling out, “Mabuhay ang POEA!” (Long live the POEA!) “Mabuhay ang OWWA!” (Long live the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration!) “Mabuhay ang DOLE!” (Long live the DOLE!)” Many in the audience joined him. He proceeded to relay an account of the experience in a Riyadh jail of the Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The ambassador, according to the undersecretary, was trying to negotiate the release of detained Philippine migrants: The ambassador asked, “Who is Filipino?” Everyone in the jail raised their hands. The funny thing is that Bangladeshis and migrants from other places raised their hands along with the Filipinos. The moral of the story is that everybody wants to be Filipino because they know that the Philippine government helps its workers. Against the persistent shouts of activists, the undersecretary claimed that “without overseas labor the Philippines could have had a social revolution. With so many entering the labor force, where could they go? Overseas work became an economic and political solution for our country.” Many in the audience applauded approvingly. He went on to state: Figure 17. Brochure produced by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. The motto “Angat Pinoy 2004” is at the bottom left. 78 New National Heroes Philippine territory goes beyond what we once knew. It extends now to Australia, to the United States, and etc. What used to be Bayang Filipino [Filipino Nation] is now Mundong Filipino [Filipino World]. Ignoring the commotion outside, the recipient of 2000’s “Migrant Hero of the Year” award, a male migrant worker, echoed the POEA’s motto on the “partnership” role migrants should assume in relation to the Philippine state. Closing the day’s program, he stated: OFWs [overseas Filipino workers] are ambassadors of goodwill. We do it gladly out of loyalty to the Philippines. With all the political strife in the country, we OFWs want to work with the government and the private sector. Training and development [of OFWs] is necessary to live up to international standards, to open more...


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