Climate changes people



MY maternal grandparents – native Antipolonians – left my mother a 20-hectare property in what was then the San Luis barangay boondocks. About 8 hectares were turned into an orchard by my father who himself was a migrant from Pangasinan.

The harsh climate of the north pushed my paternal grandparents from Paoay, Ilocos Norte to Binmaley, Pangasinan, becoming fish/bangus farmers. I learned from my elder siblings that my father migrated to Antipolo as a teacher, then moved to Morong, Rizal, to teach Spanish and history.

My father’s salary as a teacher was not enough to give my five siblings and I a college education. Our orchard supplemented the family income. In the summer, I helped pick fruits, mostly star apples, with two other pickers. We then carried two tiklis full of kaymito to town – about four to five kilometers of alternating dusty and muddy forest trail covered by secondary forestry and lush vegetation. We got water from then still clean rivers and springs in converted petrol/lard cans.

There were quails and wildcats, and monitor lizards, plus an occasional deer. Crickets and bats deliver the night sounds.

Picking fruit and carrying them to town and back at least three times a day gave me strength and stamina, which to date has been mistaken in the fitness gym as a product of years of working out.

I had to stop studying after high school to work full time in the farm as there was not enough income to send three other siblings to college. As the youngest of two brothers, I was the obvious choice. (I was also the black sheep in our family, being a bulakbol and part of the miscreants in school, picking fights when a basketball game turns ugly.)

My eldest brother (bless his soul) and elder sisters were graduating so I could defer my studies until they had obtained their bachelor degrees and start earning.

Drawn into student movement
After completing my secondary education at the Philippine College of Commerce (now the Polytechnic University of the Philippines), I became a working student. During the latter part of my junior and senior years, I was drawn into the international student movement of the late 196os, known in the Philippines as the First Quarterstormers.

My involvement caught the ire of then President and Martial Law ruler Ferdinand Marcos. As one of the spokespersons of the Movement for Democratic Philippines (MDP), I had been invited to speak before business, social and academic groups eager to hear firsthand what the student activists were clamoring for.

The national pique was understandable. Nowhere in Philippine history had there been a sustained protest movement, rallying hundreds of thousands of workers, women, fisherfolk, professionals, students and other mass democratic groups seeking change in the socio-economic and political structures of the country.

Our rallies always ended up in front of the Quiapo Church; after all, if you cannot defend your stand in Plaza Miranda, your cause is not worth fighting for.

While my speaking sorties were paid for by the inviting organizations, the Marcos intelligence and military arms listed them down as “funded by the Communist Party of the Philippines.” I had spoken before various groups from up North to Zamboanga and Sulu. I remember being a speaker for the Paghambuuk with MNLF chairman Nur Misuari among them. Of course, our constant MDP press conferences at UP’s Vinzon’s Hall, and virtually daily interviews on broadcast and print media, lent credence to my being a supposed cadre of Jose Maria Sison.

When the writ of habeas corpus was suspended, I immediately went underground knowing I was among those on top of the hit list of the Marcos government. After three years of playing cat and mouse with the military, then four years of detention, I got my temporary release. Like most martial law political prisoners, I had to report weekly at Camp Crame.

Warned that we would be detained again while being tried by the Marcos military commissions, I was able to escape, and applied for and obtained political asylum in the US. I finally was able to return home from exile in 1989 when Marcos himself was forced to seek asylum in the US after being abandoned by Washington and subsequently ousted by People Power.

The economic imperative
Political climate moves people. But mostly, brutal economic winds force people to seek shelter where they can. Metro Manila has been the money magnet that attracts migrants from the provinces. With the seat of the national government and financial centers in Metro Manila, jobs are seen to be there for the taking, no matter how odd they are.

So, it has been with citizens and nationals of other countries.

Millions of political and economic refugees from South and Central America Africa and Asia brave the harsh trek to the US, Canada, Australia and Western Europe.

The push factors are complemented by the need of nations for migrants.

Borders open and close as the winds of national interests blow hot or cold.

In 1958, Australia passed an immigration law defining the immigration status of individuals, set guidelines on visas, application procedures, temporary safe-haven rules and migrant limits. Between 1999 and 2000, when manufacturing and extraction industries needed boost, 70,000 visas were allocated to skilled workers. In 2001, illegal immigrants arriving by boat were brought to Nauru and Papua New Guinea for processing. The continuing exodus of refugees not just in Australia but in Europe led to the restriction of migration and keeping the number of skilled migrants to an “acceptable level” as skilled and family migration ran into headwinds. In 2009, with the economy in slowdown, Australia limited the number of skilled migrant numbers to just over 107,000, down from 114,777 the year before. On July 1, 2012, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection set up SkillSelect, a points-tested online skilled migrant selection service.

The companion nation in Oceania – New Zealand – had experienced immigration as the “significant driver of population changes since the mid-19th century.” By March 2001, the Census of Population and Dwellings recorded residents born overseas at just under 20 percent. In 1989 New Zealand passed the Education Act setting the framework for the enrolment of fee-paying international students. The education sector initiated a drive to recruit international students and the New Zealand Immigration Service (NZIS) allowed foreign students to work part time, get job search visas after graduation and offered a pathway to residency.

Tightening immigration rules
The Education Act of 1989 provides the legislative framework for the enrolment of fee-paying international students by New Zealand schools and tertiary education institutions. The number of foreign students steadily increased by 126,503 in 2003, primarily from China. Rising numbers of former international students in low-grade jobs and fear of “breaching the upper limits of the skilled migrant category and residency” forced the government to tighten immigration rules last year, New Zealand official papers show.

Heeding a brewing storm, the NZIS set higher annual income levels for students pursuing residency after graduation. The points needed to be invited to apply for residency were raised from 140 to 160, virtually needing a job offer. To be considered a skilled migrant a foreign student graduate must show that the job pays $48,859 a year. In October 2016, the average household income range was $35,500 to $37,300. Clearly, very few, if any, New Zealand employers will pay close to $49,000 to newly minted international students. It should also be noted that this year, the Labour Party teamed up with New Zealand First to govern. Top of the new government’s agenda? Reduce immigration numbers.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, it must be stated that the US and the UK have both targeted immigrants: the US with an “America First, Buy American, Hire American” policy and the UK targeting students to reduce net migration. Perceived economic lechery by United Nations and wilful sending of criminals and rapists to the Mexico witnessed a flood of hot-air tweets from President Trump. UK Prime Minister Theresa May on the other hand – a captive of the Brexit boondoggle – stood firm on keeping international students from non-EU countries and workers from poorer EU members out of the UK.

So far, only Canada has kept its migration ship on an even keel, even throwing lifelines to economic and political migrants at sea, victims of five-star category hurricanes from other First World countries.


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