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Wednesday, April 1, 2020
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Maids for the world

Iraq, Afghanistan and the countries derisively described as “Old Europe” were probably the countries and regions as intensely focused as the Philippines on the outcome of the Bush-Kerry dogfight. There is a difference, though: places have real reasons to root for either Bush or Kerry. Iraq and Afghanistan are on top of the list of Mr. Bush’s “axis of evil.” What is called “Old Europe” by Mr. Bush’s neo-cons  generally wanted Mr. Kerry to win.

We don’t. The over-enthusiasm about American politics is misplaced. We really have nothing at stake in the contest, whether now or in the immediate future. America’s concerns are elsewhere and it won’t bother about us. This has yet to sink deep into our consciousness—that we are a pygmy on the global stage with this delusion of worthiness and some importance.

If there is any country that is occasionally weighing and considering our national mood, this is Malaysia. And this is not because of any noble motive or our racial ties or our regional proximity. Malaysia is waiting for the chance to tear apart the few remaining legal grounds for our Sabah claim. So it can tell the world that the resource-rich region is truly its own—without our dormant and feckless claim to the place.

Or perhaps the people of Bangladesh, who want  to formalize the transfer of the  tag “basket case of Asia” from them to us.

There is nothing—absolutely nothing—that other countries would find worthwhile in the Philippines. Nothing electrifying, nothing exciting. Even our country’s biggest boosters and prophets of boom cannot find a single electrifying thing about the country, even a single area where we are the global trailblazers.

During the mercantilist period, it was a little better. Our abundant natural resources made sure that the world knew of “manila hemp.” Or, “manila paper.” And “Philippine mahogany.” With the obliteration of hemp by plastics and the rape of our tropical forests by loggers, no worthwhile product is now identified with Manila of the Philippines.

Unless, of course, supplying maids even to tight spots and impossible corners of the globe is now our crowning glory as a nation. Our seamen, true, rule the seas of the world. But this is because we supply crew  (eagerly) to every tramp and floating junk that no other mariners want to man, those vessels that want to go around the pay scale for mariners as set by the International Transport Federation.

While our pool of overseas-ready maids can stretch longer than our considerable coastline, Asian countries such as India are conquering several managerial niches in OECD countries. At Silicon Valley and Wall Street, Indians have been dislodging Anglo-Saxons from choice managerial positions. Their IT guys not only lead Silicon Valley giants, even start-ups make use of Indian IT experts. Mind you, these are not all CalTech or MIT-trained digital age geniuses. They trained on Indian campuses, at specialized technology schools that offer world-class training in engineering and information technology. For every Diosdado Banatao we produce, the Indian technology schools turn out 10,000 or more.

The Indian invasion is such that even cafeterias at Silicon Valley now have to offer curry and other spicy foods to accommodate the conquering IT movers and shakers from Bombay and the like.

The Chinese are fast catching up and will soon give the Indians an intense competition over niche jobs in America.

It is not hard to find out what went wrong. The Indians spent all the cents they could afford to build a network of technology schools that can compete with the world’s best. Schools that lived up to the Wilsonian ideals—schools secure from the tumult of the world. The only duty of the students ensconced in these campuses was to learn and excel. And find a place among the world’s best talents after graduation. Which several young Indians did.

China is taking the same route, developing great learning centers for engineering and technology. It helps its outstanding graduates secure postgraduate degrees from the world’s most reputable universities. Which would burnish their résumés and hasten their entry into jobs young Filipinos could only dream of.

What went wrong with Filipinos? We have a surplus of IT schools, which turn out armies of simple-minded encoders every year. If not encoders, small-time hackers. The dream job of our so-called IT students is to be a call-center agent someday. Our IT schools are mostly found near videoke joints.

The current hot thing in the field of education is to offer caregiver courses—a puffed-up terminology for training overseas-ready domestic helpers. How sad.

Marlen V. Ronquillo

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