Poverty is the reason most cited for the desperate desire of Filipino workers, most of them women, to leave country and family for jobs abroad.

The women picketing the Japanese embassy in protest over the Japanese government’s new rules on the accreditation of entertainers who want to work in the fabled land of the quick yen said so in as many words, and described unemployment opportunities in the land of their birth as nil, besides.

The women’s claims belied those rosy reports on the astounding 6.1 percent growth of the economy–which, of course, was mostly driven by OFW remittances, which as of last count stood at over billion a year.

The protests were as badly timed as the killing of a journalist this week and of a witness in the killing of Pagadian journalist Edgar Damalerio in 2001. These deaths occurred in the middle of government indignation over the International Federation of Journalists’ report that no one has been punished for the deaths of over 50 journalists in this country since 1986.

Such is life in the neo-colony of our nightmares. Like violence and government indifference, poverty and unemployment are not only regularly described as non-existent by the government; they are also regarded in this paradise on earth as part of God’s infinite plan. Few, if any Filipinos–and certainly never the government– ever bother to ask why Filipinos are so poor, and why most of them can’t get work and have to leave kith and kin for abroad so they can scrub bedpans all day or be on their backs all night in countries whose names they can’t even spell.

Philippine poverty is the result of policies one Philippine government after another since 1946 has willingly implemented on the “advice” of such US-dominated agencies as the International Monetary Fund.

Those policies have studiously prevented industrial development even as successive landlord-dominated governments saw to it that no real land reform would ever be implemented. The result is declining agricultural productivity amid rapid population growth the small and shrinking manufacturing sector can’t absorb, as desperate peasants make for the cities by the tens of thousands each year.

What economic policies now exist are focused, not on the basics of industrialization and land reform, but on tourism development, attracting foreign investments, and the export of labor.

These complementary policies have ruined the countryside most, and women and the Filipino family have been their primary victims. As purchasing power declined and population doubled, the destruction of traditional livelihoods among rural women such as arts and crafts accelerated, forcing young women to move to the cities in search of work, often to fall victim to the lures of various syndicates, among them those that send women off to other cities or other countries as sex workers.

No doubt some women look at the hitherto worse-than-death fate as better than the slow death of grinding poverty and as the sole means through which their ideas of luxury–an apartment with a TV and flush toilet, three square meals a day–can be realized.

A subculture that makes willing prostitutes of some Filipinas so long as the price is right has arisen in this country. The same subculture looks at washing chamber pots and bedpans in a nursing home in Australia in the same light. For that we have to thank the continuing decline of the economy and, correspondingly, that of traditional values, plus the conspicuous affluence of newly returned OFWs in the blighted countryside.

The new Japanese rules–which now require applicants from the Philippines for entertainer visas to have trained or to have had experience in a country other than the Philippines for at least two years–were provoked by the inclusion of Japan in the US State Department’s “Tier 2 Watch List” on human trafficking last June, 2004.

Since 2000, Japan has been in a US list of countries regarded as destinations for men, women and children “trafficked for sexual exploitation” across borders, as well as a country in which those trafficked are “resold”. The 2004 “Tier 2 Watch List,” however, is a special category that includes countries where trafficking is worsening in terms of the number of victims.

The US human trafficking list has three “Tiers” in which Tier 1 refers to countries whose governments comply with the minimum standards of the US Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Act of 2003; Tier 2 refers to countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards of the Act but “are making significant progress” in complying with those standards; and Tier 3, in which countries “whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards” and are not doing much to do so are listed.

Both Japan and the Philippines are in Tier 2, as well as in the special “Tier 2 Watch List,” meaning these countries, while supposedly trying to comply with the the US Act’s standards, have recorded increases in the number of victims of trafficking. Japan has imposed the new rules so as to be de-listed from this special category as well as from the Tier 2 list.

What’s significant about the new rules as applied to the Philippines is that it assumes Philippine government accreditation as unreliable. That’s the assumption of the requirement that an applicant for an entertainer visa should have had training in a third country or at least two years’ experience as an entertainer.

The trafficking of Filipinas to Japan and elsewhere has in fact flourished with the cooperation-for-a-fee of the bureaucrats of the government agency tasked with accrediting Filipinas as “artists”. It is widely known that the accreditation can be obtained through bribery, and that many bureaucrats in that agency have enriched themselves as a result.

Internal trafficking in the Philippines has been a problem of long standing, driven not only by poverty but also by such other factors as the presence of US military bases from 1946 to 1990, and lately, the return of US troops via the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Balikatan military exercises.

Presumably all these are known to the present government, but are of no consequence to it, given the cost of protecting Filipinas from international and domestic trafficking not only to the economy but also to its relations with the United States.

The Arroyo government’s campaign to either get the Japanese government to loosen its rules or to defer their implementation–for three years is what the women protesting at the Japanese Embassy and their recruiters want–is of course premised on the huge losses in remittances, estimated at 90 percent, that are likely to result.

While Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo has landed in Tokyo in what’s likely to be a doomed effort to plead for a change in Japanese policy, the Arroyo government has not said anything about the internal trafficking of Filipinas. That figures, given its commitment to allow more US troops more frequently into the country in furtherance of its time-honored role as a US client.

Conclusion: they’re all in this together, the hypocrites.

There’s the Philippine government, the corruption of whose officials has contributed immensely to Japanese perceptions that government accreditation of entertainers is unreliable and whose policies since 1946 have steadily impoverished the country;

There’s the Japanese government, which, before the US put it in its special list couldn’t have cared less about the fate of the men, women and children who end up in Japan as victims of sexual exploitation;

And then, last but certainly not least, there’s the compiler of the Watch List itself, the presence of whose troops then and now made internal trafficking so profitable for the pimps and sex syndicates in this famished land, and whose surrogate and own agencies turned the country into a basket case–and in which, incidentally, there are an estimated 16,000 victims of trafficking, according to its own US Justice Department.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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