Political awakening of a migrant teacher
Correspondence. The hardships suffered by migrant workers doubled when the Covid-19 pandemic raged across the world. These migrants include Julie, a migrant teacher from Mindanao who has been working for several years in another Asian country, where the number of Filipino migrants is relatively low.
She admitted she decided to leave her family and country to apply for a job abroad and receive a higher salary. Her starting salary abroad was roughly equivalent to a principal’s pay in the Philippines. There is a high demand for Filipino teachers who are proficient in English in the country where she works.
Classrooms closed, eyes opened
When the government in the country where she works closed schools from March to April 2020, Julie experienced firsthand the vulnerable situation of many migrant Filipino teachers like her. Although she was able to find a part-time job and benefit from the material and medical support extended by her part-time employer during the lockdown, she couldn’t turn a blind eye on the plight of several Filipino teachers in other schools who worked on a “no work, no pay” basis and lost their jobs and were not able to find work. “These teachers already earn lower salaries. They also worked under a 10-month contract which meant they didn’t earn a living when the lockdown was announced,” she said sadly.
“I was also supposed to go home for a vacation in May 2020 but was advised against it because it was difficult to come back due to the lockdown,” she said. Many teachers who went back to the Philippines prior to the lockdown were not able to return. They are now jobless, she added.
Despite having no income, Julie says that not one of the Filipino teachers or workers who stayed in or near the residential compound where she lived received any financial or material aid from the Philippine government during the lockdown.
As the lockdown went on, seeing empty classrooms made her feel more homesick. She worried about living in isolation, short on funds and resources, and unable to come home. She found solace in sharing stories with other migrant Filipino workers.
This period opened her eyes to the prevailing social ills that, prior to the health crisis and the socio-economic hardships that came with it, seemed to linger only in the periphery of her daily life as a migrant worker. Her understanding of the underlying reasons why millions of Filipinos were pushed to become migrant workers deepened.
Reading political writings published by progressive and revolutionary Filipinos helped her understand the current situation. She came across the website of the Philippine revolution, including the Ang Bayan newspaper, and other accounts of revolutionary organizations in social media, and followed current events more closely. This period also made her understand her brother better, and the life he chose for himself.
Unbeknown to her fellow migrants, Julie is the sister of Ka Elmo, a Red fighter of the New People’s Army in Mindanao.
Ka Elmo regularly engages Julie in “remote organizing and consolidation,” giving her reading assignments on the national democratic revolution and recommending Marxist-Leninist resource materials to raise her political and ideological consciousness.
In their online exchanges, Ka Elmo updated Julie on the state of the country and Rodrigo Duterte’s failed response to the Covid-19 public health crisis, especially its impact to the Philippine education system. Ka Elmo himself worked as a teacher for a year before joining the NPA, while their mother is a public school teacher.
Although far from home, Julie is aware of the hardships suffered by Filipino teachers and students
“It seems that the Duterte government basically just abandoned the teachers and the students,” Julie said, citing their mother’s experience of having to provide for materials and resources such as modules or internet connection from her own pocket because the subsidies and allowances for these are either non-existent or insufficient.
Julie shares her brother’s view of the stark contrast of Duterte’s pandemic response compared to that of other leaders in neighboring countries. Julie could not help but compare the more prompt response and more developed health system in the country where she works.
The situation of Filipino citizens are comparable with the situation of citizens where Julie works, but their government’s response to the pandemic is relatively better. Julie is already fed up with the Duterte government’s response, especially as schools remain closed unlike in the country where she works.
“Duterte keeps on insisting that Filipinos should adjust to the ‘new normal,’ but it turns out that the new normal is actually just an attempt to normalize his regime’s failures and inutile policies, corruption and misprioritization in the government budget,” said Julie in one of her conversations with Elmo. She also scoffed at the government’s aid program, aware how this is corruption-ridden.
“Peasants and Lumads who belong to the most neglected sectors of society should have been taken into consideration for planning the blended learning learning system,” she said. The Duterte government did not take into consideration hundreds of students with no access to internet and electricity especially teachers and students in provinces and far flung areas. “They have to walk hours just to procure the modules on their own,” said Elmo.
She is infuriated with the fascist regime’s brazen attacks on Lumad schools and bakwit centers. “It is no wonder that many peasants and Lumad turn to the armed revolution as a means to end their oppression.”
“When the health crisis subsides and I am able to go back to the Philippines, I’ll come visit you in the countryside,” Julie promised Ka Elmo. In the meantime, she said that she will continue learning more about the Filipino people’s protracted war and, “if she can,” start an organizing group in the country where she is based “to support the struggle back home.”