You may have passed this post over when the story first broke; as a Facebook type feel-good story. I did.
When I came to delete it I read the whole story and it spoke to me of the real spirit of the Filipino.
Two months ago crew members on an NPR oil rig in the Gulf of Thailand saw a young dog swimming nearby.
If you are from the US, do you remember the oil rigs on the Santa Barbara coast. If so you might think this dog could have swum from the coast or maybe fell off a speedboat.
But this dog wasn’t 3, 5, or 12 kms from land but 220kms.
Where he came from is unclear, maybe from a freighter, many ply a trade in these waters.
Many of those boats have Filipino crew.
Fortunately the weather was calm on this day, or the dog would have drowned.
According to Merrit Kennedy of NPR, oil rig worker Vitisak Payalaw said the dog swam toward the rig’s platform and clung to it.
He was shivering and partly submerged as the seas got rougher.
The dog held on silently as the oil rig workers above built an impromptu rope sling to rescue him.
Vitisak Payalaw said “His eyes were so sad. He just kept looking up just like he wanted to say, ‘Please help me.'”
His wordless appeal moved the normally tough oil rig workers into a more concerted effort to rescue him.
They couldn’t help themselves said Payalaw, they just had to help.
Once they successfully pulled the dog up, the workers gave him a bath, and water and an electrolyte drink.
They named him Boonrod, which means “good-karma survivor”. And he is certainly surviving his ordeal.
So Why Are We Featuring This Story On Life Philippines?
Well it’s like this.
Boonrod is an Aspin, “a breed native to the Philippines”.
Here it also refers to it’s status as a popular mongrel dog.
Although it is also known by derogatory names like “askal” which is “street dog” in Tagalog
Boonrod is now in Thailand and it looks like Payalaw will be adopting him.
The “Thaiger” a Puket and Thailand news source, reports that Boonrod has recovered. He has also become a bit of a social media star, with a popular Facebook page. His fans love to draw and create paintings of him.
He has landed on his feet and is making a success of his life.
So much better than swimming in the usually unsettled seas of the Gulf of Thailand!
Lets Apply The Same Story To Filipinos.
In looking for dominant Filipino bloodlines, it has become clear that Filipinos do not have any.
There is no dominant Malay, Spanish or Chinese markers in their DNA.
Like Boonrod they are tough, resourceful, evolved in the school of catastrophe.
Just like Boonrod they often find themselves struggling to survive.
Often forced overseas by the limited opportunities in their homeland.
Where more often than not they quickly earn a place of respect in their new communities.
We can all nod our heads sagely in approval, at those 11 or 12 million Filipinos who live overseas. Two and a half million of them as OFW’s.
Where it all comes unhinged though is the derision with which those who remain are treated.
We have managed to make heroes and losers out of people, based on our interpretation of their behaviour.
Or for the ways in which they handle staying here.
If that sounds a bit melodramatic, bear with me as I explore a bit further.
What Is The Difference Between Those Who Stay And Those Who Go?
While the complexities of DNA and genetics have yet to be completely understood, what is very clear is that human behaviour is often driven by predispositions.
That is a leaning toward a certain type of behaviour genetically based but triggered by the environment we grow up in, and the values of our significant others.
This has been confirmed by twin studies which give us some very big clues to help us answer the question.
These studies show that twins, identical ones, will grow up to be markedly different people with differing dominant behavioural traits if the values and opportunities they are exposed to in their environment differ.
So the differences in the behaviours they choose when faced with pressure in their environment, are partially based on those dispositions.
Which are further refined by the values they carry with them from significant others.
So for the purposes of this exercise we are going to examine just two environmental pressures that Filipinos face.
From those two I hope that you can extrapolate the principles to the many others that are challenges every day.
Lack Of Educational Opportunity As An Environmental Trigger
In this society, lack of educational opportunity is a reality that faces 10% of Filipinos in the age range 6 – 24 years.
The Filipino hunger for education is undisputed, with the average Filipino achieving educationally at a level not required in the west.
Seventy five percent is the pass mark at every level of schooling from Elementary to College.
Graduating takes hard work, and that hard work is undertaken with commitment by the majority of those that get the opportunity.
According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, the breakdown of those 10% or 3.8 million Filipinos not participating in the education system is as follows:
- 5% of 6 – 11 year olds
- 7.7% of 12 – 15 year olds.
- 87.3% of 16 – 24 year olds.
A Further Breakdown Of The Figures
Further analysis showed:
- Girls are over represented.
- The poor are over represented.
But even more telling is the fact that when surveyed in 2017, finances or lack of them had a part to play in the decision of 90% of those opting out.
That is a real environmental pressure, an education system not fully utilised by those for whom it was conceived because of financial constraints.
The paramount reasons were:
- Not enough income to support the family.
- No disposable income to keep a young person in school.
If you doubt this assessment ask among your expat friends the one benefit that Filipinos in relationships with foreigners use most.
I think you will find it is the pursuit of educational opportunities previously inaccessible.
Looking At Employment Opportunities As An Environmental Trigger
For those who do manage to to get through the education system with a bright and shiny degree, the journey may only be beginning.
The two biggest hurdles to a successful transition from being educated to working are:
- The actual paid job market for some degrees suddenly shrinks when a reasonable wage and working conditions are factored in to the equation.
- Unfortunately colleges and even some universities in the Philippines are still training for job markets that were saturated 10 years ago.
- During your course there are always plenty of opportunities to work in placements for free
- Low paid internships are available during holidays as part of the deal with the particular institution, but their is rarely any guarantee of real life employment at the conclusion of your course.
- The Palakasay System is the endemic name that covers what is formally known as nepotism and cronyism.
- While there is an argument for both in some circumstances. You will see that what they promote is not the kind of laissez faire nepotism or cronyism that is alive and well in the Philippines, more like family succession planning.
- The Palakasay System, hires, promotes and pays not on the basis of competence or potential, but on the basis of the relationship above all else.
- This cuts out all but the most outstanding of applicants, from obtaining positions, and those that do usually land up being used by family members and friends that that don’t have any talent, to bolster their careers
A True Story
A Filipina we know gained employment in a local trading company.
She was an expert in beauty and hair products, when the owner found this out she employed a sister-in-law to be a buyer of these products and the woman we knew to be her assistant.
The new buyer knew nothing about about the products she was buying, she relied totally on the woman we knew, for every decision in the process, but took all the credit.
In addition she was paid twice as much as her assistant.
The woman we knew resigned after 6 months and repeated attempts to get some financial justice and professional recognition.
I don’t know about karma, but we watched a thriving arm of the business disintegrate over the following 12 months under the management of the incompetent relative.
It finally dragged the whole operation down and the family shut up shop entirely.
Behaviours In Response To The Environmental Pressure We Have Described
Those Resulting From A Lack Of Educational Opportunity
- Giving up on education, and pursuing some kind of paid employment to survive
- Putting aside their education temporarily, while they get a job and:
- Try to work and study
- Try to obtain a scholarship
- Seek employment with the armed forces or a government agency that may pay for or assist in paying for their further education
- Seek an overseas position where an employer might provide or assist in providing educational opportunities
Those Resulting From A Lack Of Employment Opportunity
- They may take what work they can get, to support themselves and their families.
- May go back into the education system seeking a more relevant degree, thus postponing their entry into the productive workforce.
- They may take their degree and go overseas and work. This sounds great and can work well for those with experience behind their degrees, but for many it means taking more units so that they are able:
- To function in a truly English speaking environment.
- Gain an understanding of local legal requirements.
- Be proficient in local practices.
The behaviours listed above are just a sample, I am sure you could find some even more intriguing ones with a little research.
The Values Component
However one thing to keep in mind is the other part of the equation, one that perhaps can offer even more insight into how these things play out.
That is the underlying values that each of us bring to the environmental pressures we encounter.
Working on this premise we can perhaps arrive at a less judgmental understanding of why some people stay in the country while others go overseas.
The values that we carry in our lives may mediate us to stay because we are committed to family. Or go for exactly the same reasons.
Some may have values that say we need to protect our families in times of adversity by keeping them close. Others that we need to take risks to get out there and bring home the bacon.
One person will see opportunities in the Philippines where another sees overseas work as the only option.
Another will see that the system needs to be changed and will stay. While another will see it as a “cot case” to be abandoned as quickly as possible.
What is very important to understand is that those different behaviours are not actioned at a conscious level. They are not right or wrong, noble or uncouth, they are just the way we behave given certain triggers.
So maybe Boonrod is no more a hero than the Aspin that sleeps on the road at night.
Or even more importantly the OFW is no more a hero than those who stay in the Philippines.
By the way, try to remember the equation Predisposition + Values = Respone to Environmental Pressures.
It applies to us all not just Filipinos
I hope that makes some sense to you, it did for me. The only reason why I took the unusual step of writing about a less tangible subject.