According to a 2017 survey, there are 2.3 million OFWs or overseas Filipino workers; and in another survey it was found that the Philippines is 3rd in the world when it comes to receiving the most amount of remittances at 30 billion US dollars (the 1st is India at 72 billion and the 2nd is China at 64 billion).
I was thinking of these numbers today because I was watching a CNN documentary in Netflix featuring Christiane Amanpour on the topic of Love & Sex around the world.
So far, she has gone to Lebanon, India, Japan, Ghana, Germany and China to find out the current mores and conditions pertaining to marriage, love and sexuality among these countries’ population. She has not visited the Philippines yet; which makes me curious as to how she will portray my country in her stories.
I have an idea, Christiane — and it is that of all the nations in the world, it is Filipinos who are the experts on long distance relationships (LDR).
If PhDs on LDRs will be endowed to anyone, it will be Pinoys who will graduate at the top of their class.
We have turned long distance romantic relationships into an art form.
A story: there is a woman named D who is married to a ship captain named M. The two of them were married just before M went into his first voyage overseas as a sailor (“seaman” is how we Filipinos refer to these men who run the world’s shipping vessels). Out of every year, M and D would meet and be together for one or two months; so 10 months out of 12 they would not be physically in contact. Before the days of internet, D and M would communicate with telegrams and snail mail and long distance phone calls (in fact, D was the first person in my neighborhood to have a telephone back in the days when only business establishments have phone lines; and in fact, my mom owes a lot to D and her telephone because my mom would communicate with her sisters in Canada using this device). Today, D and M have been married for 39 years. They are still together. Ten years ago, M stopped working and settled with his wife in their condo near a mall. Their only child (my childhood playmate K), has finished her studies and was about to get married. So there is no more need for M to hop into a ship again. I am curious though — how does it feel for D to now be constantly around M’s presence after him being gone all those long years?
D & M’s story is one that has been happening hundreds of thousands of times among Filipinos. Ever since the government made it a policy to send foreign workers abroad in the 70s to supplement our much-needed dollar reserves, the story of couples who have to sustain their relationships from thousands of miles away has been a quintessential Filipino story (or at least, Filipino middle class story — the class D and Class A have a different one, a topic for another blog post).
It takes a certain faith and resilience to make an LDR work. Especially an LDR that spans years or decades even. Not a few relationships that I personally know have crumbled because the male or female partner was abroad.
There is a song in Tagalog by Joel Ayala (I mentioned in a previous post that it was by Noel Cabangon; well I was wrong — my bad) which I think is the theme song for Pinoy OFWs and their significant others. It is called “Walang Hanggang Paalam”. It’s melody is a sad guitar, accompanied by what sounds like a banduria, and the lyrics go like, “at habang magkalayo, papalapit pa rin ang puso/ kahit na magkahiwalay, tayo’y magkasama sa magkabilang dulo ng mundo.” (we move farther apart though our hearts grow together, and meet from different ends of the world — my awkward translation)
Needless to say, I am a hopeless romantic. I believe that love prevails in the end. And despite the difficulties that distance or time or financial/resource constraints will impose, Pinoys will find a way to care for those they love.