INDAY (not her real name) has been living in Trinidad and Tobago for the past 10 years with her foreigner husband and their four children. There are about 500 Filipinos living in the Caribbean nation in various sectors, in construction, hospitality, healthcare and domestic work. She was living a peaceful and ordinary life, until Leni Robredo delivered that six-minute message painting the Philippines as a dark place where people are mired in helplessness and hopelessness. Radio stations began to speak harshly about the Philippines, even painting our country as if we have become a war zone where just anyone can be killed in the streets. Commentaries in the media and even from her friends were so insulting, and have caused her much stress. Many of her friends have messaged her, concerned about the safety of her family still living here, something that she is not sure if she should appreciate.
And the stories keep coming, from nurses, domestic helpers, immigrants, engineers, Filipinos all. They have to endure being objects of misplaced concern over how we cope with the horror of being under a tyrannical despot, or of downright condemnation of how we can allow a President who targets the poor and has ordered the execution of more than 7,000 drug users.
Even Filipinos who are supposed to be on vacation have to suffer the effects of the disinformation, like Melanie (not her real name) who was on vacation in Ecuador had to bear. Instead of pleasantly engaging her tour group colleague, she had to spend time debunking accusations that we are some backward country whose President is a crazy, maniacal murderer who loves to kill at will.
And the most painful story is that of Elaine (not her real name), who is married to an Italian but lives in Thailand with their child. Elaine is dying of cancer, and she wants to come home to spend the rest of her life with her parents and family in her hometown. After being exposed to the unfavorable images painted by the international media, and further affirmed by the speech of Mrs. Robredo, her husband refuses to come with her. He believes that the Philippines is not a safe place under President Duterte. Elaine begged him to allow even just their child to come with her, but her husband refused to grant her request. He told her that she can go home by herself, or just remain in Thailand to die there, and he will just send her ashes or remains to her parents here.
There are millions of overseas Filipinos in the global diaspora. We may not be the only nationality that is scattered all over the world, but we are surely the most diasporic, in the sense that regardless of our circumstances, whether we are just temporary migrant workers, or permanent residents or even citizens of our adoptive countries, we remain attached to the Filipino homeland.
The circumstances that drive us to leave can be to seek greener pastures abroad, or simply to earn more by sacrificing so much. There are Filipinos who have to leave their children, barely old enough to take care of themselves, to take care of other countries’ children. We leave our parents and elderly, in order to serve the needs of the aged and the infirm in other countries. We leave jobs here that pay less to go to jobs abroad that pay more even if it means selling everything that we have earned.
There are also many of us who migrate and take up citizenship abroad, but the taking of an oath of loyalty to other countries, and marrying their citizens and starting families there, can never extinguish our bond with the Philippines.
And these are the millions of Filipinos in the diaspora that have now been offended by Robredo’s six-minute speech that slandered the President, but in the end also slandered our country and people.
As one overseas Filipino lamented, embodying a widely held sentiment, Leni Robredo spoke with the Philippine flag behind her, and the seal of her office prominently displayed. She inflicted the authority of her office to become a burden for the overseas Filipinos to bear. Her unverified accusations took the mantle of an official declaration, and acquired the character of authoritative truth, for it came from the second highest official of the land.
It is, however, heartwarming to see overseas Filipino workers assertively standing up to dispel the lies and the half-truths. It is simply amazing how ordinary people in the Filipino diaspora rose to defend not only the President but their homeland.
We owe it to every mother who left her children, every husband who left his wife and family, and every Filipino who left us but remains with us, to rise up too in solidarity and defend if not the President, then our country.
We who are left behind have to be at the forefront in unmasking the lies of Leni Robredo and her allies.
Leni apologists will dismiss this as obsession, or misplaced loyalty.