Sadly, many desperate Filipinos now have to travel abroad just to work as domestic helpers or laborers in countries more affluent than the Philippines.
The more fortunate ones still travel abroad to study as scholars in schools of higher learning or train in their fields of expertise, visit interesting landmarks and places as tourists, go on religious pilgrimages, spend vacations with relatives, or negotiate business deals.
When our economy was much better, our tourists traveled often to Hong Kong to shop while the wealthy ones frequented European and American vacation destinations.
In fact, we were used to traveling abroad even in the distant past.
Our Tausug Muslim brothers from the Royal Sultanate of Sulu, for instance, used to roam as rulers the islands and districts in and around the Sulu Sea long before the Spaniards came.
During the Spanish regime, sons of our prominent families traveled to Madrid, the capital of our colonizers, to study medicine, law, engineering, and the arts and sciences.
Our Spanish conquistadores probably didn’t realize that in addition, our students in Spain would also learn of the French Revolution, be inspired by it, and return home as converted nationalists bringing with them its message of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
It was while traveling across Europe when our national hero Jose Rizal wrote most of his Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which would later spark our revolution against the Spaniards.
In the early years of American rule, the cream of our youth would be selected as “pensionados” by our Americans colonizers and sent to American universities to study as scholars the modern system of running a democratic government.
In the 1930s, our workers started to seek greener pastures abroad as pineapple workers in Hawaii and as apple pickers and sardine factory workers in mainland USA. Later, they would be joined by our doctors, nurses, accountants and engineers.
We started to travel to the Middle East in the 1970s as construction engineers and later as its masons, carpenters, electricians, welders, clerks and laborers to build most of its infrastructures.
Even now, we still operate their oil fields and refineries, electric facilities and man their hotels at the front desks, lobbies and kitchens.
Our female workers run their hospitals as nurses, therapists and aides and serve in their homes as babysitters, drivers and domestic helpers.
Filipino students still enrol in western universities, but we know of a growing number now studying in Japan and Singapore. Maybe, some Chinese-Filipinos are now also travelling to China to study.
Our government officials travel abroad to negotiate bilateral agreements but more often, they seek additional training that would enhance their work skills.
For instance, President Digong Duterte will fly to Lima, Peru on Nov. 19 to meet other world leaders of the member countries of Asia-Pacific Economic Conference.
Never a world traveler while Davao City mayor for almost 23 years, he has already visited eight countries—all Asian countries—since becoming president 140 days ago.
He really wanted to speak directly to our overseas Filipino workers in these countries to thank them for being his staunchest supporters in the last election.
But we believe that his main purpose is to build bridges of friendship and cooperation that will connect us to our neighboring countries in the fields of trade, commerce, and investments.
Perhaps, he also believes that by offering his personal friendship to their leaders, he will also get their understanding and approval of his bold anti-drugs campaign.
As he visits these countries, we could only hope that he would be a good student and apply what he had learned to improve the lives of our ordinary citizens whenever he returns back.
We want him to bring home not only pledges of billion dollars’ worth of direct investments but also technical assistance on how to solve our traffic and poverty problems.
Eventually, he has to travel to USA to meet its new president. By then, he should have prepared hard what his agenda would be in that meeting.
Finally, we need to travel abroad to learn the best about pensions. Obviously, we still don’t understand our pension program 60 years after we first implemented it in 1957.
Was this the reason why key officials of the Social Security System preferred attending the World Social Security Forum in Panama City from Nov. 14 to 18 instead of helping out Congress in its final deliberation on the P2,000 pension increase?
Did they present our single main predicament to the 1,000-plus social security leaders and experts who attended the forum? Did they get helpful ideas on how to solve it?
We doubt, as we also doubt that our SSS officials would ever translate into reality the forum’s theme of “transforming lives, shaping societies.”
We are more inclined to believe that their travel was a waste of precious funds that could have been spent better augmenting the funding requirements of the P2,000 pension increase.
Their travel was unnecessary unless their purpose was to see the artificial 77-kilometer Panama Canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean.