04 March 2004

---A Rejoinder To My Feb.29 Post

Today the editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer deplored the decision of the recent medical boards’ topnotcher to seek greener fields abroad. Aptly titled “SELLOUT,” it used sarcasm to drive home its point.

Here is the editorial in its entirety:

THE TOPNOTCHER of the recent board exams for medical graduates makes no bones about his target: BIG BUCKS. He means to make his pile as a nurse in the United States, where the demand for nurses is such that Filipinos with a nursing degree are heading there literally in droves. He notes that nursing jobs in the land of plenty command "six-digit" monthly salaries in Philippine pesos, earnings that, he says, have left his former classmates now settled and working there "fully satisfied" and convinced that "it's really worth it."

And he epitomizes a poignant twist in the Filipino quest for employment overseas, a "trend," he calls it: physicians returning to school to acquire the precious nursing degree that would equip them to join the foreign legion now laboring in US hospitals. (It's said that certain medical schools have put up special sections for such "students," the point apparently being that they are quite apart from those who come in cold.)

Disturbing? But you could say that Elmer Reyes Jacinto is well within his rights to plan his life according to the dictates of commerce, no matter that by his own reckoning, he is no stranger to books and, presumably, to the life of the mind. He grew up in Lamitan town in the southern province of Basilan, in a neighborhood not unlike many others in the Philippine archipelago, where sons and daughters fly off to various points on the planet with the end in view of sending money home to their families. (This sort of flight is actually nothing new. Even in speakeasy-era America, the ex-gumshoe Dashiell Hammett was already writing about some Filipino sullenly waiting on tables or a Filipino houseboy opening a decaying mansion's front door and immediately melting into the shadows. Of course, the flight has become an exodus since then, even to parts unknown and therefore exceedingly dangerous.) His parents see in nursing a "big opportunity," and are generous in their encouragement.

In fact, as Jacinto himself tells it, his father has come to grips with the paramount value of money and where it can be found: "There's no money in writing." But in nursing there is, according to the father's estimation -- a point that the son has taken to heart.

This is what we have come to in this country of our afflictions, where young (28), bright (magna cum laude in Medicine) offspring of middle-class professionals (teachers in mathematics, science and English), yet unencumbered by the challenges of life (single, no children), throw in the towel before even putting up a fight.

What a sellout.

Columnist Ellen Tordesillas from another daily, Malaya, made a similar pitch and titled it, “DEPLORABLE AMBITION.” Part of her column said:

“Jacinto's case is not isolated either. I know of a young doctor in our neighboring town who is taking up nursing subjects weekends in preparation for his and his nurse-wife's application to migrate to Canada. WHAT A WASTE OF TALENT AND SKILL.

IT IS IRONIC that it is happening in a country where the people are known to be caring. In fact, that's the very attribute that makes Filipino nurses in demand all over the world.

Figures of the UP College of Nursing reveal that 90 percent of their graduates are abroad. This sad reality has prompted one UP official to consider recommending that the premier state university scrap the nursing course if what they are being reduced to is supplier of caregivers for richer countries. There is a hopeful note, however, in the figures at the UP College of Medicine. "The trend" of doctors opting to be nurses that Jacinto mentioned is not so strong among UP-PGH doctors. In fact, the number of UP-PGH medical graduates going abroad is going down from the 65 percent in past years.

Do we say that UP-PGH doctors are imbued with more idealism? Or probably they are more ambitious?”

The UP-PGH tone in Tordessillas’ piece might invite division among medical schools as the recent topnotch doctor is from Fatima Medical School. I am sure recent UP-PGH doctors have other reasons in not going abroad as nurses.

It is already a established fact that overseas contract work has become the Philippines’ prime export commodity, with nursing emerging as the MOST IN-DEMAND profession. Overseas Filipino worker (OFW) remittances amounted to US$7 billion in 1998, and are such a vital source of revenue that since the mid-1980s the government has lauded these workers as the country’s “new economic heroes” or mga bagong bayani. As of 2001, overseas Filipinos numbered 2.74 million and OFWs 4.67 million, of whom 3.05 million are documented and 1.62 million undocumented.

It must be remembered by everyone that migration is not wholly a personal decision motivated by desire for capitalist accumulation, but also reflects the lack of development policies on the part of the government and the lack of satisfactory living and employment opportunities within the home country.

I believe that, if only the government took care of its doctors and nurses, that if only it fixed the economy correctly and not preoccupy itself with corruption and politics, then migration of the best and the brightest would be curbed. Curbed but not stopped, because as Ellen Tordesillas would say, “non-material ambition is a luxury only for the born-privileged and fools like me.”

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