(Taken from Original Post from Inquirer at this link: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/119985/winners-of-overseas-filipinos-essay-contest-honored/)

MANILA – Winners of the Essay Contest on Overseas Filipinos were feted during an awards ceremony February 26 at the Manila Hotel during the gala dinner of the Third Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora held in Manila.

The essay contest with the theme “The Overseas Filipinos and their impact on the Philippines” was launched by the US Pinoys for Good Governance Marianas chapter (CNMI and Guam) Chairperson Dr. Celia Lamkin in collaboration with the Commission on Overseas and its chairperson, Secretary Imelda Nicolas.

There were 257 essay entries received by the USP4GG Ad Hoc Committee from both College and High School Categories from nine different countries: Philippines, USA, Greece, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, China, Bahrain, Qatar.

Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III sent congratulations to the winners: “Our countrymen have sacrificed much so that we can build upon the foundations they toiled for us. Let your perspectives and insights motivate our kababayans to intensify their support for our fellows in distant shores.”

The winners are the following:

College Category
Justin Keith Baquisal – First Prize of the University of the Philippines, Diliman
Dia Marmi Bazar – Second Prize of Misamis University at Misamis Occidental
Jeremy Mosquito- Third Prize of St. Mary’s University at Bayombong, Nueva Viscaya

High School
Patrick Duane Noche – First Prize of Calayan Educational Foundation,Inc at Lucena City
Eugenie Marie Pranada – First Prize of Philippine School of Bahrain
Hazel Ivy Jeremias – Second Prize of The Lewis College at Sorsogon City
Yvonne Dayne Luis -Third Prize of Durat Al Sharq International School at Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Grand winner Justin Keith Baquisal said, “As mass out-migration has become a trend since the 1970’s, the task for today’s generation is to critically examine the phenomenon and its effects on our private lives and public issues. I think we should continue to locate the overseas Filipino community in the narrative of our nationhood. They may be geographically far from us, often becoming citizens of other states either by economic necessity or free will, but I think their experiences should vitalize rather than be relegated from talks about national development.”

Eugenie Marie Pranada said, “The topic of the essay contest is timely, challenging, and relevant. The contest provided channels from the youth around the globe to come to one destination -the hearts of the OFWs. Also, this aided the realization and the discovery of the reader on what views the author has to offer to the world. Lastly, like any other writing competitions, all the contenders let their hearts speak. That’s how we won…the experience.”

The judges of the essay contest were:

Dr. Josefina G. Tayag,DPA, retired vice-chancellor of UP Manila; Zaldy Dandan, editor of Marianas Variety, Atty.Lolita Farmer,OAM, an immigration lawyer in Australia; George Chua, President and CEO of Bayan Automative Industries Corporation and President of Philippine Industries ( FPI) ; Mithi Aquino-Thomas, an experienced instructor and trainer in the customer service industry and wife of former US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas, Jr.

Gene Alcantara, chair of the European Network of Filipino Diaspora ( ENFiD) and immigration consultant in London; Juanita Nimfa Gamez, one of the 100 Most Influential Filipinas in the US in 2007 and CEO and president of a home care business in California; Romy Cayabyab, founder and publisher of the award-winning Internet publishing and media company in Sydney, Australia.

Ferth Vandensteen Manaysay, grand winner of USP4GG Essay Contest on West Philippine Sea and a community journalist/reporter for the Sun Star Publishing,Inc; and Dr. Celia B. Lamkin, chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee for USP4GG Essay Contest on Overseas Filipinos, founding chairperson of Global Filipino Diaspora Marianas and founding member, Board Member and Secretary of Global Filipino Diaspora Council.

Hazel’s winning piece can be read here:

by Hazel Jeremias

“The harsh whip of loneliness keeps beating hard on them but they won’t stop. They won’t quit. They won’t give up. Thousands of miles away from them, in the Philippines, are their families, the starving mouths and growling stomachs that depend on them for survival. With this in mind, who would stop working? If it meant another day for their kids, why not? If dripping sweat and back pain meant insurance of their families’ future, for them, it’s worth it. It doesn’t matter that they are physically away from home because for them, for the OFWs, what really matter is tomorrow.

Tomorrow. Others look forward for it. Some dread it. But to OFWs, tomorrow means a chance. Tomorrow means another day closer to their payday, another day for their families. But tomorrow, for them, also means another day of sacrifice and hard work.

The Philippines has been one of the top providers of labor and services throughout the world. The demand for OFWs has been strong and still it is. This is why many Filipinos are convinced to go abroad despite the dangers surrounding it. Aside from missing their families back home and being alone in the strange land, OFWs are undeniably exposed to dangers; some of them are abused, some even killed, and others tortured. Call them unwise, but for them, working overseas means a better salary. It would mean a better life for the family. It would mean better education for their children and abundance of food on their table. Our OFWs risk themselves in exchange of a chance at improving the lives of their families.

Our OFWs work hard not only for their families but for the nation as well. It is apparent that the Philippines has been constantly dependent on their remittances. According to National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the Philippine economy can only become less dependent on OFWs’ remittances but not completely independent from it. For the first eight months of 2014, total personal remittances – cash and non-cash – have climbed to $17.232 billion. This was because of the remittances of OFWs – land based and sea based workers abroad. Without a doubt, OFWs have become an indispensable part of our lives. Since remittances go straight to households, it is used on the essentials: food, water, clothing, shelter and education, improving the lives of millions of Filipinos and booming the country’s economy. These benefits are more than enough to show the huge contribution of OFWs to our economy.

They certainly are ‘economic heroes’ but can they be social heroes too?

The ability of OFWs to vote outside the country has remained an issue. Hence, Republic Act No. 9189 or The Overseas Absentee Voting Act was implemented, a law that provides a system for Philippine citizens either working or living outside the country to participate in an election.

Despite the implementation of the law and even though enough funds have been assigned and provided, there still have been unresolved election related issues.

Only 2.5 percent of 10 to 12 million Filipinos abroad were able to cast their votes in the Philippine elections in the past few years. The reason behind this, according to Drilon, was that the voting centers in the embassies and consulates are too far from the OFWs’ workplace or residence. This prompted Senate President Franklin Drilon to call the attention of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to speed up effective ways on how the OFWs can register and vote their chosen candidates in the 2016 elections online.

“It is high time that the COMELEC adopt all the necessary technologies that would empower about 10 – 12 million overseas Filipinos to use the register and vote in 2016 and onwards, without leaving their job sites or residences abroad,” Drilon said.

At present, OFWs still have to go to Philippine embassies and consulates to cast their votes. Voting would not only become easier but also faster once the OFWs are allowed to vote online.

The 10 – 12 million overseas Filipinos’ power to elect officials could definitely make a change. If this happens, then, the Philippines would improve. And we would have the OFWs to thank again. Aside from being dubbed as “economic heroes”, they could be called “social heroes” too.

Despite their major contribution in the economy, they are among the sectors who are getting the least benefits from our country’s growth and development. The OFWs and their families have been ironically confronted with overwhelming social issues.

Economic benefits do have social costs. Although their remittances pave a path to a better way of living and better education opportunities for their families, the impact to their families left behind is huge.

The presence of the internet and technological devices has somehow helped OFWs communicate with their families back at home. It’s however undeniable that using it is not enough to compensate for their absence. No computer or robot can replace a parent. Children will always long for the emotional bond and physical presence of a mother and a father. As for the OFWs, they miss important family events and occasions that they are supposed to be spending beside their growing children. These are the painful sacrifices that they have to make in order to provide a better life to their families.

The absence of one or both parents definitely affects the children left behind. This opens doors for series of problems that the children may encounter. Resentment is a common case among children with parents abroad.

Young children may resent their parent/s for going abroad. They may not totally understand the foremost reason why their parents had to leave them and in some cases, children may think that their parents chose a better life abroad instead of a miserable life with them. Teenagers, on the other hand, could take the situation positively or otherwise. Positively because of the material benefits they get but negatively if they resent their parents for leaving them. Some children may not even know their parents well, only bonding with them through phone calls and receiving money and material things that are regularly sent to them. They only see them as good providers but they do not fully appreciate the effort of their absentee parents. As a dire consequence, they could hardly cope with difficulties because they are accustomed to living materialistically.

Children who grow up while while their parents work overseas are likely to be less socially adjusted than other children. They tend to be angry and confused and and just like orphans, they could eventually experience a feeling of “permanent absence”. This is saddening. These children who are left behind may not only feel abandoned but may gradually end up not recognizing or accepting their parents. They may believe that their parents do not care at all as they are not always home. Moreover, children with parents abroad tend to experience confusion in gender roles. They seek the comfort of their peers and friends as they do not have immediate parents to run to.

A lot of Filipina mothers are going abroad because they are well-known for providing excellent care to their families. They take good care of other people to the expense of leaving the custody of their children to someone else. Most of the fathers who are left at home are the ones assuming the role of the mom. They are the ones doing household chores which are typical responsibilites that mothers do and this could be somewhat confusing to the children. There have been situations also when fathers pass on these maternal responsibilities to the eldest daughter in the family. At a young age, some children are forced to act as mom to their siblings. Instead of playing with other kids and doing school projects and assignments, they assume the motherly task of caring for the family.

Another problem which arises from parental absence is the vulnerability of the child to abuses.

The child left behind to a relative and even to his/her own parent can be a potential victim of different forms of abuses. The other troubling aspect with this is if the parent abroad does not know about the helpless condition of his or her child. This aggravates the resentment of the child. He may think that his or her parent is not there to protect him or her and may feel robbed of help when he or she needs it the most.

The OFWs are willing to take the risk of not seeing their kids grow just to give them a better future. They must not forget however that their task to provide is coupled with a task of caring for them too. OFWs’ impact to the country does not go unnoticed. They have immensely helped the nation economically as they have opened doors of better opportunities for the Filipinos. It is well-deserved that they have been dubbed as economic heroes. But great power comes with great responsibility. Can we consider them our social heroes too?”