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The Filipino Spirit vs. Yolanda and the Bojol tremors: brief thoughts from a historical viewpoint

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The Filipino Spirit vs. Yolanda and the Bojol tremors: brief thoughts from a historical viewpoint

Before 1565, we were a disunited bunch. Filipinas as we know it today (as Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo) did not exist yet during that time. And it is with certainty that Taclobanons back then were only concerned with their own territory and people. But so it was with Tagalogs, Cebuanos, Bicolanos, and all the rest of the ethnolinguistic tribes that were soon destined to become part of the Filipino nation. Noóng unang panahón, caniá-caniá talagá silá. Each group were concerned only with their internal affairs because each thought of themselves as independent.

But after 1565, all these tribes became ONE NATION. It was our CHRISTIAN FAITH which binded us into ONE PEOPLE. That is why all of us, whether we are in Aparri or in Joló, wept and grieved when the island province of Bojol fell under the mercy of last month’s killer tremors. And now we have the heartwrenching aftermath of Yolanda‘s deadly wrath to contend with. Much of the Visayas region was ravaged by devastating winds never thought to have been possible before. But among the towns and cities that were affected, it was the historic city of Tacloban in Leyte Province, “Ang Puso ng Silañgang Cabisayaan” (The Heart of Eastern Visayas), that was totally destroyed.

So even though many Filipinos have never been to either Bojol or Tacloban, they all feel the same pain and anguish that Bojolanos and Taclobanons feel now because through centuries of Filipinization, they have become our brother Filipinos. They are no longer Waray, and we are no longer Tagalog, Cebuano, Bicolano, etc. We are simply Filipinos as created by the FAITH bequeathed to us by Our Lord and Savior. We have become ONE FILIPINO nation because of our FAITH.

No wonder why, even though our archipielago is a Babel of tongues and microcultures, we do not hesitate to help each other in times of distress. Just like what is occurring at this very moment (it would have been unimaginable before 1565 that a Tagalog would be helping a Visayan and vice versa).

And rest assured that with this FAITH of ours, we shall rise again, in the same manner that it created our unified spirit in 1565…

¡Un gran saludo al espíritu filipino!

Why Spanish?

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WHY SPANISH
Jorge Domecq

Señor Don Jorge Domecq, Spanish ambassador to the Philippines.

On Wednesday, November 23, language teachers and experts from all over the region will assemble in the Instituto Cervantes de Manila for the Second Conference of Spanish as a Foreign Language in Asia and the Pacific which will be inaugurated by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte. Many will remember the common heritage and the historical bonds between our two countries but wonder why reviving the Spanish language is an issue of interest in the Philippines as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.

Way back in 1937, President Manuel L. Quezon, referring to Spanish, said that “the Latin-American people believe and feel that we Filipinos form part of that vast family, the children of Spain. Thus, although Spain ceased to govern those countries many years ago and although another nation is sovereign in the Philippines, those Latin-American peoples feel themselves as brothers to the people of the Philippines. It is the Spanish language that still binds us to those peoples eternally if we have the wisdom and patriotism of preserving it.”

However, the 1987 Philippine Constitution abolished Spanish as an official language of this country. Although this decision could have been avoided, the truth of the matter is that the majority of Filipinos then no longer used Spanish in their daily lives and therefore the constitutional reform only represented a statement of fact.

It makes no sense to look back on the Spanish language just as an element of our common past, which is no longer there in our efforts to enhance our bilateral relations, to get to know each other better and to better understand our history and culture. We must admit, and we would be foolish not to do so, that there is so much about the Filipino culture that can only be understood fully if we have knowledge of the Spanish language.

Without forgetting Rizal, we can affirm that the “Golden Age” of Philippine literature (which paradoxically coincided with the American period in the Philippines and as Spanish began to disappear from all official communications) produced first-class writers like Pedro Paterno, Isabelo de los Reyes, Apolinario Mabini, José Palma and Fernando Mª Guerrero, who wrote all their works in Spanish. We must note that more than 20 percent of Tagalog words are of Spanish origin, although many of the popular expressions have a slightly different meaning. The oldest and some of the most important documents found in the National Archives of the Philippines or in the archives of the University of Santo Tomás can only be best understood and interpreted if one is fluent in Spanish. I am happy to say that we are working closely with Filipino authorities and some private institutions in the country to reverse this situation, among other things, by providing language training to the archivist who will have to ensure that the history that is there will continue to benefit future generations. All these efforts are commendable and need to be continued.

However, that is not the real reason why we are obliged to preserve and promote Spanish among the young and future generations of Filipinos.

Spanish must not be viewed as some archaic and dead language like Latin, that most Filipinos above the age of 50 remember as a compulsory subject in school, which they did not like and which for them was just a waste of time. Spanish should not be regarded either as a language of the elite spoken among Spanish mestizo families or as a legacy of a past that no longer exists. Spanish, along with the English language, is one of the only two global means that exist for communication (even if Chinese is the largest spoken language in the world). Today, more than 500 million people speak Spanish. It is also the second most studied language and the third most used on the Internet.

Furthermore, as far as the Philippines is concerned, Spanish can be a fundamental tool for many young Filipinos seeking employment in call centers or BPO businesses in this country or trying to get a better employment abroad as seafarers, nurses, social workers, etc. The United States is the main land of promise for the citizens of this country, and there are nearly 50 million North Americans who speak Spanish as their mother tongue. In addition, many Latin-American countries are notably increasing their trade and investment relations with Southeast Asian countries, gradually shifting their economic focus toward the Pacific.

If only Spanish were commonly spoken in the Philippines, along with the English language, the Philippines would become the next unbeatable business hub in Asia.

Since I arrived in Manila less than a year ago, I have been constantly asked about the relevance of Spanish in the Philippines of today. I would always reply by saying that I am very confident that Spanish is under no threat of disappearing. Manila has the third biggest Instituto Cervantes in the world in terms of number of students (an annual enrolment of 6,500) and at present, it can hardly take in more students. The real issue is whether we are ready to face the challenge of providing the young generations of Filipinos with the necessary academic backing that will enable them to study Spanish as a language of choice that will open for them a wealth of opportunities in employment. To this end, I hope to work closely with the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education.

*******

This article was first published in Inquirer.net.

Filipinization: a process

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Whenever I pass by the tianguê-filled streets of Baclaran or Divisoria, I am reminded of those that are in South America. Fruit vendors found in almost all parts of the country —even in posh Macati City— are no different at all from their Latino counterparts with regards to the manner of selling, the bodily movements in conducting trade.

The similarities are striking.

Whenever I visit my dad’s hometown of Unisan, I am astounded by the población’s network of roads: they horizontally and vertically crisscross each other. And at the heart of the small town itself is the old church. Indeed, the architecture of Unisan’s población is a perfect trademark of the Spanish friar-engineer’s ingenuity. And almost all old towns all over the archipelago follow this “square-shape” pattern.

Fiestas, the wheel, town cemeteries, plowing, spoon and fork, social graces, the guisado, rondalla, potato, papaya, camote, La Virgen María, paper and book culture, la mesa, la silla, painting, old street names and our family surnames, Holy Week and Simbang gabí, the bahay na bató, the calendar that we use, the name of our country, our nationality, etc. All these items, techniques, and concepts that were once foreign to us are now considered endemic. Without these, it is unthinkable for a Filipino to even exist. But these things that are crucial for our everyday existence are taken for granted like the the clouds in the sky.

There are two simple ways to determine what a Filipino is: by his name and by what he eats. Like most Filipinos, I have a Spanish name (José Mario Alas), but my diet is Asian (I eat rice). These determinants make me a unique product of a Western-Eastern symbiosis. This blending is what makes me a Filipino. I recognize both sides, but what surfaces the most is my Hispanic side for it completes my Filipino national identity. But Fr. José S. Arcilla, S.J., couldn’t have said it better:

Even if we peel off our Asian traits, we will remain “Filipino”. Remove our Hispanized ways and local idioms and we could no longer be recognized as Filipino.

"España y Filipinas" por el pintor famoso, Juan Luna.

The heritage bequeathed to us by Spain is not only ubiquitous: they are part of our lives. They are, in fact, our very lives. Our hispanic traits are what make us true Filipinos. This claim does not intend to glorify Spain, neither should it be misunderstood as a “longing to become a Spaniard,” which is very ridiculous to say the least (frankly speaking, I care less about today’s Zapatonto-led Spain). This is merely an acknowledgment of facts regarding our true Filipino Identity which is based on our Hispanic heritage. Also, to acknowledge our Hispanic past doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to negate everything that came before it. That can never be undone in the first place. This is just a matter of calling a spade a spade.

Indeed, if we strip away everything Asian from our identity, the Hispanic attributes will still remain. And these attributes are the same ones that the whole world can see in each and every Hispanic country scattered around the globe. But if we take away everything Hispanic in us to give way to purist nationalist dictates, then we will cease to become Filipino. We will disintegrate back to what we were before the conquistadores came: disunited; separated into a myriad of tribal kingdoms; perpetually aggressive towards one another.

In other words, if we remove our Hispanic traits, it will not harm the Hispanic world one bit. What will remain is the “Malay” or “Austronesian” in us that never made us Filipinos in the first place. The pre-Filipino Malay/Austronesian is composed of many tribes (Tagalog, Ilocano, Tausug, Ilongo, Pampangueño, etc.) that were never one, never united as a compact nation. The scattered Malay/Austronesian tribes in this archipelago which we now call our own before the Spaniards came never aspired into uniting with one another to become a much bigger nation because each tribe already thought of itself as a nation. To a pre-Filipino Bicolano’s mind, why should they unite with the pre-Filipino Cebuanos just to become another nation?

This they never thought of. And it took a foreign power for us to realize this Filipinization that we treasure to this very day.

This is the importance of reassessing our nation’s history. I always claim that ours is perhaps the most unique in the world because it is so mangled, so distorted. We continuously badmouth the nation (Spain) who virtually created us, complaining all the time that they “raped and destroyed our culture” even though we use cuchara and tenedor during meals while eating adobo or any guisado-based dishes, look at the calendario everyday, check out the time with our relój, say para to the jeepney driver, celebrate the Holiday Seasons, plan to visit Spanish Vigan to see the fantastic houses there, etc. But why continue this baseless, foolish, and counterproductive hatred? The Spaniards are no longer here. And we continuously deny the strong fact that without Spain, the concept of what a Filipino truly is as we know it today would have never existed. And by attacking our Spanish past, we are only harming ourselves, not Spain.

Rather than focus on personages, dates, and places, Philippine History teachers should focus more on the process of Filipinization. The word “history” comes from the greek verb historeo which means to “learn by inquiry”. So that is what teachers of Philippine History should do: inculcate into the minds of their students to inquire about the past, their past. History should not be about memorization of dates, places, events, names, etc. History is not a memorization contest. Although it is understandbale that, as much as possible, we should just leave historical facts to speak for themselves, it could not be feasible if our educators themselves continue to condition the minds of our young students into hating a past that should not be hated at all. In our particular situation, we all must learn how to reassess and inquire about the process of Filipinization. Why? Because of this so-called crisis of national identity which many scholars today erroneously claim we have.

As I have argued before, our national identity never left us. It has been with us all this time. A systematic false teaching of Philippine History just made us think that we do not have one.

“Ang hindí marunong lumiñgón sa pinangaliñgan ay hindí macacaratíng sa paróroonan”, says an old Tagalog proverb. But how can we move forward, how will we be able to determine where we are going if we do not know where we have come from? We always look into a mythical pre-Hispanic past, yearn for it, but that era of our lives was never us. It was only the catalyst to Hispanization which was really Filipinization. And this process gave birth to who and what we are today. The “pre-Hispanic Filipino” was never us. We have to calmly accept that fact, the way we have to accept natural disasters as part of our reality.

Más mabuti siguro tayo ñgayón cung hindí tayo sinacop ng mğa Kastilà. This is a very defeatist observation that has been prevailing for about a century already, for it has no basis most especially if we are to review our country’s economic history. Why aspire of “reverting” to a pre-Filipino past that never was?

The Philippines is such an ungrateful nation. We deserve to be poor. Thus, for all the unfounded badmouthing that we have thrown against her, we owe mother Spain an apology, and not the other way around.

It is time that we Filipinos should go back to our roots. Our real roots. That way, we will be able to steer the course of our national destiny.

GMA gunning for a House seat: an all-time low for her character

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Gloria has done it all.

First, she stole the presidency from Erap in 2001. Then in 2004, she lied about not running anymore, but she did. Then came the infamous “Hello Garci” scandal which divulged massive election fraud during the 2004 Philippine National Elections. FPJ should’ve been the president.

Several scandals followed her after that, the most infamous of them all was the ZTE-NBN scam which put all previous Erap accusations to shame.

But now, what is this?

GMA wants House seat

Ending speculation about her political plans, President Arroyo declared yesterday that she is running for Congress representing the second district of Pampanga next year.

Speaking over government-run Radyo ng Bayan, Mrs. Arroyo said she realized after “much contemplation” that “I am not ready to step down completely from public service.”

“As you know, the people of my home district in Pampanga want me to remain in public life,” she said in a mix of Filipino and English. “So after much soul-searching, I have decided to respond affirmatively to their call.”

Mrs. Arroyo said she hopes to be a champion for the poor in Congress and work to uplift the economy.

“To that end, I will file my candidacy for Congress in order to serve the hardworking people of my home province,” she said.

She vowed to remain focused on her work as President until her final day in office.

Rómulo Macalintal, Mrs. Arroyo’s lawyer, and Press Secretary Cerge Remonde were present during the interview.

Macalintal told reporters “some local mayors” authorized by Mrs. Arroyo will file her certificate of candidacy (COC) today.

Mrs. Arroyo is ready for any lawsuit after she files her COC, he added.

Macalintal said it was about a month ago that Mrs. Arroyo started contemplating about running for Congress.

“About a month ago, that was talked about, she consulted her family, some supporters in Pampanga,” he said.

“She thought she was still very young and can still serve. That’s the judgment call of the President.”

He was not aware of any dissent from Mrs. Arroyo’s family on her decision, Macalintal said.

Mrs. Arroyo said she studied several options before deciding on continuing to be in politics.

“While I’m very much looking forward to stepping down at the end of my term, I have been mulling different ways to stay involved,” she said.

“I looked at going back to teaching. I have also examined working with non-profit organizations on issues ranging from the environment to women’s issues.

“I thought of many opportunities. One day I hope to pursue them… work for causes near and dear to me, like the fight against climate change, improvement of education and the cause of women.”

Mrs. Arroyo dismissed allegations that she wants to be a member of the House of Representatives to obtain immunity from the torrent of lawsuits to be filed by her political enemies after she steps down from the presidency.

“The only congressional immunity is from libel suits, from utterances made in a congressional session—that’s not what I’m after,” she said.

“This move reflects my ongoing commitment to public service. I have given careful consideration to a number of options that I could pursue upon leaving office.

“But I have come to the conclusion that I can best serve the nation from a seat in Congress should I be elected.”

Mrs. Arroyo said she is determined to champion the poor, fight for a stronger economy, and ensure that health, education and jobs are within reach of all Kapampañgans.

Once elected to Congress, she would get a chance to continue her advocacies “closer to the people,” she added.

Mrs. Arroyo said she will remain “firmly in control of our national government until the last day I am in office,” while campaigning for a seat in the House of Representatives.

“As President, my first commitment is to the nation we all love,” she said.

“My bid for Congress will be only spirited but secondary to my duty as President. I will devote very little time for my campaign for Congress.

“We have come too far and too much is at stake for me to waver in these last few months on my commitment to the people of the nation. I will keep a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state.”

Mrs. Arroyo said she would continue to pour resources to the Comelec to ensure free, fair and open elections next year.

“And then I will work cooperatively with the incoming administration so they can hit the ground running,” she said. philstar.com

OK. Let’s put this into more simpler terms. Let us just say, for one hot minute, that all her excuses were acceptable.

BUT!!! –

Whatever happened to delicadeza? She should know what the word means; the last time I heard, Spanish is her language…

Her declaration only puts a black eye to the Maguindanáo Massacre. Instead of focusing on resolving this latest smear to her already scandal-riddened administration, she selfishly thought it best to announce her greed for power.

Shame on you.

GMA should expect to see more of this -- hopefully in Pampanga.

Spanish for English

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Thanks to midfielding1 (a YouTube user who uploaded the video), we can now listen to President Manuel L. Quezon giving a speech in Spanish! See video below (at 3:02):

President Manuel Quezon learned English in only 18 days (and not three months as I wrote in the comments box of that video in YouTube, my mistake; three months was actually the time it took for another great Spanish-speaking Filipino, Claro M. Recto, to learn and MASTER the English language). Quezon’s primary languages were both Spanish and Tagalog. But like most Filipinos of his time, he was more articulate in Spanish.

Yes, I said MOST Filipinos. Because you see, it is not taught in our classrooms that when the US invaded (not saved) the Philippines in 1899, they killed around 1,250,000 Filipinos — that is about 1/6 of the population during that time! And they murdered more Filipinos in such a short span of time compared to those who perished in more than three centuries of Spanish rule! And worse, more Spanish-speaking Filipinos also perished in the last world war. Those who survived either migrated to Spain or to the US. And the few remaining are now regarded as a very small and almost forgotten minority.

Today, there are more or less 3,000 Filipinos who use Spanish as their primary language, i.e., they think in Spanish (the 1990 census declared that there were 2,660 Spanish-speaking Filipinos).

In my family, there are only two of us who use Spanish: me and my dad’s sister, María Rubia E. Alas. Before us, the last member of the family who spoke in Spanish was Tía Rubia’s maternal uncle, Windalino Évora y Bonilla of Unisan, Quezon province. Uncle Carding was also fluent in French (another cognate of Spanish); he died in 1997, the last Spanish-speaker of Unisan town. Sadly, the rest of the family seem not to care about the language anymore. But I am trying to conserve it by teaching it to my children: my nine-year-old daughter Krystal is already conversational; my five-year-old son Momay can speak and understand the language moderately; my second son, Jefe, who is already two, can comprehend the language (I can already give out orders to him in Spanish); And I plan to make Juanito, who is barely a year old, a pure Spanish-speaker. Actually, my children’s primary language is Spanish. But since their playmates and our neighbors and my wife’s relatives all speak in Tagalog, I’m having a hard time maintaining the language up in their psyche.

Going back to President Quezon, one main reason why he learned English that fast is because of his Spanish. Although English is a West Germanic language, it is also a cognate of Spanish. Countless words in Spanish resemble those in English. Take the following words for example:

Biblia / bible
botón / button
mantener / to maintain
mártir / martyr
política / politics
responsable / responsible
sufrir / to suffer
teléfono / telephone
televisión / television
tolerar / to tolerate

Many proper names in Spanish also have their English counterparts:

Jesucristo / Jesus Christ
Clara / Clare
Juan / John
José / Joseph
María / Mary

That is the reason why the first generation of Filipinos under the American Occupation were much better speakers and writers in the English language compared to our generation. National Artist for Literature Nicomedes “Nick” Joaquín (1917-2004) is regarded as the greatest Filipino writer in English. But his primary language was Spanish. The quintessential poet in English and another National Artist for Literature, José García Villa (1908-1997, son of Simeón Villa, a physician of President Emilio Aguinaldo and a close associate of General Antonio Luna), also had Spanish as his first language. The Philippine Star’s Máximo Solivén (1929-2006) also spoke in flawless Spanish. And who could ever forget playwright and thespian Wilfrido Mª Guerrero (1917-1995) whose “Wanted: A Chaperon”, among other plays, is now considered a classic? Guerrero is a descendant of Lorenzo Guerrero (1835-1904), another native hispanoparlante. He first wrote in Spanish before shifting to English. And many of his plays were even staged in the US!

The abovementioned great men of Philippine letters had previous notions of Spanish, a daughter of the Latin language, therefore a basis by itself of English. That is why the English of the early 20th-century Filipinos were much superb compared to ours.

And that is why teaching Spanish in Philippine schools is crucial to the government’s efforts to make Filipinos fluent in English. The 24 units of Spanish should be brought back to colleges and universities. Imagine… Spanish has been with us for more than three hundred years. English for just a hundred or so. But why put so much importance to the latter? Isn’t it that Spanish is a global language, too? English was never ours in the first place. But Spanish is something that is already ours…

“Spanish is a national, Filipino tradition, for not only has it seeds in our history but roots that saturate the very core of our national soul and being, for it is the “open sesame” to the enchanted cavern that keeps like enduring treasures the highest thoughts and the deepest feelings of our race since the dawn of civilization.” –Claro M. Recto–

What are you lookin' at?

Special thanks to Inu Yasha (a reader of FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES) for sharing the MLQ video to us! =)

The Call of Call Center Agents

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Got this one from my wife’s email inbox. At first, I thought it was just one of those chain letters you won’t hesitate to delete.

The following “speech” has been going the rounds in emails and various blogs in the local internet scene. It was said to be a speech from a young politician who once tried applying in a call center just for fun. But the joke was on him when he wasn’t accepted due to his hilarious accent and politically incorrect English. Since then, he’s been waging a one-man war against BPOs.

Chillax. It’s a joke.

I still do not know the veracity of this speech’s content. It was said to have been delivered last August 17, just a few months ago. I didn’t hear it from the news, though. But it must’ve been disturbing to many call center agents and other BPO workers who have read it because the figures mentioned sounded as if it were taken from one of Arroyo’s SONA speeches.

Here is the controversial speech from Sectoral Representative Raymond “Mong” Palatino. You be the judge whether his arguments do hold water or not:

CALL CENTER AGENTS

THE CALL OF CALL CENTER AGENTS

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, I rise on behalf of fellow young Filipinos denied of their dreams and were forced to enter the illusory world of call centers.

The tale of Filipino youths setting aside their childhood dreams to enter the call center industry is fast becoming a common story. More and more young Filipinos are being lured into working in a call center regardless of their educational background. A starting salary of P15,000 on average is indeed attractive, not to mention the signing bonus and incentives for good work performance.
As the global financial crisis sweeps ominously into Asian shores, the Philippine government has continuously promoted and relied on the Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) industry to provide opportunities to millions of jobless Filipinos. The number of jobs generated grew robustly from 99,000 workers in 2004 to 372,000 workers in 2008, most of them in their 20s.

For the government, the BPO sector is a major contributor in terms of revenues and employment generation. From $350 million in 2001, revenues generated from the BPO sector surged to $6 billion in 2008. The government was quick to conclude that the BPO sector is poised to benefit from the global recession.

This has prompted both the administration and the vanguards of globalization to brand the BPO sector as the “sunshine industry.”
But there is a need, Mr. Speaker, to bust the myth surrounding the so-called sunshine industry. For behind the seemingly innocuous statistics and improving figures lie tales of exploitation, false hopes, and dim working conditions inside the call center.

Totoong mas mataas ang tinatanggap na suweldo ng isang call center agent kumpara sa isang regular na manggagawa. In reality, foreign companies are exploiting our cheap labor. The average annual salary of a call center agent in the Philippines is $3,964. This is lower than Thailand’s $4,874, Malaysia’s $5,199, and Singapore’s $16,884. Kung totoong tayo ang binansagang “Offshoring Destination of the Year” noong 2007, bakit kakarampot lamang ang sahod ng call center agents natin kumpara sa ating mga kapitbahay?

Companies in developed countries benefit immensely from this set-up. By taking advantage of highly-skilled and low-value labor in poorer economies such as ours, foreign firms gain an estimated net savings of 20-40 percent on labor costs.

Despite the relatively decent pay and seemingly rich rewards, job tenure in the call center industry, as labor economist Clarence Pascual puts it, is “as transient as the phone calls that agents make or take.”

This is evident in the industry’s high attrition rates or the proportion of the workforce that leaves a company or industry. The Call Center Association of the Philippines pegs the turnover rate in the country at 60-80 percent, the highest in the world.

According to a multi-country survey conducted by Callcentres.net, full-time call center agents stay in a contact center for a brief 22 months, while part-time agents stay for an even shorter 10 months.

This is an international figure, Mr. Speaker. In the Philippines, where most of the call centers are outsourced, offshore and non-unionized, the situation is even worse: 60 percent of call center workers stay in a company for only a year or less.

As more employees leave the industry, the demand for replacements becomes constant. According to an article in Newsbreak magazine, for every employee hired to fill in a new seat, another two employees must be hired to replace the seats vacated by those who left. How apt, Mr. Speaker, that this industry is marked by “hellos” and “goodbyes.”

The culprit: poor quality of jobs at the call center. A survey by the Call Center Project based at Cornell University in New York shows that the high attrition rate is caused by a low job quality in call centers. The study revealed that 67 percent of agents found in 39 percent of call centers work in low to very low quality jobs.

The Call Center Project survey points out that worker turnover and quit rates are higher as job discretion or the agent’s “sense of control” becomes lower and monitoring on the job becomes more intense. Low job discretion and high performance monitoring contribute to employee stress and rapid job burnout.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, the job of a call center agent is not that all fancy nor ideal. For it is in the very nature of the call center job to be exploitative.

Call centers-vendors in indsutry parlance-provide services, such as customer service, sales, technical support, on behalf of client companies. They compete for accounts from companies that ousource some of their functions. In this competitive arena, the agent is stuck between two contrasting interests-he or she must keep costs low for the client while ensuring profits for the call center.
In this set-up, quantitative targets are laid down by clients to reduce costs and increase productivity, giving them the upper hand. In the call center industry, everything is measured.

Thus, call center agents work the phones for the entire duration of their work shift. Unlike our jobs, where we have time to read newspapers or chat with our officemates, the job of a call center agent is one of isolation. The calls just keep coming in, and one has no choice but to pick up to phone.

Moreover, one faces punitive measures, such as forced leave, suspension or even termination, for failing to meet productivity targets, which serve as basis for staff assessment and promotions.

To ensure the targets are met, clients even enforce remote monitoring of actual calls. Supervisors track an agent’s use of time, from call handling time to time spent on “after call work” and break time. Recorded calls are scored for quality on a monthly or weekly basis. A low score translates to a corrective action memo, which can cost one’s job. Consequently, monitoring becomes a constant source of anxiety for workers.

Since monitoring and evaluation are done remotely, penalized workers do not have enough opportunity to appeal disciplinary actions. A 22-year old agent says in their company, even tenured workers issued with corrective action memos get terminated.

According to a survey by the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, only a 10-minute per day period is allowed for personal use, such as going to the restroom. This becomes difficult for the workers since a cold workplace temperature encourages frequent urination. Female agents, thus, usually suffer from urinary tract infection.

Since the United States is the biggest market of BPO industry, this requires call center operations during the evening. The call center sub-sector is changing the nightlife of Manila. Bars, restaurants and convenience stores are open every morning to accommodate the night workers.

But the graveyard shift has become a major source of difficulty and dissatisfaction for a lot of agents as their day-to-day routines are turned upside down. Medical specialists point out that disrupting the body clock can cause manic depression and heart problems.
Weekends and holidays are also rarely off, since the calendar being followed is that of the clients, resulting in very rare family time for married agents. Meanwhile, compulsory overtime or extended time is also prevalent.

The Department of Health has warned against this work schedule, aggravated by an intense and exhaustive workload. DOH warned that persons working in the graveyard shift are vulnerable to various diseases, including hypertension, cardiovascular illnesses, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. Foreign studies have even shown that graveyard shifts can increase the risk of cancer among women workers.

Noong isang taon, Mr. Speaker, ibinalita sa TV Patrol World ang pagkamatay ng isang call center agent. Siya ay si Dingdong Flores, inatake ng hypertension habang nasa trabaho. Siya ay na-coma bago pa mahatid sa ospital.

The DOLE has made separate studies on health risks associated with call center work. Both studies show high incidence of eyestrains symptoms, muskuloskeletal symptoms, voice disorders, hearing problems.

Since most call centers employ first-time and young workers who are hesitant to complain, these health problems may even be an underestimation of the true state of health among workers.

Such health hazards explain high rates of absenteeism in the industry. Consequently, call centers have adopted punitive attendance policies. In some call centers, eight absences over a six-month period constitute grounds for termination.

While they are entitled to sick leave, workers find difficulty in securing the supervisor’s approval.

BPO employees are also deprived of socialization opportunities with family and friends. Dr. Prandya Kulkarni, who writes for United Press International Asia, adds that young BPO workers, who receive high salaries, do not have the maturity and emotional capability to handle their wealth. This “sudden wealth syndrome” has led to such high-risk behaviors as loose sexual practices, drug addictions and alcohol abuse.

Another alarming reality in the call center industry is the absence of unions. Unionism is covertly and overtly discouraged, if not forbidden. Foreign employees warn that if unions in call centers will be allowed, they will leave the Philippines. Workers’ contracts clearly stipulate that forming or joining a union is prohibited.

Such a repressive practice, Mr. Speaker, is a clear violation of the Philippine Labor Law, where it is stated that every worker has the right to form and join a union. Isn’t it ironic, Mr. Speaker, how our call center workers are rendered voiceless in a voice industry?

Habang inilalahad natin ang mga suliraning ito, habang inihahanda natin ang ating mga sarili sa pagtatapos ng araw na ito, magsisimula pa lamang ang araw ng libu-libo nating manggagawa sa call center. Nawa’y huwag dumating ang panahon na ang isasagot ng ating mga kabataan sa tanong na “What do you want to be when you grow up?” ay maging isang call center agent.

Anong klaseng mga mamamayan ang mahuhubog ng sistemang ito? Anong klase ng kaalaman ang ating ikikintal sa ating mga kabataan, na siyang mamumuno sa ating bayan? Paano nila paglilingkuran ang bayan kung ang tangi nilang alam ay tumugon sa daing ng mga dayuhan?

Nakakabahala, Mr. Speaker, ang kuwento ng isang manggagawa na tatlong taon nang nagtratrabaho sa call center. Ayon sa kaniya, “a plague is raging among the youth working in the call center industry” and that is apathy. Dagdag niya, nabubuhay ang mga call center agent sa isang mundong batbat ng kawalang-pakialam. Ang tangi nilang sinusunod ay ang dikta ng orasan, ang dikta ng makina. Tila hindi na sila kabahagi sa mga isyung panlipunan.

Sa kasalukyan, kinakaharap ng BPO industry ang kakulangan ng skilled workers, ng mga kabataang mahusay mag-Ingles. The government is now tinkering with the educational system to address the needs of the BPO industry. President Arroyo has mandated the use of English language as the medium of instruction in schools.

But such measures can only do so much to address employment problems in the country.

At the minimum, the government should ensure the implementation of our labor code, which aims to protect our workers and guarantee their right to organization and humane working conditions.

Call centers should respect our labor code. Bukod sa pagtuturo ng American accent, dapat ding ipaalam ng mga kumpanyang ito sa ating mga aplikante ang kanilang mga karapatan bilang empleyado.

Ngayong nauuso ang call centers, napapanahong bumuo tayo ng batas na magtitiyak sa kanilang mga karapatan. Sa kagyat, ito ang ating maiiambag sa libu-libong kabataang pinasok at balak pasukin ang BPO industry.

The government should not use the seemingly rosy statistics of the BPO sector to conclude that we have a strong economy. Ultimately, it is dangerous to exaggerate the importance of the BPO industry. The government should put more emphasis on propelling the domestic economy as a whole rather than making public institutions and laws serve the needs of BPO companies.
Thank you Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues.

Related link:
The chain letter containing the above speech acknowledges the below link as its source:
THE CALL OF CALL CENTER AGENTS
Privilege Speech of Rep. Raymond “Mong” Palatino
Delivered on August 17, 2009

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