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September 28, 2012

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September 28, 2012

Migration, Sir Duncan, instant spouses and inflight Barry Manilow: final impressions of the Philippines

September 28, 2012
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As always after an intense ‘immersion’ in our programme work, I left the Philippines with my head buzzing. Here are some impressions, memories and ideas that don’t fit into a more structured blogpost:

Migration: One in 9 Filipinos are outside the country, constituting a major export sector (the government deliberately trains more nurses than the country needs, to encourage outmigration). On the way in from Qatar, I sat next to a Filipino gold miner, working for an Australian/Filipino company in Tanzania, 2 months

Philippines OFWs sign on, 1 month off. OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers – this country loves acronyms) even have their own immigration channels at the airport (see pic).

I rather  like being called ‘Sir Duncan’ – makes me feel vaguely like an Arthurian knight. Alas it applies to all older people.

Philippines signage: ‘Sorry, instant spouses not allowed’ (at a hotel reception); ‘goat for sale, cell #7635420’ (by roadside).

Jessan, our livelihoods guy, neatly sums up the feel of Filipino culture as ‘300 years of convent; 50 of Hollywood.’

Work seems to be accompanied by a lot of food, even (especially?) in food justice workshops: forget the half-hearted British biscuits, we’re talking snacks, bowls of noodles, cakes, fruit, and that’s just during the seminar  – full meals follow straight afterwards. Can’t work out why everyone isn’t huge.

And music is everywhere – as we left the rubber project we passed one motor bike lugging a videoke machine up almost impassable roads. Inflight entertainment on one domestic flight included air crew singing snatches of Barry Manilow or Adele, and then prizes for the first passenger to guess the singer.

And a lot of positives:

Civil society space is opening, not closing as in so many other countries (that extends to the new government nicking many of its best

rubber trees

leaders). A sense of political optimism, with new laws on reproductive health and land use currently before Congress.

MindanaoAnecdotal evidence that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme (CARP) has made a difference over the last two decades. It broke up many plantations, handed out title to small farmers, but shortchanged them on the support services, as with so many agrarian reform programmes.

A massive spread in the government’s conditional cash transfer programme – reaching 76% of the population in one area we visited, with models based on Brazil’s Bolsa Familia.Women get US$7 a month per child under 15 (up to a max of 3 kids) and US$12 for the mother. They say it helps them with school and healthcare.

But some things don’t change: ‘when men sell the abaca, they come home drunk. When women sell it, they spend it on rice and school.’

Finally, no trip would be complete without a photocap competition – here’s a choice: inspecting some kind of pruning exercise for rubber saplings or slurping a coconut. Pics c/o the indefatigable Ipe. Over to you.

And one last plug – if you want to follow Oxfam’s work in the Philippines, sign up to its blog


  1. Halu Duncan,

    Im getting interested with the first articulation of your impressions at the airport…Migration.

    I hope there will be more discussion on Migration topics in your Blog…Pls do share also some readings and write-ups you have.


  2. I forgot to mention that we bowed to King George III, but only from 1762 to 64. If it was any longer, I’m sure you would’ve seen more biscuits and teas served while you were here!

  3. Duncan
    a)re the photocap competition: “Duncan sucking up to those convincing colleagues in Philippines” (guess which photo)

    b) can’t believe you have not mentioned, or been subject to, the ‘solidarity evening’ when your incompetence on guitar, rap, harmony singing, ability to express your cultural dramatic roots etc is ruthlessly exposed. Spill the beans!

    1. I specified no balut, no karaoke in advance, and amazingly, my wishes were respected! (I was a bit sorry about the karaoke, but not the balut)

  4. Great blog post! I’d also noticed the ‘Sir Andy’ phenomenon but hadn’t made the Arthurian connection. For Filipinos this is often combined with a nickname, so you hear things like Miss Baby and Sir Jesus.

    PS: I’ve avoided balut for years but finally ate it on my last visit. It’s an experience you’ll never forget –

  5. Dear esteemed colleagues, anthropologists!

    Today I encountered the most enthralling group of cargo cult tribesmen. They had engineered what appeared in the shape of an aeroplane staircase, from the top of which they received gifts from the heavens. Will tell you more on my return.

    Yours etc.
    Sir Duncan

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