(Excerpts from an article entitled, “The European Network of Filipino Diaspora” published in OFWorld UK, December 2014-January 2015 issue, written by Novo-Mar Ramos)
The Filipino diaspora around the world has become more dynamic and increasingly involved on issues that affect fellow kababayans directly or indirectly in the host country and in the Philippines. Thanks to the advent of the worldwide web, social media and blogging fora together with the latest mobile technology craze, the voice of the overseas Filipinos and their contributions to the transnational community building and economic activity have been unprecedentedly heard and fittingly recognized.
According to the online Oxford Dictionary, diaspora means “[T]he dispersion or spread of any people from their original homeland”. It is often associated with the dispersion of the Jews from Israel in ancient times when the country was invaded by neighboring countries. In a 2005 survey questionnaire by the International Organization of Migration, its plural form, “diasporas” was used and defined as “people and ethnic populations that left their homelands, individuals and/or members of organized networks and associations, maintaining links with their homelands.”
Loosely speaking, it is the migration of a large number of people from their home country to a foreign country where they brought in their own culture, national identity, tradition, custom and even food but maintaining their ties to their home country like sending remittances and goods, and making visits either regularly or occasionally.
Under the Philippine setting, the diaspora aptly refers to the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and Balikbayans (naturalised citizens or permanent residents) including overstaying and undocumented immigrants and expanded to include even those staying abroad temporarily. Jonathan Y. Okamura, in his paper for the Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies entitled, “The Global Filipino Diaspora as an Imagined Community,” examined how the Filipino Diaspora around the globe is “imagined as a community through various transnational circulation of people, capital, goods and information to and from the Philippine homeland.”
Filipino Diaspora: Origin
However, there is a debate on when the Filipino Diaspora first started. One school of thought says that it began during the Spanish occupation. Popularly known intellectuals like Jose P. Rizal and Marcelo H. Del Pilar went to Europe and founded La Solidaridad which aimed at advocating before European nations necessary reforms in the Philippines and secretly planning for the overthrow of the colonial government. Another idea pegs the timeline during the Presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos when he declared Martial Law. Marcos introduced the “warm body export” though the enactment of Presidential Decree 442, otherwise known as the Labor Code of the Philippines which provides that it is a State policy “[T]o insure careful selection of Filipino workers for overseas employment in order to protect the good name of the Philippines abroad.” Later, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) was institutionalized.
Which of the two theories is correct is not that important anymore because Filipinos seeking “greener pastures” in a foreign land has exponentially increased and such movement is directly proportional to the expanding population of the Filipino Diaspora. The continuing presence of the Diaspora ensures the steady flow of remittances which contributed to the growth of the Philippine economy by providing the country with foreign capital to fund services and programs. In addition, “balikbayan” boxes are sent to meet some of the needs of loved ones and to share to them part of the fortunes received from living abroad, thus, promoting family cohesiveness which the State is duty-bound to promote and protect.
The dynamism of the Filipino community abroad has attracted the attention of policy makers which gave birth to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) under the Office of the President. On its website, CFO recognizes that the Diaspora is “fast emerging as one of the forces for development in the globalizing world.” The Diaspora to Development (D2D) was conceptualised to pave the way in empowering and guiding the Diaspora for the development of identified areas of action.
As regards this goal, the Philippine government needs to touch base with individuals and organisations through which the Diaspora’s mind and heart can be properly channeled to and be effective loudspeakers to the concerned being or entity. However, the setback is the divisiveness of the Filipino community brought about by geographical biases, regionalistic feeling of one individual or group against another.
According to F. Sionil Jose in his column, “Hindsight” (The Philippine Star, November 2014), in order for the Filipino immigrants to unite they must “transcend ethnic and other group loyalties for an ideal, a cause that will benefit the whole.” He further said that this unity could be achieved through history, appreciation of the beautiful like Manny Pacquiao and celebrities, religion, faith shown as patriotism and through organisations like the European Network of Filipino Diaspora (ENFiD).
ENFiD: Unifying Filipinos in Europe
The Philippine Government through the Commission on Filipinos Overseas reached out to the overseas Filipinos by holding the 1st Global Summit of Filipinos in Diaspora in Manila for the period September 27 to 29, 2011. The Summit’s primary objective is to present to the delegates who came from 40 countries “what they can do to become the country’s partners in development”, hence the program, “Diaspora to Development” or D2D.
An offshoot of this forum is the Diaspora 2 Dialogue in Rome, Italy (D2D-Rome) organized by the Global Filipino Diaspora Council, which aimed to establish a Europe-wide coordinating and advocacy body. This resulted to the so-called “Rome Declaration” of 29 September 2012 that enumerated the commitment to implement the recommendations contained in said Declaration by Filipino migrants in Europe in the promotion and empowerment, among others, of the Diaspora, and the creation of the European Network of Filipino Diaspora (ENFiD). Fr. Jerry Bitoon of the Roman Curia in Italy became the ad hoc Chairperson thereof.
ENFiD is basically an organisation of organisations. In its Constitution and By-laws, it describes itself as “an active international networking association that hopes to (a) propagate the sense of Filipino ‘nationhood’ away from the home country; (b) inculcate a strong sense of shared destiny and aspirations; (c) act as a catalyst in promoting resolutions to issues and arising problems among Filipinos in Europe.” Its Vision consists of commitment and linkage to the Philippines and integration with the host country, “glocal” (global and local) empowerment, and keeping intact the cultural and traditional identity. The Mission is divided into three foundations: Kilusan at Ugnayan, Bayanihan at Buklod-Talakayan and Gawi at Kaalaman.
ENFiD Europe’s incumbent Chairperson is Gene Alcantara. He is a co-host of “Juan EU Konek” aired on the TFC channel of the TV network, ABS-CBN. He is the immediate past Chairperson of ENFiD-UK and manages an immigration consultancy firm in London. He belongs to the team which originally drafted the framework that served as the blueprint in the creation of ENFiD and its chapter countries.
ENFiD United Kingdom
In 2014, the first election of the Board of Directors and Officers of ENFiD’s United Kingdom chapter was held. It is also the first time that Facebook was used to nominate and elect vacant positions in the board and executive office. Thirteen (13) Members of the BoD are elected at large by member organisations. Membership is either full or associate/affiliate consisting of organisations which and individuals who adhere to the vision, mission and objectives of ENFiD. Only full members have voting rights. Then, the BoDs will elect among themselves the Officers in various positions.
The following ENFiD-UK Board of Directors (BoD) and Officers served for the term 2014-2016:
Vice-Chairperson for England:
Vice-Chairperson for Wales:
Amelia Aimee Alado
Vice-Chairperson for Scotland:
Edwin Dela Cruz
Vice-Chairperson for Northern Ireland:
Maribel Pascua Favor
Chelo Taylo Cruz
PR Communications Officer:
Assistant PR Communications Officer:
Ricardo Gacayan, Jr.
Assistant Internal Auditor:
According to Chairperson Dueñas, past President of United Workers Association and Founding Chairperson of Albayanon UK, “[O]ne of my greatest achievements [is] being one of the campaigners for the regularisation of Domestic Workers.”
Projects, Programs and Activities
ENFiD-UK had engaged in various charity and social events to raise awareness and to appeal for support for intended beneficiaries. In June 2013, “One Love Abra,” a showcase of musical talents was held with the aim of helping the children of Tineg, Abra. The onslaught of typhoon Maring in the Philippines in August 2013 brought about “Operation: Maring,” a charity event to help alleviate the plight of the victims. Around June 2014, Josh West, who shot to fame via BBC’s episode, “Toughest Place to be a . . . Bus Driver,” where he swapped driving between the streets of London and Manila, led a “Run for a Cause” to raise funds for the educational support of children in the Philippines. Another fund-raising cause was held in November 2014 in the style of “Men’s Health: Survival of the Fittest” in cooperation with DanceAid.
Induction and Pre-Christmas Celebration
On the 29th of November, 2014, the incoming Board of Directors and Officers of ENFiD-UK were sworn into office during an Induction Ceremony and Pre-Christmas Celebration held at the Turner Suite of Holiday Inn Hotel Bloomsbury located in the heart of London. This is believed to be the biggest gathering of Filipino organisations, leaders and other members of the Filipino community throughout the United Kingdom.
Adelina Dueñas, ENFiD-UK Chairperson gave her inaugural speech and extended her gratitude to all who made ENFiD-UK and its events successful. Gene Alcantara, one of the pioneers of ENFiD, outgoing ENFiD-UK Chairperson and incumbent ENFiD Chairperson was not able to make it on the occasion. He was represented by his wife, Carmila Legarda who conveyed his message. Alcantara was at Doha, Qatar to organise the Filipino community in the Middle East into the Middle East Network of Filipino Diaspora (MENFiD).
The oath or affirmation of office was administered by Labor Attaché Joan Lavilla of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in London. Philippine Ambassador to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Enrique Manalo was represented by Consul General Senen Mangalile who gave an inspirational talk and traced the origin of the word “diaspora” and the migration of Filipinos away from the Philippines.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson voiced his message to the organisation and the Filipinos in the UK through Amelia Aimee Alado, ENFiD-UK Vice-President for Wales.
Thereafter, Edwin Dela Cruz, ENFiD-UK Vice-President for Scotland showed and expounded a slide presentation about the Preamble, Vision, Mission and Core Values of ENFiD. Consul General Mangalile led the awarding of framed Certificates of Recognition to the supporters and partner organisations and individuals of ENFiD’s various projects, programs and activities as well as to the Interim Board of Directors and Advisers who were instrumental to ENFiD-UK’s success in all its endeavours including the smooth transition of powers and obligations to the next governing body. After the formal ceremony was completed, the hall was filled up with sounds from music videos rendered by a DJ and the participants danced to the tunes thereof.
The Masters of Ceremony were Peps Villanueva and Carol Panday, ENFiD-UK Vice-President for Northern Ireland and PR Communications Officer, respectively.