by Carol Panday and Novo-Mar Ramos
“Ayos ba kayo d’yan?!”
This question must have been the most resonant among the phrases that reverberated throughout a function room in Westminster City Hall in the heart of London where the European Network of Filipino Diaspora United Kingdom (ENFiD-UK) held one of its successful events dubbed as “Big Breakfast Meeting: Malta Conference Echo” on the 5th day of December 2015.
It was the opening salvo of the first speaker of one group when their time came to share what they have discussed during the workshop where different groups touched on different subject matters dealing with Filipinos living in diaspora. This particular group was tasked to identify solutions on how to make negative Filipino traits like “crab mentality” transform into positive ones or to eradicate them.
The group summarised the solution into one big word written in capital letters: “UNITED”. They opined that all the imagined woes and social dysfunctions of the Filipinos will become a thing of the past if everyone works as one coherent and united body for the greatest good.
This reflected the opening statement of Amelia “Aimee” Alado, Chairman, ENFiD-UK, when she said, “This only shows that if we really rally for a call of unity towards a common goal, we can all come together as early as 0900 hours on a Saturday morning!”
To energise the delegates for the early morning forum, they were served a Filipino traditional breakfast meal called “tapsilog,” which is short for “tapa” (fried soy sauce-marinated beef), “sinangag” (fried rice) and “itlog” (fried egg). The enormous number of delegates attending made it a “big breakfast meeting.” Researches showed that people tend to be more productive and share great ideas around the time for breakfast.
The theory was proven true when the delegates came up with pragmatic and viable ideas on topics tossed to them in the workshop. To give them a working knowledge on the different issues and various situations, ENFiD and ENFiD- UK officers together with Philippine Embassy officials shared, discussed and emphasised some salient points about the Filipinos living around the European region. They echoed those that were laid down on the table during the 2nd Regional Overseas Filipino Conference in Malta in August 2015 attended by ENFiD officers, ENFiD country representatives, top Philippine and Malta government officials including the Republic of Malta President, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca.
The Filipino diaspora around the European region has spring-boarded from a silent minority to a community that is already recognised by the host country for their tangible and intangible contributions. They have embraced and have been embraced by a set of culture, traditions and norms ranging from the familiar to the bizarre. Resiliently like the bamboo tree, they have withstood the roughest weather and remained firmly to their roots.
The passage of time in a foreign land did not dampen the spirit of the Filipinos to be always connected back home in the Philippines. In fact, they actively engaged themselves in the day-to-day issues and debates about the native land’s political, social and political terrain. They unselfishly and dedicatedly offer and parted their own resources, knowledge, skills and services either personally or virtually as part of their altruistic obligation for the betterment of the country.
Going through the diasporic experience, they are beset with the question, “Ako ay Pilipino. Ganito Ako Ngayon, Paano Ako Bukas?” (I am a Filipino. I am what I am now, what is in store for me in the future?), which was also the theme of the Malta symposium.
To answer this conundrum, the leadership of the ENFiD and ENFiD-UK conducted the 2015 yearend London “Big Breakfast Meeting: Malta Conference Echo” (BBM:MCE) attended by forty-two (42) Filipino community and civic leaders, friends from the media and academe, diplomats and labour officials from the Philippine embassy, business enterprises and individuals.
The forum was opened by Aimee Alado by giving a warm welcome to the delegates and introducing the members of the Board of Directors of ENFiD-UK and embassy officials.
To start the ball rolling, First Secretary and Consul on Political Affairs, Kristine Salle, gave an overview of Filipinos in Europe with emphasis in the UK. These include the facts and figures of how many migrant workers have come in the region and the UK every year and the manner of their entry.
ENFiD-UK Vice-Chairman for Northern Ireland, Peps Villanueva discussed the evolution of the Filipino Communities particularly in London.
Capitalising on the growing number of Filipinos in the UK in all field of professions, ENFiD Chairman, Gene Alcantara shared with ENFiD-UK Chairman Aimee Alado the discussion on Federating the Filipinos Overseas. Alcantara’s piece about the Filipino Types of Leadership and how each one pushes and pulls the success of creating and managing an organisation that will serve best our kababayans in the UK generated most of the applause from the crowd. He also enumerated some Filipino traits that have been carried to the host country that needed to be addressed.
Consul Voltaire Mauricio talked about the importance of having a Dual Citizenship and the benefits that can be derived therefrom by availing of this privilege. He stressed that to make Filipinos, who have two citizenships, remember what to do when travelling to and from the Philippines, is by following this: use Filipino citizenship when staying in the Philippines and use British citizenship (or other citizenship) when staying in the UK (or host country). He also busted a taxation fallacy, that is, the false idea that a Filipino is taxed not only once but twice of all income: one, by the host country and, two, by the Philippine government. He said that this double taxation is practically inexistent because of the treaty or agreement between the countries of not subjecting the same individual to tax on the same income.
Ricardo Gacayan, ENFiD-UK Assistant PR & Communications Officer, gave an overview of the topic on “Social Remittances,” which serves as a key agent of migration and social development. He explained that remittances are no longer just confined in the concept of monetary matters but also include the way Filipinos abroad think, behave and work in the host country which are in turn transferred into the Filipino psyche and way of living. He showed a video clip that highlighted the life of Diosdado “Dado” Banatao, from being a poor boy and a son of a lowly farmer in a rural area in the Philippines to becoming a successful engineer and entrepreneur in the United States. After reaping the fruits of his endeavour, he went back to the Philippines and shared his expertise and services to his countrymen.
Thereafter, Alado spoke on gender and generational dynamics that benefit women. She pointed out the drive to make women more empowered in all sectors especially in government offices like the Supreme Court. She also gave some anecdotes about the role of the Philippine embassies and isolated controversies thereat.
ENFiD-Ireland Chairman, Vanda Marie Brady discussed “Social Remittances in the Age of New Media”. She presented the importance of having access to the internet to address social, political and economic issues. As an example, she cited the plight of Jayson Montenegro, an undocumented Filipino in Ireland and how he used his accounts in Twitter and other online facilities to get the attention of all concerned and gain support for his cause and that of others similarly situated.
Following the talks was a workshop where the delegates were clustered into groups to brainstorm certain topics. Edwin Dela Cruz, ENFiD-UK Vice- Chairman for Scotland, gave the guidelines and distributed topics dealing on the following: Social Remittances, Key Agent in Migration and Development; ENFiD-UK Projects, Priorities and Actions for Participants; Social Remittances in the Age of New Media; Transforming Negative Filipino Traits into Positive Values; The Qualities and Needs of Leaders; and, the Role of Corporate and Financial Entities. One purpose of the purpose of this activity is to come up with a list of priorities that ENFiD-UK can include in the programming of events where each organisation can involve in and help ENFiD-UK realise its vision, mission and goals.
Each group through the respective spokesperson was roundly applauded for the intelligent, responsive and excellent outputs as a result of the dynamics and synergy of the members. In response, the ENFiD-UK officialdom extended a sincere gratitude to such great ideas and offered to give leadership seminars to organisations if requested.
Carol Panday, ENFiD-UK PR and Communications Officer, took over the recognition and awarding of certificates to Filipino organisations, business enterprises and individuals who contributed and supported various ENFiD-UK events for the past months. Philippine Embassy officials were likewise given an accolade for their support and dedication in the service of the Filipinos.
The new Labour Attaché to the UK, Reydeluz Conferido delivered the Closing Remarks and reminded the attendees that the Philippine Embassy’s door is wide open to all Filipinos for their various needs. He was formally welcomed by the Leaders present and the Filipino community as represented by their leaders.
The BBM:MCE is the first of such kind conducted by ENFiD-UK. It was not only an enormous success but it brought out an appetite to want some more of it. The participants were pleased of the outcome of the event. However, it would not have been realised without the participation of the organisations, offices and individuals who shared their precious time to attend. Likewise important is the sponsorship of entities like Alcantara Consultancy Services; Marco Polo; Kangen Water; Megaworld International; Smart; Caviteños UK; Finchley Raiders; SimplyC, PR & Events; LBC; and, Filipino British Nurses Extra Care East Grinstead.
Gene Alcantara encapsulated the heart of the BBM in his complimentary remarks on his Facebook post: “Attended by respected leaders of the Filipino community in the UK, business and Philippine Embassy partners, and individual movers and shakers. All coming together for the echoing of the European Network of Filipino Diaspora’s 2nd Regional Overseas Filipino Conference held in Malta recently. Mabuhay po tayong lahat as we push and pull for our constituents both in our home and host countries!”
In response to the question in the beginning of this article, everyone agreed in one loud united voice that everything is, “Ayos na ayos!”