A year and a half into a crisis the world thought would last only a few months, the pandemic has allowed the best of traits to blossom out of many Filipinos while also wringing in tears and heartaches for many. Many endeavours to cushion the hard blows of the health and economic crisis were joint efforts amongst various segments of the Filipino society in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. Against the backdrop of the 123rd Anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence dawning upon the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in the UAE, one wonders if the pandemic has provided our community a greater momentum for government-community engagement and if so, what it means for the future of our diaspora in this part of the world.
Just as the lockdown began and in the succeeding months that followed, I was privy to how many in our community stepped up to the challenge of being relevant in these times. Individuals and various community associations planned many relief operations for distressed fellowmen, often without fanfare and undue media attention. The intent was not a matter of who received credit or whose FB posts were shared the most, or whose call for a concerted effort to help was heeded by more or who was able to undertake the most number of relief distribution activities for our fellow Filipinos. Mindful of restrictions on movement and the health protocols in place, resourceful Pinoys thought of ways to reach out to their fellowmen and lend a genuine helping hand.
Indeed, the willingness to share time (the lockdowns provided much of it), money (a diminishing resource especially at the height of the Covid crisis), and effort (that which seemed to multiply exponentially as the resolve to survive became more difficult) with various community programmes was more evident and palpable. The readiness to think beyond the self proved that the human spirit amongst us Filipinos was indomitable.
Now governments, in line with their desire to maintain order and harmony within their jurisdiction, rightfully define their own laws and regulations to support this vision. Conscious and respectful of this, migrant communities like ours look to the Consulate for guidance and leadership in ensuring that their hopes to assist their fellowmen are safely tucked within host government policies. The Consulate’s and the community’s numerous collaborations with the Dubai Police, the UAE Food Bank, and various other establishments, perfectly illustrate this understanding.
The tandem of government leadership and diaspora-led endeavours springs forth avenues that motivate our community to aspire for greater heights in our respective professional fields, in the arts, in self-expression, in business and commerce, and in providing a stronger voice for our unique identity. This prods our diaspora to be more driven towards human, social, cultural, and economic developmental goals. Such passion ultimately leads to a deeper interaction and interconnectivity with both the countries we choose to live in and our home countries where our families and youth yearn for a similar leadership vis-à-vis our constant search for opportunities to create better lives through migration. Consequently, an empowered and productive diaspora lifts both our homes and the global community and cements the alliance between the government that leads and the community it serves.
This is the crux of what I think June 12, 2021 brings to the table of the Overseas Filipinos in Dubai, a clarion call for a crucial partnership between government and our migrants for the benefit of the Filipino people and nation. A government cannot create policies for its people at whim or in silos. It must work in tandem with the diaspora to identify how else they can move their wants, dreams, and visions forward. It cannot work with a handful of them or an exclusive cabal of their so-called elite rather a wide, broad, and grassroots-based partnership that truly is able to spell out the people’s aspirations.
In addition, a government must also identify itself as part of the people we serve, neither detached nor aloof to what the public demands. Otherwise, the strategies employed to achieve these societal pursuits become exclusive, mirroring only the vision of a few, and contrary to the public persona government should take on. This is my personal mantra.
Each step we take towards fruitful collaboration, whether baby steps or humble strides, is a step towards the betterment of all. Truly, as we think about these challenging times and our sense as a nation, it is more apparent that the essence of our independence lies in the delicate balance between government’s dependence on what our people desire and the common good.
Paul Raymund Cortes is Philippine Consul-General in the UAE