Devil in the Details

Following through from the website of Filipinos in Wellington, this is Part-4 of the series titled “The Day After-Devil In The Details”. In this last part of the series, the author moves us forward to the year 2022 assuming that the transformation of the Philippines has gone on smoothly and exceedingly well for nearly all those 12-million overseas Filipinos who have trickled back to the Philippines. Much is not said (it’s just assumed) about how and when they all started coming back. But the movement of a large population of people from practically all corners of the globe back to the point of origin certainly takes some time doing. In fact, the whole process goes unnoticed by the rest of the world until a tipping point is reached. It is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point. In a way, one can say that tipping points act like epidemics. To be more precise, the reverse migration of Filipinos was a social epidemic and the success of any kind of social epidemic like that which has just occurred is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.




It is December 2022 and the entire world has just come to realize that nearly all the familiar brown faces who were either temporary workers, residents and citizens in their countries have disappeared from the malls, offices and suburbs. It seems evident that they have all returned to the Philippines because news coming in recently from each of some 179 countries that had them as a minority group has been reporting the same thing. We are talking here about the 12-million Filipinos and their family members that were once dispersed across countries with names that run the entire alphabet, from Australia to Zimbabwe.


Let’s not worry first about why or how they departed. We know that the Phil ippine government started streamlining its economy in 2012 and may be one of the reasons why a few of them started returning. But only a few of them at a time as it then seemed. Then, we started hearing about this thing called heavy deuterium that could only be found in excessive quantities in the Philippines and how it was now being used as a cleaner fuel by them to power all our homes, appliances, electric cars, factories, offices and practically for that matter whole cities and towns around the world. The devil is probably in the details but the fact is they’re gone just as sure as a host of honey bee workers return to their own hives just before sunset.


It first started with a trickle of domestic helpers. But over the decades they were the ones that first help design and build our roads, streets, homes, bridges, buildings and ports. These were the basic infrastructure we needed to exist as a country and make it economically viable. A bit later they sent over their bank ers, accountants, technicians and computer system operators, office and human resource managers, writers, researchers and journalists, food technologists, educators and academicians, entrepreneurs, entertainers and artists – basically to give us the stuff we needed to sustain our aging populations and lead a very comfortable existence. At about the same time, they also started sending over their doctors, nurses, medical technologists, paramedical staff, and medical transcriptionists basically to keep us healthy and alive. Then, they were gone.




It’s not just the children that are affected. Think of the homes that are depen dent on Filipino housekeepers, nannies, caregivers. Homes of parents and couples that are now forcing one of them to stay home are chaotic as their young children cry out for their nannies in this strange language called ‘Phillipino’ they’re babbling in and realizing only now that there’s just so much of housework that has to be handled and how demanding their kids can be. There no opportunity to attend parties and socialize or travel anymore.


The problems are even more serious with the elderly in homes and nursing institutions, because Filipino caregivers at one time provided so much of the critical services they needed. When temporary contractual workers were being brought in from among non-Filipinos to fill the gaps, the elderly complain. They want their Filipino caregivers back because they have that special touch, that extra patience and willingness to stay an hour more when needed. I guess once you’ve been spoiled, it’s hard to imagine anything else but.


Our hospitals too are adversely being affected. Gone are most of the Filipino physicians, nurses and other health professionals. As a result, appointments for rehabilitation services, from children with speech problems to stroke survivors, are indefinitely being postponed because there are now so few qualified speech pathologists, occupational and physical therapists.


Hospital administrators are announcing they can’t take in any more patients unless the conditions are extremely serious and death threatening. Instead, patients are being told to follow their doctors’ previously written prescriptions and orders and, if they have questions, to seek advice from several Internet medical sites. But hospitals are nevertheless swamped with new complaints. The web sites aren’t working because of missing Filipino web designers, website administrators and database managers who are no longer under their employ.


Service establishments throughout the world – restaurants, supermarkets, ho tels, are all closing down one after another because of their missing key staff who were involved in management and maintenance. They have returned to the Philippines.


In the Canada, the United States and Europe, many commercial establishments have to close shop, not just because of the missing Filipino sales staff but because their suppliers have all been sending in notices about delays in ship ments. Oh yes, the shipping industry has gone into a spiralling crisis as well because of missing Filipino seafarers.


The shipping firms begin to look into emergency recruitment of non-Filipino seafarers but then declare another crisis: They’re running out of supplies of oil for most of their ships still powered by it. The Middle Eastern countries have come to a standstill too without their Filipino oil industry workers.




Frantic presidents and prime ministers all over the world are now calling on the United Nations to convene a special session of the Security Council to discuss the growing problem across the globe but its new Secretary General advises that it’s not within the jurisdiction of the UN to handle that kind of a crisis. But even it were, she couldn’t do anything anytime soon because the UN system is on the edge itself. Many of its secretarial and clerical staff, as well as translators who were from the Philippines, have returned to their country from their main headquarters in New York and Geneva, as well as their regional offices through out the world.


In addition, the UN Head was getting calls from a number of UN services saying they too have to close down indefinitely because their skilled Filipino staffs that were running all these mission critical services on a day-to-day basis were no longer around. Worse still, she couldn’t even convene UN meetings for lack of a quorum because the airports in New York, Washington and other major US cities have clogged up. The reason? Filipino employees who used to handle quite a number of critical airport maintenance and security roles were no longer around.


Banks and other financial institutions around the world were also being affected to some extent as well. Their Filipino technical consultants, computer operators and treasury department staff were nowhere to be seen. Funds couldn’t be remitted in time and those delays were affecting businesses in almost all major financial centres.


Frustrated by the inability of the UN to help out with the situation which they characterised as a reverse brain drain the political and business leaders of the world convene a virtual summit through the Internet using video conferencing technologies.


A brain drain is usually regarded as an economic cost, since all emigrants and workers usually take with them the fraction of value of their training provided by the government and other organisations of home countries in favour of migrant hosting countries. It is the parallel of capital flight, which refers to the same movement of financial capital.


But with the loss of Filipinos who lived and worked in host countries across the world these leaders were saying that it alone just wasn’t a reverse brain drain in the mundane sense of the word. It was more of a ‘social epidemic’. That parti cular term was coined by Malcolm Gladwell in his seminal book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” published in 2000.


Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur. In that regard, Gladwell’s book sought to explain and describe the “mysterious” sociological changes that mark everyday life and that ideas, messages and behaviors spread like viruses which are subject to certain laws that bring about tipping points of social epidemics.


One of these laws – considered the most powerful of three Gladwell mentions, is what economists call the 80/20 Principle. It is the notion that in any situation roughly 80-percent of the ‘work’ will be done by 20-percent of the participants. This minority of people are described as ‘Connectors’ who “link us up with the world”.


Connectors as a people have a special gift for bringing the world together not only through their abilities and skills but through a truly extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances. These people are characterized as having social networks consisting of hundreds of people. Gladwell attributes their social success to their ability to span many different worlds, cultures and situations. It is a function of something intrinsic to their psyche and personality as a people, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.


As they reach the end of their discussions they all agree on one thing: the world has become a quieter place since the Filipinos left their respective host coun tries. It isn’t just the growing silence arising from the once smooth running of work in their places of work once handled by them; no, it seems there’s also much less laughter now that they aren’t around, both the laughter of the Fili pinos and those they served.




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