Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our Latest Blacklist (Filipinos in Cayman)

In the end, it wasn’t even a nine-days’ wonder. Three days’ attention was all our local media gave to the Philippines Government’s sudden broadside against Cayman’s mistreatment of migrant workers. It can’t have taken the Philippines authorities years and years to acknowledge the slavery-like aspects of our indentured-servitude program, so we are left asking ourselves what the purpose of the broadside might have been. I think it probably had three objectives, each of which was at least partly achieved.

First, it was a general warning- notice to the whole world not to exploit Filipino citizens working abroad. There are several millions of them at any one time, and the forty-one nations and territories on the published blacklist are all very minor importers of Filipinos. How many of them could there be working in Zimbabwe, for goodness sake, or Tuvalu, or Haiti? If the home bureaucrats were working strategically, it would make sense for them to start their threats with the smaller importers and work their way up to the majors. The two or three thousand Filipinos in Cayman comprise a miniscule proportion of the total working overseas.

The second purpose of the blacklist might be the political one of assuring domestic voters that the governing Party is looking after their sisters, daughters, mothers and brothers, sons and fathers labouring in strange lands thousands of miles away. It’s always a scary move (and sometimes a dangerous one) for young people, to head off to parts unknown. We should all- especially native Caymanians- have the greatest respect for the bravery of those who make that move. All native Caymanians have forebears who made it, after all.

Thirdly, all but the most heartless of bureaucrats in Manila must feel genuine disgust at our immigration system that gives local employers a licence to cheat and exploit migrants held on bond-service. They must also wonder what kind of people we are, to be practising such a departure from civilised behaviour. Of course we know that most of the devisers and enforcers of our system are nice people on the surface. We see their photos in the paper and think, well, he or she looks pleasant enough. But a lot of us are discerning enough to see, behind some of the smiles, personalities that lack compassion. They are people from whom we should withhold our respect, however high and mighty their positions.

In my mind, endorsing servitude is not all that much less offensive than endorsing gang culture. Individuals are intimidated into silence in both cases. Filipinos in Cayman (like all migrant workers) risk having part of their wages and pensions stolen without recompense, and risk being assaulted in public places by thugs who are never brought to trial.

Ah well, Filipinos are a resilient people, and they have a strong support-network here in their fellow-nationals. They will survive, as exploited migrants everywhere survive. Ultimately, they and their families are better off being exploited in Cayman than unemployed back home. Any moral equivocation is ours, not theirs. We Caymanians should feel shame for our community, that it refuses our guest workers the full protection of the law. In many ways, Cayman is a paradise; so how can we live in paradise and not be on the side of the angels?