There’s The Rub : Insanities
By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: August 27, 2008
The logic of Catch-22 was absurdly brilliant. From Joseph Heller’s novel explaining the concept:
“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22.”
I remembered this after I read about the group Migrante complaining angrily about the proposal of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to subject all departing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to a psychiatric test. Migrante of course put its detraction in quite a different way. My own reaction was to see in it a reverse of Catch-22:
“There is only one catch and that is Catch-as-Catch-Can, which specifies that a concern for one and one’s family’s welfare in the face of hunger that is real and immediate is the sign of a rational mind. Juana is sane and may fly abroad. All she has to do is undergo the DFA test. But as soon as she does, she ceases to be sane, proposing as she does to throw herself willy-nilly into unknown dangers in unknown lands, and deserves to be grounded. Juana would be sane to avoid risking untold dangers and would be crazy to do so, but if she is sane then she is qualified to go abroad and risk untold dangers. If she prefers to stay here, she is sane and may therefore go abroad; if she wants to go abroad, she is crazy and may only stay here. We have to marvel at the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-as-Catch Can. ”
But as I said, Migrante put it differently. Specifically, Migrante said: “(It’s the) DFA officials who should have their heads examined if they really believe mandatory psychiatric tests could help prevent OFWs from snapping in the workplace. (Their proposal) essentially typecasts OFWs as lunatics. By refusing to acknowledge the realities of OFW work—deplorable working conditions, verbal, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, torture and nonpayment of wages—and by conveniently glossing over the fact that most of the time OFWs commit crimes to defend themselves while others are simply framed, the DFA in essence is condemning our OFWs. If we followed their logic, then Sarah Balabagan, Mary Jane Ramos and Joselito Alejo were lunatics and not heroes, as they were hailed when they arrived home from their overseas ordeal.”
It’s a good point, and one we would do very well to ponder. The question is whether the person you are sending out is loony-tunes or the place he is going to is bound to make him so. Or put another way, the question is whether the person you are sending out is a risk to the community you are sending him out to or the conditions of work you are sending him out to are a risk to the person you are sending out. In many cases, the second is truer than the first. It’s the deplorable working conditions, the verbal, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, the torture, the nonpayment of wages that make OFWs snap and go berserk. That is probably more the rule than the exception. No exam is going to change that.
I do think a pre-departure orientation seminar is in order. Many OFWs do go out without an appreciation, or even bare knowledge, of the place they are going to, and many sources of conflicts have to do simply with clashes of cultures. I know that because my friends from FASAP (Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines ) have a lot of horror stories about it. They often had to take on the job of the DFA, admonishing OFWs on board flights to fundamentalist Muslim countries to leave their Bibles and religious icons or paraphernalia in the plane. Those items will be confiscated at Immigration anyway, if their possessors do not end up enduring nightmarish ordeals at the airport. A modicum of understanding of the ways of others should go a long way toward keeping sane in straitened circumstances.
But there is a larger point here, which is what my reference to Catch-22 is meant to suggest. That is the spectacle of following logic in an illogical situation, or enforcing sanity in the part while madness riots in the whole. It goes by many names: Catch-22, the tail wagging the dog, micro-sense micro madness.
There is something sublimely absurd about making sure that only sane people are sent out to do insane work. There is something violently contradictory about guaranteeing that people are able to keep their family together by exposing them to conditions that guarantee they will tear their family asunder. There is something maddeningly insane about assuring that people are sufficiently sane to carry out the insane task of keeping a country afloat by sending its people to work abroad.
I don’t know of any country today that is so dependent on overseas work. That has for its lifeblood overseas work. That cannot survive for one day without overseas work. Absurdity piles up on absurdity. I don’t know of any country today that is so desperate for overseas work it is willing to send its citizens to places God or Allah forgot. I don’t know of any country today that has turned whole universities into nursing schools, or turned entire departments into adjuncts of the nursing one. I don’t know of any country today that doesn’t even mind selling itself, quite apart from its people, to the highest bidder, piece by piece, parcel by parcel, lot by lot, just to survive—or to make its officials happy.
And we want our OFWs sane.