By Penelope Endozo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 10:59:00 10/07/2008
WHY DO SO MANY FILIPINOS CHOOSE TO work in another developing country like Nigeria where there is a Philippine government ban on all kinds of overseas Filipino workers?
The African continent holds too much baggage from its colonial past that Evangeline ‘Vangie’ Novio is willing to paint the real picture of this western African country to clear the doubts caused by reports that hound headlines in the Philippines. One of their consequences is a work ban on professionals that has put an unwarranted burden on other Filipino workers in Niger land.
Vangie, 55, is one of the pioneer overseas Filipino workers based in Abuja, the land-locked capital of Nigeria. She left the Philippines on Oct. 13, 1980 and has never looked back since. “But I go home every single holiday I have,” she says.
Her most recent homecoming was obliged by a request of her aging mother in San Jose, Mindoro Occidental. But before she went home to the Philippines, her employer was worried because of the travel ban. “Our head office personnel is concerned, they asked ‘Vangie, are you sure you can come back?’”
She knew she was taking a risk. But, “I want to see my mother.” Vangie said, noting that some of her colleagues would rather bring their relatives to ban-free countries like Thailand and Singapore just to spend time with them.
“Most of them can’t come home. They could only stay in Bangkok or Singapore and bring their parents there to meet them, which is a big burden for us,” she said in Filipino in an interview in Manila. “If we are called the modern heroes, then why are we being punished like this?”
Only Filipinos have a ban
Vangie says that among the countries that have multi-national workers in Nigeria, the Philippines is the only country that imposed a total working ban to the country, even if there is a roster of different multi-nationals in Abuja. “Why are we Filipinos the only ones that imposed the ban?”
She admits, however, that the Niger Delta has been occupied with kidnapping issues.
Niger Delta is the biggest oil supplier in Africa and the provider of about one-fifth of the US’s oil needs. Shell discovered it to be oil-rich in 1956, but the locals demanded equal shares from foreign oil companies through the armed Movement for Emancipation for Niger Delta (MEND) starting in early 2000.
Vangie is quick to add that the unrest is an isolated case in Port Harcourt, the southern former capital, near the delta. She cried foul as the ban was lifted for a week but re-imposed when another batch of seamen was kidnapped. She says land-based and sea-based workers have different needs. “They are not land-based, they’re transient [workers]. Why should the land-based workers suffer a ‘solution’ that was meant for sea-based workers?”
3 different jobs
For more than two decades, Vangie saw how Nigeria changed—and how this changed her life, too, as she changed jobs through the years. First she worked as a teacher in a State all-girls’ school, then an accountant for a Chinese-Canadian businessman, and now as a plant supervisor for a German logistics and construction company. “There are no domestic workers there. We are all professionals,” she says.
Vangie worked as an education officer for 10 years in the Bouchi State Secondary School for Girls. She’s proud to say that some of her students are now high-ranking officials in various offices. “I don’t remember them but they come to me and one of them said ‘But Madam, you were my teacher, I now work in the Senate.’”
Her experience as a teacher was far more enriching than what other countries could offer at the time.
Nigerians respect Filipinos, and that counts for any migrant worker she says. At one point where Filipinos in Nigeria were transferring to the US in the mid-’80s, Vangie decided to gauge an offer to teach there by observing her friend’s class in New York. When the teacher asked the student to stand up, the kindergarten student answered her back with a slur: “Get away from me, you colored woman.” That was enough for her to decline the offer.
She says that besides being hardworking and intelligent, Filipinos are sought for because “they are very ‘tolerant.’” When asked whether she had experienced any form of discrimination, Vangie says none. “In fact, people even curtsied to us.”
In 1992, Vangie worked as a principal accountant for a manufacturer of slippers even without having completed her commerce degree. “I lacked just one more year, but I opted to work at that time,” she says.
Vangie has always seized opportunities as they came. She was assigned to Lejos, Port Harcourt and Kano, one of the oldest cities in African civilization. This exposed her to the lifestyle she could enjoy only in Nigeria, her second home. In March 2001, she transferred to the German construction company as a secretary where she is now a plant supervisor.
Vangie, who is single, has helped her family the most. What she’s wanting in some ways, she tries to compensate with other means. She enjoys her freedom and fulfills her dreams, touring the world many times over. She has visited the world’s key cities – Rome, Paris, Geneva, Madrid, Barcelona, New York, Canada— frequently until she “lost interest.”
She couldn’t hide her excitement as she described how her plane tickets piled an inch-thick. But the most memorable experience for her was when she first sent remittance money to her family back home. She knows that not all Filipinos share the same lucky streak. Others were laid off from companies; some had problems when they married Nigerian locals. To help, Vangie and a group of friends organized a Filipino-group called “Pusong Pinoy” in 2003. “Pusong Pinoy” members mostly organize bazaar sales, parties and even an International Women’s Fair whose proceeds go to the members in need.
“Just think about it, if we are not safe there, why do we have parties? We have parties almost every week there.”
Work with full dignity
Someone who has been there long enough to understand how this host country treats its migrant workers, Vangie knows that the Nigerian government and their employers are doing everything to protect the multi-national workers.
At present, she has her own furnished house in a subdivision called “life-camp” with other multi-national workers. She has her own car and driver and she gets to meet Filipinos over parties and Saturday Masses. She has a full life there that she knows she could not find elsewhere. “We want to invite President Macapagal-Arroyo so she could see how the Filipinos there are working with full dignity,” she says.
“Can the Philippines give us jobs here?”
The answer can very well answer another question she posed: “So, why do you need to ban?”