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Filipino Women in Canada:
Their Struggles and Resistance

Cecilia Diocson, Philippine Women Centre of B.C.
presented at Asian Connections
November 2000

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On behalf of my organization, the Philippine Women Centre of B.C., I would like to express our thanks and appreciation for this opportunity to share with you our work and experiences in working with Filipino women in Canada. Since the late 1960’s, Filipino migrants and immigrants have been growing in Canada. 65% of these migrants and immigrants are women who are mostly college or university educated doing lowly paid and dead end work mostly unrelated to their training and education.

A brief look at history
The coming of Filipinos to Canada is just the latest in the long history of migration of the Filipino people abroad. During over three hundred years of Spanish colonialism, Filipinos were recorded to have migrated to various parts of Mexico and California. Many of these Filipinos were forced to work in Spanish ships as seafarers during the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade. Others were sent to work in California to help establish Spanish missionary settlements. To escape their harsh treatment, some of these Filipinos, especially the seafarers, jumped ships, crossed the Gulf of Mexico and built a settlement in the southern parts of the United States.

During the American colonial occupation which started one hundred years ago, Filipinos were brought to the United States to work in the pineapple and sugar plantations in Hawaii, in the orchards of California and in the canning and fishing industries in Washington and Alaska. And immediately after the Second World War, many Filipinos joined the US navy and ultimately settled in the United States. Since then, there has been a continuing flow of Filipino migration to the United States and in other parts of the world including Canada.

Context of Filipino migration
Our presence in Canada must be seen within the backdrop of global developments and the economic and political reality in the Philippines today and several decades ago. The aftermath of the Second World War, which devastated the world, was followed by relatively rapid economic growth and recovery in the advanced industrialized countries of the North. Industries were gradually rebuilt, urban centers grew rapidly and relative prosperity occurred among these countries and their people.

But this period of relative growth and prosperity was happening mainly in the industrialized countries of the North. The third world countries of the South were experiencing underdevelopment and economic crises. They continued to be dumping grounds of surplus products and capital from countries of the North and suppliers of cheap migrant labor and raw materials.

In the case of the Philippines, the inability of the government and its institutions to implement long term genuine economic development has caused people to migrate, initially, from the rural areas into the urban centers of Metro Manila and other cities. But these urban centers cannot provide adequate and decent employment for these rural migrants who end up in the slum and squatter areas. Hence, the next step in migration was to go to other countries of the world. The failure of the Philippine economy to absorb its growing labor force is compounded by graft and corruption in government, the phenomemon of "crony" capitalism and the structural adjustment programs imposed by global financial agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the Philippine economy.

Over 2,000 Filipinos leave the Philippines annually either with signed contracts to work abroad or simply to look for work either legally or illegally. The major factor pushing them to migrate abroad is the continuing social, political and economic crises in the Philippines where 75 to 80 percent of the population live in poverty and deprivation. Historically, this chronic crisis in Philippine society is deeply rooted in the Philippines being a neo-colony of the United States. Foreign economic interests collaborate with local feudal and comprador interests in keeping the country backward, agrarian and without basic industries. Together with the neo-colonial state, they carry out the impositions of global institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and now, the World Trade Organization (WTO) to perpetually keep the Philippines economically backward and as source of cheap labor and raw materials for the global capitalist market. The neo-colonial economy does not and cannot have the capacity to absorb the growing number of people that enter the labor force every year.

This state of chronic economic crisis has forced millions of Filipinos to seek employment abroad. This is further augmented by the Philippine government’s policy of exporting Filipino labor to reduce unemployment, diffuse social tension and increase foreign earnings to help pay for foreign debts.

This export of Filipino labor was adopted as a matter of state policy during the 1970s through the Labor Export Program (LEP). Since then, the Philippines has been described by its former Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Domingo Siazon, as the "world’s largest migrant nation with 5.5 million Filipinos working abroad, many of whom are victims of abuses and human trafficking." (Unquote) While women constitute over 55% of all Filipinos leaving for abroad, in Canada, 65% of Filipino migrants and immigrants are made up of women – thus underscoring the growing feminization of labor migration.

Today, the Philippines has become one of the top exporters and suppliers of highly skilled and educated but cheap labor in the global labor market. This export of Filipinos earns for the Philippine economy over 5 billion US $ every year through remittances and government taxes. In 1996 alone, these remittances constituted 6 to 7% of the Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

The LEP and the demand for cheap but skilled and educated Filipino worker are concrete manifestations of the current commodification of Filipino migration.

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