By Susan Ople
(Originally published in Philippine Panorama, 30 December 2012)
The Christmas season is a playground of emotions. Once the “-ber” months dominate one’s desk calendar, the percentage of yearning rises despite stagnant incomes pending the release of the most beloved Christmas bonus. Can you imagine if your parents named you “Bonus”? You’d be the most in demand employee come Christmas time! Oh, but I digress.
OFW families enjoy a bittersweet Christmas even when the migrant worker comes home for a brief vacation. It’s so lovely to see them home but extremely tough to see them off. I know this because my brothers, Luis and Bulos, live in two different countries. Our eldest brother, Luis, resides and works in Switzerland while my brother, Bulos – his real name is Dionisio, which alas isn’t that much better than Bulos (Merry Christmas, Kuya Bulos!)– has been living in Los Angeles, California for decades. Whenever they come home, it’s always a thrill to see and be with them but parting ways never comes easy. Hence, the bitter to the sweet!
Our OFWs and their families usually feel left out of the usual Christmas events hosted by companies and organizations that cater to their employees, suppliers, and members. Last year, the Blas F. Ople Center, which I head, decided to throw a Christmas party exclusively for OFW families. It was held at the PhilAm Life Auditorium and was a well-attended affair.
For this year, we held our Second Happy OFW Christmas event last December 12 in partnership with the Social Security System and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles delivered the keynote speech and also led the officers of the newly created OFWs for Peace in taking their oaths as “I Am For Peace” volunteers. Engineer Francisco “Jun” Aguilar who worked for years in Saudi Arabia led his team of OFW peace advocates composed of: Elso Cabangon, Pastor Nathaniel Yague, Imam Amir Macaurog, Loreto Soriano, Rosalinda Manabat, Sukarno Tingao, Dr. Ernita Santos and Pete Rahon of the OFW bloggers group known as PEBA.
Presidential peace adviser Secretary Deles accompanied by SSS President and CEO Emilio de Quiroz viewed several entries to our Peace Parol-Making Contest based on the theme of “OFWs for Peace” and chose the entry of former OFW Bernabe Belbiz as the best among the lot.
Secretary Deles said it best when she noted that OFWs make good peace advocates because they know how important it is to be more accepting of one’s cultural differences. OFWs for Peace will help in OPAPP’s information drive about the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro using social media.
This year, we gave “Pusong OFW” Awards to two esteemed personalities. Mrs. Cynthia Villar of the Villar Foundation deserves the “Pusong OFW” award for ongoing livelihood projects for OFWs. I know this because the Ople Center and Villar Foundation have an ongoing vocational technical skills training program for OFW families known as “Skills Up.” Several of its graduates have found jobs here and abroad. Our second awardee is Mr. Bansan Choa, founder and CEO of iRemit, Inc. Few people know this but Bansan has such a good heart that he has been quietly helping distressed OFWs come home in a private capacity. Much of the Ople Center’s work is known to and supported by the kindhearted Mr. Choa.
Laughter filled the Magsaysay Hall when entertainer (and my godson!) Jojo Alejar sang, danced and made us all laugh with his jokes. When the iconic Hotdog Band led by the talented Rene Garcia hit the stage, we were all ready to dance! Hundreds of OFW families danced Gangnam-style upon the prodding of Rene’s bandmates.
An OFW on vacation from Taiwan won a free roundtrip international ticket courtesy of AirAsia. A wife of an OFW cried when her name was called as the winner of a flat screen television set courtesy of Vice-President Jejomar Binay. Another TV set was raffled off courtesy of AsiaLink while Senators Teofisto Guingona, Chiz Escudero, Koko Pimentel, Sonny Trillanes, Manny Villar, Franklin Drilon and Bongbong Marcos, gallantly donated raffle prizes as well.
Christmas is about giving, and when the time came for it, our OFW families dug deep to help the family of OFW on death row, Joselito Zapanta. His sister, Rosemay, a laundrywoman, sought everyone’s help because her family needs to raise Php44-million in 4 months to pay the blood money needed to spare Joselito’s life from execution. A donation box was passed around and everyone chipped in till the box was good and heavy.
Let me thank Pag-IBIG Fund, PhilHealth, Pagcor, and of course, OPAPP as well as the SSS for helping us launch this party. DZXL anchors Larry King and Candy served as emcees while WhiteBoard of Luis and Jenny Magalong was our event organizer. I wish I could mention everyone who helped out and who was there, but space is limited – suffice it to say that our OFW families present that afternoon know who you are.
To all of you, have a merry, merry Christmas! We deserve nothing less! (Send your comments to [email protected])