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Monday, October 27, 2008

Trade Advantage

By Jeremaiah M. Opiniano

The following article was part of OFWJC's special publication 'Move.' The magazine was given to all delegates of GFMD Philippines.
Reporting from Tours and Paris, France and from Binangonan, Rizal Province, Philippines

IN TOURS, France, they buried the fountain of youth.
In this garden city south of Paris is where a quarter of a million people speak the country’s purest French. Visibly, the elderly walk slowly through Tours’s tourist spots, enjoying the crisp air and light dazzling sun.
A lady, maybe in her early 70s, stepped outside the city’s inter-city train station on black size five ballet flats.
She was at home among the crowd of old people. Her pace is as measured as the others as she troops toward Place Plumereau, where Tours’s working population wine and dine almost nightly, they said.
After capturing in celluloid the renowned Tudor buildings, the lady from the train walked a hundred meters on Plumereau’s cobblestone sidewalks to Cathedrale-Saint-Gatien.
Every structure in this garden city south of Paris is majestic, and old, like the tourists still fortunate to stand before the portals of the past.
Tours mirrors the major demographic problem of France and other European countries—there are more elderly than young people.
“We can expect more migration as Europe grapples with a ‘super aging’ population,” Henry Schumacher said in a conversation with reporters.
Schumacher, executive director of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, explains that with or without the financial meltdown, countries in the European Union will still confront the consequences of such demographic trend.
“Most Europeans don’t like to do certain jobs, so where can they turn to?” Schumacher said.
He added that he expects the demand for health professionals will continue as a consequence of the demographic pressure.
The pressure is already building up in Paris, a three-hour, north-bound train ride from Tours.
France’s capital remains the host of tourists, locals, and foreigners of wide-ranging age groups, forming Paris’s two million people.
Near the Eiffel Tower, there’s a hidden congregation of Filipinos. Stade La Muette becomes a Filipino town every July for the Philippine Independence Day celebrations. Rue La Muette is quiet on the outside and “clean on the inside due to the hard work of foreigners.”
Jean-Pierre Garson of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said he couldn’t imagine what these places would be like if foreign workers get booted out.
“Who will replace them?”
That question and other questions arising from migration the European Union Commission will attempt to answer at the meeting of the EU Council this October.
* * *
THIRTEEN flight-hours away, one of the sources of the answer to that conundrum was clapping as her young nieces gyrated to pop singer Shakira’s ministrations on video.
“Lucky that I love a foreign land; For the lucky fact of your existence,” the tots sang along.
They could be summarizing how the Sablayan clan regards the sisters Mila, Aurora, and Tess, who come home from France every year.
Every July, the Sablayan house atop a hill in Binangonan, in the Philippines’s Rizal province, is filled with siblings, nieces, and grandchildren when the sisters go home for an annual vacation.
“We are 60 in the clan,” said younger sister Tess, “and from our family, two have already died, four are here (like me), three are in the US, and four are in France.”
Like Tours, Binangonan is a town replete with history dating back to the revolution of Filipinos against Spain. But unlike Tours, Binangonan teems with people of divergent age range.
An elderly woman holds onto the elbow of a granddaughter in the flea market. Vendors peddling red and white onion bulbs conquer sidewalks. Motorcycles with cabs for two careen to and fro, deftly avoiding pedestrians and shiny cars along the road. Honks and beeps compete and meld with shouts of glee of children playing tag.
Inside the subdivision where the Sablayan house is, the similarity begins again.
It is usually quiet there and the architecture of some houses smack of French influence.
For that day, however, the Sablayan sisters didn’t mind the noise.
Said 24-year Paris resident Aurora, “If we did not go abroad, all of us would not have been as blessed.”
Mila sends money home to her four other sisters to bankroll the maintenance of her three-storey home at St. Monique Valais subdivision. Mila’s already a French citizen. having stayed in Paris for nearly three decades.
Mila’s second daughter Abegail, who joined her mother and Aurora in the recent family trip to the Philippines, was simply happy with her gain—six items worth a total of €100, the price of just one branded bag in Paris.
Filipino workers seeking to go to France may also find the country’s set of child care packages for French citizens and foreigners attractive.
The Sablayan sisters said these packages are made to attract French nationals and naturalized citizens to bear more babies.
Mila’s three children, when they were in pre-school, have availed of the most extensive child-care support in Europe.
Foreigners who have worked longer years in France, and who became naturalized citizens, can even claim their social security and pension funds while they are abroad, explained Muriel Muller de Tannegg, a director at France’s National Pension Fund for Employees.
De Tannegg explained a check is sent to those who avail of this incentive.
“MORE people, more migrants,” writes the Commission on Population in the recently-released primer of the Fourth State of the Philippine Population Report.
“What is [interesting]… may not yet be so much the impact of the numbers going abroad to the totality of the population, but the underlying effect of population size and growth on migration decisions.”
As richer countries grapple with less people to sustain their growth, here comes workers from abundant Philippines with its own population juggling act. Where to place excess labor within and outside of a country that can’t keep pace with the entire population’s growing needs?
There’s France.
French ambassador to Manila Gerard Chesnel is now working with Philippine officials to finalize an agreement to send Filipino workers to help fill up France’s electronics, information technology, and health care industries.
While Philippine ambassador to Paris Jose Abeto Zaide said that negotiations are ongoing, France is romancing a specific group of Filipino workers: nurses.
“This is the population (nurses) we would like to welcome,” writes Chesnel in an official press release.
The Sablayan sisters aren’t nurses, but they’re proof of the romantic lure of the French employment opportunity.
Mila’s daughter Abegail, for example, works as a teacher in an elementary school in Paris.
She said from their income, they are still able to send home money monthly.
“We also carried a lot of heavy stuff going here because it was the seventh birthday of our niece.”
France and 26 other countries, says a Borderless Workforce Survey by the global consultancy firm Manpower Inc., need skills such as those of laborers, engineers, and production operators.
But will Chesnel’s boss, Sarkozy (who wants a firm EU-wide immigration policy that includes, among other items, jailing and deporting illegal immigrants), be as welcoming?
Garson has heard that storyline for many years: “What happens in reality is much more complex.”
Staying in Tours for six days, one can count the number of children in its the streets—only 17 of them, including those in baby carriages.
For Filipinos witnessing grease-smeared, grime-covered children stretching their arms for alms in almost every street of some cities in the metropolis, Tours is like stepping out of a pipe dream.
But a French receptionist of a student dormitory in Tours said they’re used to having few people.
Whether that will apply to the Sablayan community in Binangonan rests on how Europe will grapple with its demographic problem.
Until such time, as that continent continues to accept foreigners from countries like the Philippines, migration will alter the entire population structure of societies.
(Reporter’s note: French censuses do not also allow questions regarding ethnicity and religion, so it is difficult to determine the ethnic composition of France’s people, says French social security officials I’ve talked to) OFW Journalism Consortium, with the support of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in the Philippines

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