Tuesday, 27 July 2010

BM Editorials: What matters most

Business Mirror
THURSDAY, 22 JULY 2010 20:43

THE case of the unnamed Filipino maid who inherited a whopping P200 million (S$6 million, or $4 million), including an apartment in an upscale part of town, from the Singaporean doctor she served over two decades, is more than just the usual tale of good fortune, or of someone hitting the jackpot.

Those who see it as just that miss the point entirely—that this isn’t the usual fate of Filipino migrant workers, and was the result of a combination of factors: the innate good nature of both the maid and her employer, not to mention the abiding faith of both and their sincere affection for each other, despite the differences in class, culture and intellectual levels; the twist of fate, that the Singaporean doctora, who remained unmarried and had mostly doted on one nephew who regularly visited her, had early on seen the Pinay maid as “family” in almost all aspects, especially after the Filipina took care of the doctor’s ailing mother in the last three years of the latter’s life; then, too, consider that the labor and legal frameworks in Singapore are quite advanced---enhanced, in the last 15 years, by the celebrated case of Flor Contemplacion, which, for all its bitterness, left both Asean neighbors with lasting lessons on how to treat each other’s peoples. Thus, because of the above and other factors, Christine (the name bestowed on the maid by The Straits Times, which had the exclusive story on what it called “The 6-M maid”) came into the vast windfall, but it’s not as if she was like a lucky bettor in a lottery. To be fair to both Christine and the Singaporean employer, who died last year at age 66, the inheritance—and the decision to include her in the will—was a decision that had long ago been made, and Christine and the other relatives of the doctor knew about it. In short, it was a logical offshoot of a long relationship whose lessons should not be obscured by the hugeness of the amount.

It’s often been said that Filipino labor, though relatively costlier in a region where it must compete with millions of, say, Chinese workers charging much lower rates, is valued in many parts of the world because of the English competency of most Pinoys, not to mention their other skills, especially if they are graduates of the sciences, engineering or are IT experts. And yet study after study, and surveys of employers and businessmen around the world, have borne out the inescapable fact, as well: the English and other skills aside, the Filipino genes are wired for goodwill and harmony, for intuitiveness and for high “EQ” (emotional quotient) levels, and a sense of sacrifice that make the people easy to work and live with. We at home don’t usually notice it, or just take it for granted, because we’re caught up in the daily, mundane miseries wrought by traffic, poor services, or corruption at all levels. We start to appreciate the things of value in what has been called “the safety net of character” only when our countrymen live and work abroad, and then we begin to hear or learn about what others have to say about them.

It took Christine more than 20 years for the world to notice that even in a progressive country like Singapore, the most ordinary worker can make a difference. The wonder of it all is that she didn’t set out to make a mark, much less inherit a fortune. As she told The Straits Times, “I’m the luckiest maid in Singapore, with or without the money.” All she wanted was to provide for a family back home, but to her credit—and that of the doctor who treated her like a daughter—they never lost sight of what matters most in this world.

THE story of Christine broke just about the same time that another life, that of “heartist” Joey Velasco, ended.

Velasco died young (43) but, like Christine, made a huge mark with his over 100 paintings showing Christ in daily encounters with the most ordinary, mostly suffering, people.

The most famous of these, Hapag ng Pag-asa (Table of Hope), depicted Christ at the Last Supper, but with street children around him. It was his first and, according to his astounding story, was the result of an epiphany—at a point when he flirted with the thought of ending it all—where some strange force made him paint, even though he had no formal training.

Despite suffering for years from a kidney ailment, Velasco offered his limited time to that singular passion: to depict Christ as the one Great Comforter in daily life. The paintings became the centerpiece for a unique fundraiser that allowed Joey, with the help of other Good Samaritans like Tony Meloto’s Gawad Kalinga, to help some of his favorite “models,” the street urchins, find permanent, albeit modest, homes, and a steady source of livelihood for their families.

His death has brought grief to many and, not unexpectedly, drew many famous people whom he inspired, including President Aquino, to his wake. But there wasn’t the slightest trace of bitterness in those he left behind—only the certainty that the Best Friend had finally taken him into His embrace.

The Filipino achievers who routinely make their mark around the world never fail to do us proud. But it’s the likes of Christine, in Singapore, and Joey, in Manila, who show us why, the soaring achievements aside, Filipinos are prized because, for the most part, they don’t lose sight of what
matters most.

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