Today's trip around Manila city's historical sites was indeed interesting.
And a lot of what I had felt about the pulse of Manila, over yesterday and today, was reinforced by Malung told me. It was evident that the Filipinos aren't in an ideal situation economically. They too face issues similar to what have historically had in India - philandering politicians, indifferent and corrupt bureaucracy and infrastructure that woefully hasn't kept pace with the times.
But despite these issues, the Filipinos keep their spirits high. The whole vibe of the city was frenetic and energetic unlike the despondency I had seen in a place like Kuala Lumpur!
That's what Malung also confirmed in her conversations with me.
She was curious about India and its traditions. As expected I gathered that there was quite bit of curiosity about the dynamism of the Modi administration and Malung hoped that Rody Duterte would evolve into the Modi of the Philippines. Frankly I am not sure about Duterte, but people do change, they do change when they assume office, some positively, some negatively.
In Malung's questioning about India there was an underlying positive inquisitiveness which changed to abject sense of anger when I prodded her on China. The sense I got was the Filipinos deeply resented the "might is right" attitude of the Chinese when it came to the bullying going on in the South China Sea. Deep down they also didn't believe that United States would honour its often stated security commitments to the Philippines which they felt was a mere lip service.
The perception of India and China couldn't be so stark. While China is seen as a bully and is feared, India's rise as a world power is being seen positively here and it's time the Modi administration serenaded Philippines much like they are attempting with Vietnam.
On the social side, Malung's concern was on jobs. Educated Filipinos find few opportunities at home and have to head out to the Middle East, Singapore, Hong Kong, Brunei and Korea for work. Most of them go as labour and household support and a tiny few as skilled or white collared workers. Filipinos are preferred for their professionalism and their English language skills (like India, almost everyone learns English here). And I agree with the fact that Filipino household helps are extremely professional as we have experienced in Songdo.
But the outflow of workers creates a social issue back home. Relationships go for a toss and that assumes significance since as a deeply devoted Roman Catholic nation they do not allow divorce under law. A legal separation is allowed but remarriage is illegal - so when people cohabitate after a legal separation the kids grow up confused. Complicating matters is the fact that that abortion is looked down upon in society.
And returning workers have settle for low paying jobs which calls for major lifestyle adjustments.
Also women workers abroad especially in the Gulf face harassment which creates an indelible scare on their psyches.
These issues sounded very familiar to what India also faces as a net exporter of manpower to the Gulf, especially Kerala where there have come to facing a social crisis.
But despite significant issues that it faces, Philippines does seem an interesting place, a delectable place as I discovered, here in the noisy food court of Robinsons Mall, with boisterous, happy Pinoy families devouring every morsel of spicy fare that this archipelago offers. And I am looking forward to the next few days here. It’s indeed more fun in the Philippines...