by CARMELITA G. NUQUI and JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
Philippines-Japan NGO Partnership (PJP)
JAPAN offers lots of memories —good and bad— to Filipinos, not just its rising sun that is an economic magnet for Filipinos to go there.
There’s former overseas performing artist Maricris Sioson who, exactly 20 years ago, was mysteriously killed by alleged Yakuza elements five months after arriving in Tokyo.
Sioson’s mysterious death never stopped a wave of migration by Filipinas doing the same kind of work which, to advocates for migrant workers, is tantamount to trafficking and to putting these women’s homeland into shame.
That kind of migrant worker deployment even had processes and documents to be acquired, as well as a large-scale recruitment business which the Philippine government regulated. The tide changed in 2005, when Japanese immigration law changed and tightened the entry requirements of those wanting to work as OPAs. The amendment included provisions that anyone seeking such a visa must prove that he or she has education or experience as an entertainer. Certification from another government is no longer enough.
This resulted in a steep drop in the number of entertainers being sent by the Philippines from about 80,000 in 2004 to about 38,000 in 2005. In 2010, the number of Filipino women deployed to Japan as entertainers was only about a thousand.
There is now an increase in the number Filipinas marrying Japanese, that being a means to escape poverty (as some departing young Filipina spouses married to elderly Japanese admitted).
Japan-Philippine relations surrounding overseas migration also evolved.
The bilateral relationship became economic, resulting in an economic partnership agreement that has, among its terms, deploying Filipino nurses to Japan. Only two of over-200 deployed nurses passed the Nihongo-laced nurses licensure examination in Japan, and currently the nurses deployment provision of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement is being evaluated.
While distant from a matter that concerns Filipinos’ migration to Japan, the relationship between the two countries is beyond overseas migration.
Japan is among the Philippines’ major source countries of official development assistance, in which civil society groups hope that such development aid undergo transparent and accountable processes. Nevertheless, the aid from Japan led to bridges, light railway transit systems, and even emergency relief for people in Mindanao.
Japan-Philippine economic relations will not be complete without the Japanese companies heading to the country —from vehicles to electronic equipment, some of which became household names among Filipinos (e.g. Toyota, Sony, among others).
The relationship between the two nations even led to the reverse, i.e. of developing country Philippines helping Japan.
Images of the waves that splashed eastern Japan given an 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami last March simply touched Filipinos’ hearts to help (for example, the Philippines-Japan NGO Partnership, a group of non-government groups here that has a partner NGO network in Japan, donated some money to Japanese NGOs providing disaster relief in tsunami-struck areas in Japan).
Even Filipinos affected by the quake and tsunami had to be helped. There are stories of cause-oriented groups coursing their donations to the Philippine embassy in Tokyo and to some Japanese NGOs directed at the Filipino families victimized by the quake and tsunami.
Still, Japanese maintained their resolve even in the midst of tragedy, and Filipinos learned from it. Says a Japanese taxi driver to a Filipino broadcast journalist who wondered why Japanese are patiently waiting a long line in Sendai to siphon fuel from vehicles wrecked by the tsunami: “If we do that, I wanted no part of it since he did not want to join us in hell.”
But Filipinos, thanks to the opportunity of being in Japan for work, study and permanent residency, extend themselves to help the Philippines through philanthropy. Filipino groups of all sorts in Japan—scholars in Japan, Filipinos based in Japanese communities, migrants’ rights associations, and many more— have been noted to be helping social development causes in the homeland.
Of some P2.5 billion of donations coursed through the Lingkod sa Kapwa Pilipino (LinKaPil) program of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), some P33.65 million came from Filipino and non-Filipino donors based in Japan.
These are on top of the remittances that Filipinos in Japan send back home: From 2001 to 2010, the US$5.349 billion is way, way ahead of Japanese development aid and foreign direct investment coming from Japan. Even in the last three years when the world faced a global economic crisis, Filipinos in Japan sent record-high amounts.
With these episodes surrounding Philippines-Japan relations and the Filipino migration to Japan that went with it, what future is in store?
Japan might need to continually depend on foreign labor given their declining birth rates. It might also compel Japanese authorities to be more open to the contributions of foreigners and, if possible, respect foreigners’ (and Filipinos’) rights.
For the Philippines, under a new chapter of citizens emigrating to Japan, it might mean that the episodes of forced migration to Japan —a la Sioson— should be over. Probably, helping more Filipinos in Japan and decrepit compatriots in the Philippines, as well as fostering better mutual relations between Japanese and Filipinos, may be the next steps.
But for both countries, Japanese and Filipino vigilance to collaborate and help address the welfare of Filipinos in Japan and in the Philippines is a logical next step. This is where, for example, the Philippines-Japan NGO Partnership (PJP) is working with the Japan-Philippines NGO Network (JPN, a network of Japanese NGOs with projects in the Philippines) is doing something about it. Or Philippine rural communities welcoming Japanese citizens and enjoying their company and friendship in areas with visible concentrations of Japanese.
The migration story concerning Filipinos heading to Japan is evolving, with development outcomes affecting both countries and their citizens. Opportunities abound from this evolution, and these can excite the Filipinos in Japan and the compatriots at home who are concerned about their welfare and of a homeland’s hopes for a better future.
Carmelita G. Nuqui and Jeremaiah M. Opiniano are executive directors of the Development Action for Women Network (DAWN) and the Institute for Migration and Development Issues (IMDI), respectively. Both migrant-oriented nonprofits are members of the Philippines-Japan NGO Partnership.