Bernardo M. Villegas
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Absent Fathers in OFW Families

          OFW remittances are once again delivering the goods for 2017.  As has been true over the last ten years, through all the crises and turbulence brought about by the Great Recession and the political troubles in the Middle East, remittances in dollar terms during 2017 will definitely grow at the annual rate of 3 to 5% and at more than 10% in peso terms because of the peso depreciation.  This sector is the largest engine of growth of the economy, accounting for close to 12% of GDP.  The good news is that we can expect this trend to continue for at least the next years because we still have a young, growing and English speaking population.  The bad news is that it is being paid for with very high social costs in the harm done to millions of children who suffer the psycho-sociological harm inflicted on them by the absence of their fathers.  This is a call for both the government and civil society to look for ways and means to minimize this malaise, not only for humanitarian reasons, but also to make sure that future generations of Filipinos among the Generation Z (those born after 2000) will not be psychologically handicapped for having grown up without their respective fathers close at hand.

         Let us first consider what Pope Francis said in one of his Wednesday audiences in Rome back in 2015.  Reflecting on the figure of the father in the family, he said: “The first need then, is precisely this:  that a father be present in the family.  That he be close to his wife, to share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship.  And that he be close to his children as they grow:  when they play and when they strive, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talking and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they take a wrong step and when they find their path again; a father who is always present.  To say ‘present’ is not to say ‘controlling’!  Fathers who are too controlling cancel out their children, they don’t let them develop.”

         Pope Francis elaborates on this topic in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of Love.”  In paragraph 176 of this document, he wrote: “We hear that ours is a society without fathers.  In Western culture, the father figure is said to be symbolically absent, missing or vanished.  Manhood itself seems to be called into question.  The result has been an understandable confusion.  ‘At first, this was perceived as a liberation:  liberation from the father as master, from the father as the representative of a law imposed from without, from the father as the arbiter of his children’s happiness and an obstacle to the emancipation and autonomy of young people.  In some homes, authoritarianism once reigned and, at times, even oppression.’  Yet, ‘as often happens, one goes from one extreme to the other.  In our day, the problem no longer seems to be the overbearing presence of the father as much as his absence, his not being there.  Fathers are often so caught up in themselves and their work, and at times in their own self-fulfillment that they neglect their families.  They leave the little ones and the young to themselves.’  The presence of the father, and hence his authority, is also impacted by the amount of time given over to the communications and entertainment media.  Nowadays authority is often considered suspect and adults treated with impertinence.  They themselves become uncertain and so fail to offer sound solid guidance to their children.  A reversal of the roles of parent and children is unhealthy, since it hinders the proper process of development that children need to experience, and it denies them the love and guidance needed to mature.”

         We must find ways of helping the children affected by this absence of their respective fathers to overcome the serious handicap they face as they grow up.  We may base our optimism on the observed fact that Filipinos are a resilient people.  But we need certain interventions from the Government, business and especially civil society to build on this resilience.  One of the possible initiatives of civil society in tandem with UNICEF Philippines and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is The Resilience Program (REPRO) of RMT-CEFAM, founded by Fr. Ruben M. Tanseco, SJ.   The REPRO serves troubled teens from marginalized communities:  center-based adolescents rescued from the streets, children in conflict with the law (CICL), unwed teen mothers, sexually abused teenage girls and community-based out-of-school youth (OSY)—adolescents treading a new and affirming environment, as they are accompanied to the road to resilience.   I hope that the REPRO team will consider extending the concept of the marginalized communities to the families of the OFWs who may no longer be economically challenged but still face the psychological problems of children growing up without the presence of their fathers.  In fact, as Ms. Maria Dolores del Rosario of the REPRO team told me, even those children of OFWs who have already been admitted to the host countries, like in Canada, still face the difficult problem of adapting to the new environment which they face, with their parents still hardly present at home because of their work.  Intervention is still needed in these cases of family integration.

         In the words of its Founder, Fr. Tanseco, “It is precisely in this regard that I want to emphasize the value of our Resilience Program or REPRO.  There is a growing number of street children and teenagers who are suffering from a lack or absence of care and guidance in their lives and future destiny.  And this is where REPRO comes in.  To reach out to them with compassion and guide them were their future needs to go to give them what their own families are not able to do.”  I would suggest that the many organizations promoting the welfare of the OFWs consider soliciting advice and actual help from the REPRO team to address this most important dimension of the welfare of OFWs:  how to minimize the harm done to their children by the absence of their respective fathers.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.