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In de Olde World

In De Olde World

When did the first Filipinos reach Europe? Was it in the sixteenth century when a certain sailor by the name of Enrique was supposed to have accompanied Ferdinand Magellan in his voyage of discovery? Sighting islands on March 16th, 1521, Las Islas Pilipinas, they were named in honour of King Philip of Spain, the Castillian monarch who gave the Portuguese-born Magallanes a chance to sail east in search of spices. Enrique must have been one of those early global TNT(for Tago Ng Tago,literally hide and seek) Filipinos, he was probably a stow-away on an early vessel that reached Europe and the Iberian peninsula, probably from Portugal since she was then a world in intense rivalry with Spain, in fact much of the world at the time divided between these two. But Portugal already had contacts with the East Indies, which at that time had trade relations with the Sultanate of Sulu. Enrique the slave (houseboy?) of the famous explorer was known to have spoken the native tongue in the islands…

Or was it in the late 1800s, when students, scions of well to do Filipinos of the time, possibly mestizos –the intellectuals of the day, the likes of Jose Rizal (who became our national hero, a thorn on the Spanish friars’ side, and executed by firing squad), Marcelo H. Del Pilar and Graciano Lopez Jaena, Juan Luna, and many others who were involved in the radical Propaganda Movement, rallying in Spain and internationally for reforms in the Philippines, and asking for representation in the Spanish Parliament, the Cortes. We may consider this as the First Diaspora although the Philippine nation was then just a-borning. Without this injection of libertarian ideas from a Europe, itself just awakening to their own Age of Enlightenment, there would have been no Philippine revolution, no Philippine nation nor republic. Thanks to that first diaspora,events turned out differently. Nowadays, the Philippine diaspora is many-splendoured..

Europe-based Filipinos are in a way still carrying on the torch of procuring rights as did those 19th century students of intellectual and artistic bent, and of preserving such rights in the various European societies that they live and work in. They form networks, establish resource centers, put up Commissions not only to promote the welfare of the Filipinos in Europe but also to influence conditions in the home country by coordinating campaigns, coordinating drives that advocate political rights (overseas voting became reality after 15 years of hard lobbying), respect for human rights through networking with European NGOs, and the socio-economic empowerment of migrants, by agitating in both Europe and the Philippines.

The volume In de Olde Worlde: Philippine Migration to Europe, edited by Filomenita Mongaya Høgsholm with a Preface by Ambassador to Scandinavia and the Baltic coutnries, Victoria S. Bataclan, which has been jointly commissioned by the Philippine Social Science Council and the Philippine Migration Research Network , is the first comprehensive attempt to cover the phenomenon of migration of present day Europe-based Filipinos who number approximately a million ( 824,419 in 2005 according to CFMW, Commission of Filipino Migrant Workers), ,the largest concentrations being in Italy, Spain and Britain , with large numbers also found in Germany, Greece, France, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Belgium, with the rest in other countries of the European Union, and in Scandinavia.

According to the book, the formal migration to the continent started in the 60’s as a response to the labour needs of a Europe recovering from the war years, and whose health sector and tourist industry were expanding. Philippine migration to Europe from the Philippines began under the “Labour Export Policy”, a stop-gap economic measure by the Marcos dictatorship which has been continued by every democratic President-elect eversince. Nowadays, Filipino migrants in Europe and elsewhere are simply the “modern day heroes” whose remittances running to almost 20 US billion dollars in 2006 when informal money channels are included in the calculations, who deserve citations, are serviced by several government agencies, earning for the Philippine government a reputation for being at the cutting edge in pushing the migration agenda in international fora.

The Philippines is now the 2nd highest migrant sending country in the world, with almost 9% of its 82.8 million population living and working in at least 192 countries worldwide, and a majority of whom are in North America, the Middle East, Australia, Europe, and the newly industrialized economies of Asia. The Philippine government itself estimates that there are now close to a million Filipinos who leave annually to take up foreign employment or about 3,000 departures daily. Filipino seafarers comprise more than one fourth of the entire merchant marine fleet in the world which is about 1.2 million, with 2\3 of them on board European owned ships. But the greater bulk of Filipinos are still leaving for the Middle East, especially the Gulf region where they are employed in private homes (mostly women) where they are largely unprotected since the Philippine government often have no bilateral agreements with these countries. In some of these countries in the Gulf, Oman for example, this author has met kababayans (compatriots) who occupied positions in the private sector, in banks, hotels and other companies, esp. those of a multinational or international reach. One was a photojournalist in an Arabic newspaper.

Feminization of Philippine migration

Filipinos in Europe are at their prime, have a high level of educational attainment and are highly skilled with many professionals but often have to keep their tertiary education in mint condition since it is mostly the service sector in hotels, restaurants, and in private households that have a pronounced need. It is no surprise then that 80% of Filipinos in Europe are women. In the health sector in certain countries, notably UK, Austria, Norway, and lately Ireland have been very welcoming of Filipino nurses but cheaper new entrants from Africa with better colonial ties are starting to push Filipinas off their turf.

The latest women to come to Europe are the au pairs, who are mostly young (have to be no older than 29 when they leave the country) and unmarried, and who come under a supposedly cultural exchange program, for example to learn languages, but there is growing consensus that they are being used as cheap labour in private, two career European homes. Last but not least are the Filipinas who have settled in Europe as spouses to Europeans whose bicultural marriages are a source of encouragement as well as problems to learn from for those who tread the pioneer path by crossing the race barrier in their choice of life partners.

Europe as Residence and Work Environment

According to Ildefonso Bagasao, in his article in the volume, entitled Filipinos in Europe: Economic Contributions,Challenges and Aspirations. unlike in other West or Northern continents where most of Filipino immigrants are, eg. North America, Oceania even, the European continent has neither a stable nor consistent immigration policy even as there are attempts to harmonise within the European Union. But with its intermittent enlargement to now 25 countries with the latest accession of Bulgaria and Romania,the individual options of member countries to make laws and requirements that please their oftentimes xenophobic and ethnocentric populations, will continue to determine the situation of Filipinos in the local setting. To have a settled status, one has to enter with either a confirmed work permit, be an international civil servant, be admitted as a student, be an au pair or as a minor-aged son, daughter or spouse of a Filipino who has acquired citizenship, and entitled to family reunification.

Filipinos who come to Europe on tourist visa become quickly illegal when they overstay, on an irregular status. CFO (Commission for Filipinos Overseas) estimate that there are some 143,035 of these undocumented, although many believe could be more, eg. there are 8,000 Filipinos in the cantons of Geneva and Vaud, in Switzerland, although only some 2,000 have visa, the rest presumably of irregular status, and predominantly women are in in domestic work. In 2004, the Philippine embassy in Paris estimated that 40,000 Filipino migrants lived in France, although in the same year, official Philippine government statistics showed the number of Filipinos at 32, 085, 26,121 of whom were of irregular status.

“ A Swiss social worker once commented to us that their organization Medecins Sans Frontieres Switzerland had difficulties in trying to do research on the health condition of Filipino migrant workers, compared to their counterparts, leading them to conclude that illnesses among the Filipino community, who are mostly women migrant workers, go undetected or not given proper medical attention. This is an obvious downside of having irregular status where workers practice self-medication rather than risk discovery of their status by local authorities.”

Need one add, majority will be women? Always? On this note, several articles in the volume covering Filipinas in Europe are authored mostly but not solely by members of the Babaylan Europe network as follows:

    “Information needs of Filipinos in Belgium”,
    by Joyce del Rosario
    “Maria Claras in Viking Country”,
    by Filomenita Mongaya Hoegsholm
    “Filipinos in Finland”,
    by Teresita Zurbano Ruutu
    “Nature and Perspectives of Philippine Migration to France”,
    by Sally Rousset
    “A simplified Map of French Philippines: a Birds-eye Worm’s-eye View”,
    by Maria Theresa Noval-Jeweski
    “The Filipino Women Migrants in Germany”, by Marylou U. Hardillo-Werning
  6. ITALY
    “Me,Us and Them: realities and illusions of Filipina domestic workers in Italy”,
    by Charito Basa and Rosalud de la Rosa
    “Filipino Migrant Youth in Rome, Italy: a view of their issues and concerns”,
    by Cristina M. Lliamzon
    “Becoming a Filipino Tilburger”,
    by Maria Ophelia Butalid-Echaves
    “The Filipina Au Pairs in The Netherlands”,
    by Diana Oosterbeek-Latoza
    “In the service of our kababayans – Bayanihan Philippine Women’s Centre”
    by Malu Padilla
    “Women Changing our Lives, Making History: Migration Experiences of Babaylan Philippine Women’s Network in Europe”
    by Malu Padilla
    “Migrant Issues in Switzerland”
    by Anny Misa Hefti
  9. SFI (Spain, France and Italy)
    “Filipino Missionaries in Europe: Witnesses for Re-evangelization”,
    by Sr. Victoria Joson, RGS

Any queries about this publication may be addressed to the Editor: Filomenita Mongaya Høgsholm at



by Filomenita Mongaya Høgsholm, member
Interim Executive Committee, Babaylan Europe
Founding Chairperson , 1997-2004, Babaylan DK

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