As early as six in the morning, there is an air of anticipation and urgency among the people lined up outside the office of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) along Osmeña Highway in Manila. Among those people are Filipino spouses or partners of foreign nationals. They come early to jostle for limited slots in CFO’s Guidance and Counseling Program (GCP).
Many who cannot be accommodated are turned away, disappointed. It’s a pity especially for those who come from the provinces and have no place to stay in Manila. They would just have to come back some other day and hope they get in.
The GCP is something they take seriously. The GCP is a requirement for Filipino spouses or partners of foreign nationals for passport renewal and, more important, for migration using spouse or fiancée visa. It’s almost like a ticket to a better life.
CFO data shows that the number of Filipinos marrying foreign nationals has been increasing at an average of three percent from 2003 to 2012, or a total of 206,728. The latest figure is 21,409 in 2012, up from 20,234 in 2011.
Rep. Emmi de Jesus of women’s party-list group Gabriela said this uptrend is a reflection of where government and society are failing a lot of women. “Isang avenue iyan para baguhin ang kalagayan nila. Karamihan sa nalu-lure o naaakit, isang opportunity ito. Ito rin ang nakikita naming vulnerability ng mga kababaihang bagamat naka-graduate ay hirap makahanap ng trabaho o talagang mahihirap na naghahanap ng way out,” she said.
There is statistical basis to this assertion. By educational attainment (from 2003 to 2012), college graduates are the biggest chunk of Filipinos marrying foreigners at 31%, followed by those in the college level at 17.98%, and high school graduates at 16.54%.
By occupation, 37.60% have no reported occupation and 19.44% are housewives. But there is a steady increase within the employed sector with 13.22% professional, technical and related workers, and 10.95% service workers.
As for age group, while the biggest portion are individuals within the ages of 20 to 24, 25 to 29 and 30 to 34 comprising 72.69%, Filipinos marrying foreigners can be as young as 18 to 19 years old at 2.61%, or as old as 60 to 70 years old and above at 0.6%.
As for gender, majority are females at 91.53% while there is a modest number of males at 8.47%
31.29% meet their foreign spouses through personal introduction, 21.80% at their place of work, 20.11% through the Internet, and 19.92% through pen pal referred by a relative.
New trends, old perceptions
But while the trends may be evolving, Gabriela party-list group believes that there is still a backward mentality among Filipinos when it comes marrying foreigners.
“Embedded pa rin yung colonial mentality… Wala kaming problema sa intercultural marriages basta nandun yung basis ng marriage na pagmamahalan and respect… [Pero] hanggang nandiyan `yung kultura na ang pagtingin mo ay way out iyan, kaya ka lalabas ay pupunta ka sa higit na mas maunlad na sitwasyon, lumalabas ang pagtingin sa ating sarili na inferior pa rin tayo,” de Jesus said.
CFO believes marrying a foreigner and pursuing personal growth should go hand in hand. Regina Galias, CFO administration and finance chief, said that Filipinos with foreign spouses must be vigilant about their rights.
“Dapat empowered ang Pinoy. Dapat huwag mong iisipin na porke't ang napangasawa mo foreigner ay hindi kayo equal. Sa ibang bansa iyon nga ang importanteng itinuturo sa mga migrant na hindi man kayo pareho ng status, hindi ka man citizen, may karapatan ka. Huwag mong hahayaan ang karapatan mo -- gusto mong mapalago ang sarili mo, gusto mong mag-aral, magtrabaho -- dapat ganoon iyong goal. It’s a way for personal growth,” Galias said.
CFO says this is why the counselling seminar is important. Aside from educating Filipino spouses about their rights, they are also taught about cultural differences, and warned against human trafficking, domestic violence, abuse, etc. The commission has begun implementing an online appointment scheduling system for counselling via cfo.gov.ph to address the big volume of people in need of the seminar.