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Second “Food for Thought” shifts focus to poverty in the Philippines

Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 09:09

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The second ‘Food for Thought’ program of the academic year took place Wednesday afternoon, shifting its focus to a global perspective.  Opening with remarks from Stephen Sills, Department of Sociology, discussion centered on globalization within the borders of the Philippines and Taiwan.  In its basic form, globalization is the interaction between government, companies, and individuals.  This process is driven mainly by trade and investment with the aid of modern technology.  The workers (called ‘servants’ in this particular discussion) are what Sills refers to as, “people from developing countries who work to produce things for consumption in the U.S.”

While professor Sills was on his journey through Manila, one of the poorest cities in the Philippines, he witnessed people living in small shacks called shanti’s.  Some of the people that he came in contact with didn’t even have this protection.  Instead, they used small tarps to cover themselves from severe weather.  The per capita of people living in the Philippines per year is a mere 4,500 to 5,000 dollars with 38-40 percent of citizens living below poverty level. 

Because of the pervasiveness of poverty in the country, Filipino’s constantly have to migrate to find better opportunities for themselves and their families.  The people who migrate often find themselves in Taiwan, a mere 90 miles away from their homeland.  Taiwan’s per capita income is almost triple the income in the Philippines.  One worker reported paying $6000 to obtain his job.  He worked twelve hour or more shifts, seven days a week and went on to work six to seven additional hours at a second job, where his employer paid only minimum wage and pocketed more than half of the man’s earnings.

However, many individuals who work in Taiwanese factories find themselves grossly mistreated.  The Taiwan government is firmly against acculturation, or the merging of two cultures over time.  One of the students who accompanied Professor Sills on his trip to Manila, Aaron, witnessed first-hand the effects of the Taiwanese government: “There are lots of rules for people who choose to work in Taiwan.  The government limits the permanent establishment of any person to three years, with no visits back home.”  The Filipino people that work in these factories are mostly women because, in part, of their gender and the idea that they’re easier to control than the male workers.  In these factories, the workers are sequestered from society and forced to live in dorms with curfews as early as 9:00 p.m.

Taiwan is also strict when it comes to individual rights.  If workers are being mistreated in the factories, they are not allowed to protest.  Taiwan also prevents mobile labor as well as lobbying and advancement.  Essentially, the workers are immobile, unable to advance financially or better their lives, as promised.  “Ideally,” Sills remarks, “Laborers should be able to go anywhere.  Freedom is how we would see justice, but this is very radical.”  

Even though injustice is ongoing in Taiwan, there is a silver lining.  The Scalabrini Migration Center, established in Manila in 1987, dedicates itself to the study of International migration with focus in the Asia-pacific region.  “The SMC should be looked at as a transition place for the families and children of the Philippines,” one student, who traveled with Sills to Manila, remarked.  “Communication for these families is key, which is where technology plays a positive role in all of the chaos.  Cell phones are the latest craze in the Philippines, we’ve seen children texting parents and vice versa.”  Because of the increase in communication in the Philippines, the issue of trafficking and persons in Taiwan is becoming more exposed through social media and documentaries, though the problem is still very prevalent.

“This issue of trafficking, along with the injustice of factory workers in third-world countries, has been ongoing since the 1800’s,” says Sills, “If there were some way to rework the system and rid it of these imbalances, we may be on to something.”  The issue of globalization remains a constant in the lives of citizens worldwide; but it’s up to us if we feel compelled to change it.

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