Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The lightness of being original

Sometime ago, someone wrote me a message questioning why I write about politics in the Philippines when I am in Canada. He criticized me for writing about things I haven’t experienced. According to him, I’m just regurgitating information from the Internet or Google. Essentially, what he meant was that I got all of it from reading. In other words, I didn’t have any existential experience of what was happening. So, to him, I wasn’t being “original,” that I have no authority to tell the truth when I haven’t experienced it firsthand.
Originality. Photo courtesy of The Art Bunny. Click image to view
"Xerox Girl's Ass,"
Normally, I would have just dismissed this letter as a nuisance, for it was totally bereft of anything redeemable. It was something not worth spending my time on. The message, on its face, was clearly nonsensical and nobody in his or her right sense could see any value in pursuing it. Balderdash.

The aforementioned person came short of coercing to stop me from stealing other people’s ideas. “Stop,” he could be saying. “You’re just a hack.”

But on second thought, unknowingly the person could be waxing philosophically. He could be posing an important and relevant question: What is originality, and does it really matter nowadays?

The cultural critic and writer Lewis Hyde wrote in his latest book that anyone who comes up with a totally new idea—something completely out of thin air—will not likely become a productive artist and lot more likely to be seen as a total loon.

Everyone, and every artist, builds on what came before. On ideas he or she has read somewhere, from a novel or poem or from an artwork hanging in a museum. Or from conversations overheard on the street, on the subway or in a café.

If nothing is original, all the great minds and artists, Ben Franklin, William Shakespeare, Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, Elvis Presley, Madonna, or Lady Gaga—are all thieves.

Historians who have written stories of nations, upheavals and other great events are mere jokers because they only rely on written records, diaries, photographs and other relics from the past.
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait, The Broken Column, 1944. Collection of Dolores Olmedo,
Mexico City. Photo courtesy of petrus.agricola. Click image to view "Sketch Sessions:
Three Artists Draw Mia (Seated Nude),"
If we simply accept that “there is nothing new under the sun,” there will never be room for imagination, invention or innovation. Recycling old ideas or putting old content in new ways would be disparaged and discouraged as outright plagiarism. It would be an end to experimentation.

If there is no originality, there would seem no reason to buy or experience “new” works—a book or a painting—because there would be no such things. It’s better and wiser to save our money and simply avail ourselves of the art already in the public domain.

When asked about originality, Jim Jarmusch, an American film director and a major proponent of independent cinema, offered these comments:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photos, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery‚ celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.”

In The Limits of Interpretation (Advances in Semiotics), Umberto Eco speaks of the “protected meaning” of a text, which at the minimum Eco says is what the text “cannot” mean. This is a recurring problem in today’s advanced state of information technology. As the aforementioned person who wrote that message earlier said that his 11-year old grandson can exactly replicate what I’m doing simply by Googling. What he meant was that it is easier to copy and paste articles and text from websites on the Internet. That would be easy if one is not interpreting, something a minor child no matter how gifted, may find difficult especially when there are issues in the philosophy of language involved or perhaps the need to deconstruct the language used.

In the realm of art, copying is almost always allowed. In law, plagiarism, for instance, is neither a crime nor a civil wrong. But that should not give you the reason to rip off your favourite painting and throw it out in the garbage. That’s not necessarily right.

Robert Lands, a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property, wrote: “Plagiarism may be a taboo in academia, but in art some might say it is almost essential.” If you have the legal recourse in suing for infringement of a copyright, that is not the same as an action against plagiarism. Plagiarism can involve taking an idea, whereas copyright is not concerned with ideas. Ideas, after all, are not copyrightable. If someone is merely copying another’s style or the notion behind an illustration, it is unlikely a copyright infringement.

The influence of those who came before is evident in practically every piece of art. Works of art are largely repetitions of tradition, and it is extremely difficult to provide a rigorous and precise distinction between practices like imitation, stylistic copying, retelling, rewriting, or even forgery. As the playwright Wilson Mizner said, “If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you copy from two, it’s research.”

All this talk about originality must be taken in context. While content scraping is very easy to do nowadays by copying and pasting from websites and blogs from the Internet, credit must be given to those who present their own painstaking and independent viewpoint. Copying without acknowledging the source must be discouraged or ridiculed, yes, but not at the expense of holding back the progress of ideas and artistic trends.

As Anna Chin-Williams said, “If I plagiarize, it's only because I like someone else’s idea better than mine and I want credit for it.” But that should stop at admiration, the better way still is to make (forge is the operative word) something new from old forms or ideas.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The meaning of life

A forum on the Internet, supposedly a site for idle talk or what one may ordinarily call inanities, has surprisingly been behaving recently like a fountain of ideas and questions that could be both timely and timeless. It’s why they called it “labo-labo,” or loosely translated, a “rumble.” Or even perhaps, a “double-blur.” The group’s purpose according to its originator is merely to share the “lighter side of life” but one is free to post bad, corny, recycled or even sex-laden jokes. I am not a member of this forum but once in a while their postings become intermingled by happenstance with messages on a parallel site which is dedicated to members of an alumni association here in Toronto.

The burning question of the purpose of life is not something for the idle chatter. Whether you pursue the secret of a happy life or one that is spent usefully and responsibly has always been the quintessential question people ask themselves, not just today but in previous millennia. Not by mere mortals, but also by deep-thinking philosophers of all times.

What is the meaning of life?
Life. Photo courtesy of gfpeck. Click link below to view "What is the Meaning
of Life?"
Let’s join in the following dialogue; the names of the participants are all fictitious although some of you may identify or connect their ideas with real persons who you may be familiar with.

RALPH: We are on planet earth for a good time, not for a long time. A 78-year-old woman once told me, “We live till we die.”

WALDO: But that’s like wandering in the forest aimlessly. Are we looking for an exotic plant that can be the cure-all for all our maladies? Or, are we simply going into the forest just for a walk in the woods? The purpose of life is not merely to have a good time, or be happy. One must be useful to society. For example, in this coming Ontario elections, if we don’t support our fellow Filipinos who are running for a seat in the Ontario legislature, we’ll never have anyone so close to us who can help us with our issues and problems. Do you think the Philippine candidate for Ms. Universe would have made it to the finals, even if she didn’t win, if Lea Salonga was not in the panel of judges? We need to make a difference, and one way to do it is to make our life useful. I believe in what Leo C. Rosten said that we must stand for something in order to make some difference that we have lived at all.

RALPH: Did Rosten really say that? I knew Rosten was a successful scriptwriter. I still recall several of his stories which were adapted into films. Didn’t he also say that “Truth is stranger than fiction?” Anyway, this is how I interpreted Rosten. If we want to be happy in life, we don’t have to chase it like it’s an elusive dream. We just do the right thing, like the Nike commercial. If we do it right, that will make us happy. Take the Ms. Philippines candidate for Ms. Universe. How can one win with that kind of name, Ms. Supsup or whatever? Or that Filipino candidate in Hamilton whom Annie is endorsing that we support. How is she going to unseat the leader of the NDP? And she’s a rookie politician, totally green, and has nothing to match the NDP leader’s record. Just because she is a Filipino and from the Liberal Party doesn’t mean she’s good enough to represent us in Parliament. Annie must be daydreaming. All I can say is they’re not doing the right thing.
2011 Miss Universe Third Runner-Up, Ms. Shamcey Supsup of the Philippines. Photo
 by J. Paolo Jose. Click link to view,
 "Shamcey Supsup Q&A, Miss Universe 2011."
WALDO: Your problem is you’ve never been serious about anything. Rosten also said that most of us never really grow up or mature. We may laugh less or play less, and wear uncomfortable disguises like adults but beneath that stuff is the child we always are. We like to live our lives like people do in fairy tales.

RALPH: You’re beginning to sound more and more like someone I know who always has a perspective on things. He knows how to twist one’s arguments.

LYNNE: You two will never be able to resolve your argument. Here, I will give you a copy of Bronnie Ware’s Top Five Regrets. Bronnie weaves delightful tales of real-life observations and experiences through her work. All she’s is saying is, life is a choice we have to make. We choose consciously, wisely and honestly, and so we choose happiness. Very inspirational, that Bronnie. By the way, have you both signed up for our next month’s Sketching from Life Kapihan? For the third year, we’ll have the Artists’ Group sketch a live nude model and we’re the only ones who have the chutzpah to hold this kind of event in our community.

RALPH: I don’t know why you keep on holding this nudie thing. It’s disguised voyeurism, especially for those dirty old men in our group.

WALDO: For the first time I find myself agreeing with you. Every student-artist naturally begins with sketches of the human body, that’s true. But real art appreciation goes beyond that. Even artists in their prime don’t paint nude human figures anymore. Look at the works of Canada’s Group of Seven. You don’t find any nude paintings among their celebrated works. Even the greatest masterpieces of our time do not include the earlier nude sketches of these artists. It’s the enigmatic smile of Da Vinci’s La Gioconda which captivates us, not her bare body which we don’t even see. Mona Lisa’s painting illustrates a kind of mythic embodiment of eternal femininity. You can’t say that about nude sketches. Certainly, not those drawings by our AG artists. Isn’t it time we moved on to better use of our talent and imagination? Like something we can be responsible for and not just to excite our senses?
Modigliani's Nude Sitting on the Couch, Sotheby's New York, 2010. Photo courtesy
of RasMarley. Click link to view "Naked Ladies in Art/Women in Art/Famous Artists"
RALPH: But you still need to be happy with what you’re doing.

WALDO: I thought your argument is that happiness could be the end-all of life, not the way, or the how, to achieve it. You said it yourself. Happiness is what you get as a satisfaction from doing good things.

RALPH: We see people today who do bad things, but they are happy. Think of drug pushers, pimps, politicians. They are not doing good things, but they seem to be happy. How do you argue with that? What they do doesn’t make me happy, but it makes me laugh.

WALDO: Susan Wolf in her recent book, Meaning of Life and Why It Matters, wrote that a meaningful life is distinct from a happy life or a morally good one. She says in order for life to be meaningful, it must also be worthwhile. A person living this kind of life must be engaged by it. It is not enough to be committed to certain causes, like feeding the poor, ministering to the sick, or even saving the Spratlys for our country’s good. We must feel moved by these causes. Otherwise, we lack meaningfulness in this sense.

RALPH: Which of our actions are meaningful and which are a waste of time? I may win the lottery and it may make me happy, but it doesn’t make my life meaningful.

WALDO: Life has meaning because you give it meaning through your commitment.

RALPH: I’m past 60 now and, coming from the peasant class, most of what you’re saying as part of your world of philosophy is beyond me. I can’t even tell with certainty which came first: the chicken or the egg. Even if the meaning of life is on my top ten list, when I get out of bed in the morning and you ask me what the meaning of life is, I would respond without a doubt, “A cup of coffee and a bagel!” My point is, it is not so much a question but an experience. The experience of having a meaningful life, not the thought of having a meaningful life.

WALDO: That is exactly what Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, said. We usually say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning of life, when in fact what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.

RALPH: Crap, I’m totally lost. Maybe we should make this a regular topic of our conversation during our kapihan, instead of just sipping coffee or getting our eyes foggy trying to get a good look at a nude model’s lower regions. Hasta la vista, my friend!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Exploiting cheap immigrant labour

New immigrants and foreign workers with approved visas always end up being short-changed, by the government, their employers and recruiting agencies. It’s the heavy price they pay for the opportunity to come to North America, whether in the United States or in Canada.

In Prince George’s County and Baltimore in the state of Maryland, about 1,000 Filipino teachers face deportation or run the risk of being undocumented immigrants. These teachers were recruited by Prince George’s County Public School (PGCPS) to fill vacancies and help meet federally-mandated “No Child Left Behind” standards imposed by former U.S. President George W. Bush. Only a handful of them will survive the threat of deportation, mostly from the first batch of mentors who came in 2003-2004 and have already obtained their “green cards.”
Filipino teachers in Prince George's County in Maryland say their visas will not
be renewed after the U.S. Department of Labour found that their school violated
H-1B visa rules. Photo courtesy of All Voices. Click link to view "Pinoy Teachers
in PGCPS,"
These teachers were recruited from the Philippines under the U.S. H-1B program which requires that workers hired under the program must be paid at least the same wage rates and benefits as those paid to U.S. workers doing the same job in the same area. The rationale for the law is to ensure that the wages of similarly employed U.S. workers are not adversely affected.

But Prince George’s County charged visa, travel and other various fees from the teachers’ wages, prompting the U.S. Department of Labour to find PGCPS in wilful violation of H-1B visa rules. Instead of imposing sanctions against the school, however, the labour department barred the teachers from participation in the H-1B or the green card visa program for two years and threatened them with $100,00o fine.  Currently, some 957 Filipino teachers are scheduled to lose their jobs as their visas are about to expire. They are being forced to leave the U.S. or stand to become undocumented immigrants.

Interestingly, the labour department’s order did not cover about 600 Filipino teachers in Baltimore who were also subjected to the same hiring practices that were found in violation of the H-1B program. The Baltimore Public School System quietly paid back the fees that were illegally collected from their Filipino teachers, thus avoiding the fate that befell the Prince George’s County teachers.
Fillipino teachers stage rally in Prince George's County in Maryland. Photo by Gabriela
Garcia. Click link
 to view "The U.S. Dept of Labor rules that the Prince  George's County Public School
violated H-1B Program."
Here in the province of Ontario, Canada, new immigrants are now being labelled as “foreigners” in the eyes of the Progressive Conservative Party (PC) that is attempting to replace the incumbent Liberal government which has been in power for the last eight years. PC leader Tim Hudak denounced the Liberal plan to offer $12 million in tax credits for businesses to defray training costs for skilled newcomers so they can get job experience as an “affirmative program for foreigners.”

Only a few months ago, the PC’s federal cousins led by Jason Kenney, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, have praised the valuable contributions of new immigrants to Canada’s economy, whose skills, Kenney tells everyone, the country needs. Now, all of a sudden, the provincial PCs are calling them “foreigners.”
Ontario Progressive Conservative Party (PC) ad attacking Liberal Party tax credit
plan. Click link  to view
"Ontarians Need Not Apply" 
There is one word in Filipino that best describes Tim Hudak’s about-face categorization of new immigrants as foreigners: “Hudas!”

Aren’t we all foreigners in this land at one time or another, including Mr. Hudak?

In the first place, Canada is responsible for placing new immigrants in jobs they were slotted or targeted to do when their impeccable qualifications and credentials were being reviewed by immigration officers. Unaware that their credentials would not be recognized upon coming to Canada, these new immigrants would further be humiliated during their job hunting when prospective employers require them to show Canadian work experience. So, they end up doing survival jobs like taxi driving, working as hospital orderlies or maintenance workers, jobs far beneath their qualifications.

Any provincial program that would facilitate the integration of newcomers in this country’s labour market by giving them the required job experience is nothing different from any government training programs designed to prepare or retrain workers who lost their jobs in the recession. In fact, such program would help in dismantling the barriers that seem to be the primary stumbling block to the employment of newcomers. If relevant Canadian work experience is indeed necessary for the job a new immigrant is applying for, then this type of program bridges that chasm.

Calling new immigrants “foreigners” is irresponsible, divisive and full of racial undercurrents. It is dividing the people of Ontario into “us” and “them,” and that is not good for our society as a whole.

The impending deportation of Filipino teachers in Prince George’s County is both an unfair labour practice and also an act of racial discrimination. Where is fairness in a decision to allow the visas of these teachers to expire and remove them out of the country when it is not even their fault that their hiring violated the H-1B program? It is reasonable and lawful that the PGCPS be fined or barred from hiring foreign workers under the H-1B program but the ban should apply to prospective hirings, not to those already in the system and have nothing to do with the school’s fault. For one thing, these teachers should be commended for improving the school’s performance and meeting state measurements.

This reminds us whether Ontario provincial legislation, the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (Live-in Caregivers and Others) or EPFNA, which came into effect last March 2010 is being complied with by both employers and recruitment agencies. Two salient provisions of this Act prohibit recruiters from charging any fees to foreign live-in caregivers and prevent employers from recovering placement costs from the live-in caregiver. How do we know these provisions are being followed?

Not until a live-in caregiver files a complaint can an investigation proceed. We have not heard of complaints by caregivers except for the claim filed against a former federal member of Parliament, a case that was obviously driven by political motivation. Don’t expect a foreign live-in caregiver to initiate a complaint knowing full well that her dream of permanent resident status hangs on the balance, so she would rather bear the hardship and abuses while she waits to be entitled to apply for permanent residence.

Under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, a live-in caregiver is also entitled to be paid the minimum wage and for overtime work. But there’s a loophole which an employer can exploit. An employer is allowed to deduct from the caregiver’s wages amounts corresponding to room and board. With respect to overtime, how do we know if an employer pays overtime pay when a caregiver exceeds 44 hours of work each week? When a caregiver wakes up in the middle of the night because the child she is taking care of is crying or the senior person under her care needs to go the bathroom, does she get compensation for overtime?

Granting for the sake argument that a caregiver files a complaint against her employer and the latter is found in violation of the EPFNA or the Employment Standards Act. The employer would be probably be fined, and that is all right. But what would happen to the caregiver? Presumably, she would be released and be looking for another employer, or perhaps, she goes undocumented and will keep on hoping to stay until Canada Immigration catches on her and removes her out of the country.

In both the United States and Canada, the foreign worker is under the mercy of the government and the employer. Lured by a dream of a better life abroad, foreign workers have been subjected to different forms of exploitation, manipulation and abuse. Placement agencies take advantage of the complexities of the recruitment process, sometimes with the collaboration of employers. In most cases, foreign workers leave their country deep in debt in raising money needed to cover for exorbitant placement fees, visa and travel expenses.

But one lesson we learn from the exploitation of foreign workers is that their government is also complicit in this. The Philippine government, which relies on export of cheap labour and their dollar remittances, is equally at fault. Instead of developing local industries, generating jobs at home, and restructuring the economy to serve national interests rather than foreign investors, the Philippine government keeps on relying on overseas workers to sustain the economy. But dollar remittances from overseas workers only raise consumption spending and do not go to investment in industries that will create jobs and really strengthen the economy in the long run.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Closing the doors to immigration

Enforcement of immigration controls in the United States has been left squarely on the state level while the federal government struggles in figuring out comprehensive immigration reform that could muster congressional approval. With a steadily weakening economy, states are now becoming tougher on illegal aliens.

Last year, Arizona passed a state law that would empower police officers to check a person’s immigration status even on the streets as well as require immigrants to carry their papers at all times. It was considered the nation’s toughest on illegal aliens at the time.
Racial-profiling-arizona-immigration-political-cartoon. Photo courtesy of Click link to view "Arizona Immigration Law
Sparks Controversy":
Then the state of Alabama followed suit. It enacted a law which is now deemed the cruelest and most unforgiving immigration law in the United States. The New York Times in its recent editorial described the Alabama law as an “attempt to terrorize undocumented immigrants in every aspect of their lives, and to make potential criminals of anyone who may work or live with them or show kindness.”

Interdenominational church leaders in Alabama have sued to block implementation of the new law on September 1, declaring it criminalizes acts of Christian compassion.

The Alabama law makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant in Alabama, by criminalizing working, renting a home and failing to comply with federal registration laws that are largely obsolete. Businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants will lose their licenses. Public school officials will be required to determine students’ immigration status and report back to the state. Anyone knowingly “concealing, harbouring or shielding” an illegal immigrant could be charged with a crime, say for renting someone an apartment or driving her to church or the doctor.
Don't be a snitch! 20th & Alabama. Photo courtesy of sonci. Click link to view "Alabama
Passes Toughest Immigration Law":
These examples of draconian measures to boot out illegal immigrants are not far off from being imitated here in Canada. Already, Canada Immigration has announced its intention to round up and deport suspected war criminals and illegal migrants in Canada. To prove they are serious, the Conservative government displayed the mug shots of these suspected war criminals in Canadian newspapers.

After capturing a few, the Canadian government reissued the photographs of the remaining illegal immigrants on the loose and has asked the public to be informants, thus widening the dragnet. This is encouraging vigilantism at best, asking every law-abiding Canadian to turn in the enemy within. But it also negatively portrays immigrants as cheaters and con artists. Soon, every immigrant, with or without valid papers, will be terrorized and compelled to show their documents on plain suspicion or unreasonable pretext that they could be illegally in Canada.

How far is Canada from adopting legislation like the ones Arizona and Alabama have passed? The possibility is not too remote that a similar crackdown of illegal immigrants might happen here. Calling the public in assisting the government to round up war criminals and illegal immigrants is one step toward creating hysteria and hatred of foreigners in our midst.

It is easier to convince people that new immigrants are a burden to social services during an economic slowdown and they are the ones who could unfortunately be targeted or profiled. The immigration crackdown in the United States is not peculiar to America alone but is similarly happening in Europe, particularly against the burgeoning Muslim population.

Anti-immigration hysteria is also pervasive in the justice system which usually is the last resort for refugees or asylum-seekers who believe they were being unreasonably refused. U.S. appeals courts are saddled with immigration caseloads, oftentimes appeals of decisions by immigration judges who callously and inconsistently deny asylum requests which are in tune with the Justice Department’s goal of deporting individuals.

In a recent case involving a Macedonian couple who fled to the United States from persecution by the Macedonian government, a Chicago immigration judge’s decision to order them back to Macedonia raised some hackles from bewildered judges on the U.S. Seventh Circuit panel.

The aforementioned couple were Macedonian Slavs caught in ethnic tensions after the breakup of Yugoslavia. The husband was drafted into the Macedonian army but did not report because of what he believed as suppression of Albanians’ demand for greater rights. Members of a pro-government paramilitary police unit showed up at midnight at the couple’s home, knocked out the couple’s parents with a chemical spray, beat the husband with a gun and sexually abused his pregnant wife. They called the couple “betrayers of Macedonia” and took the family’s money and jewellery.

At issue before the court was whether it would be safe for the couple to return, even conceding that Macedonia is now a less fractious environment.

Judge Richard Posner in his decision wrote: “The line between harassment and persecution is the line between the nasty and the barbaric, or alternatively between wishing you were living in another country and being so desperate that you flee without any assurance of being given refuge in any other country.”

Similarly in Canada, it is often that refugee claimants are turned down before the Immigration Refugee Board or the Federal Court because of negative credibility findings or what is called the internal flight alternative. Refused refugee claimants are being ordered to return to their country on flimsy evidence that their country’s situation has changed and their persecution or the threat to their lives no longer exists.
Canada Jails Refugees. Photo courtesy of No One Is Illegal-Vancouver.  Click link
to view "Canada Jails Refugees":
A refugee claimant from El Salvador has asked for protection from the notorious El Salvadorian criminal organization known as the “maras.” Prior to entering Canada in 2008, the claimant left El Salvador to the United States twice during the civil war in 1982 and amid rising violence by the maras in 2003. He did not seek asylum during both times he was in the United States. He was deported back to El Salvador after a month of working illegally. When U.S. authorities started cracking down on illegal immigrants after returning to the U.S. in 2003, he returned to El Salvador to do farming with the money he had saved working in the U.S. In 2008, he entered Canada fleeing El Salvador again after personal targeting by the maras who demanded money from him and physically assaulted him when he didn’t have the money to give them.

The Refugee Protection Division concluded that the applicant left El Salvador for the United States not to flee risk, but rather as an economic migrant, thus found his present claim for protection in Canada not credible. According to the panel, the claimant has a serious problem with telling the truth, especially that he feared violence from the maras.

What the panel failed to differentiate from the third attempt by the applicant to leave his country was the personal targeting by the maras which was nonexistent in his first two attempts, thus why he did not seek asylum in the United States. Instead of evaluating the present claim based on its own merits, the panel used the negative credibility finding with respect to his prior departures which clearly amounted to unreasonableness.

When the World Youth Day was held in Toronto in 2002, many young people who attended the religious gathering remained in the country and applied for refugee status claiming fear of persecution from their countries on various grounds allowed under the Convention refugee definition. Most of these claimants were refused on negative credibility findings and the availability of an internal flight alternative, meaning they could have simply transferred residence in safer places in their countries if indeed they would be persecuted or even threatened.

It is not therefore surprising to hear an official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) appealing to Filipino delegates who attended the recent World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, last August 21 to make sure they return home and not turn into undocumented or illegal immigrants. Most of these delegates are still in Europe and the CBCP was worried they would damage the trust the Spanish government had in the Philippine Catholic Church when they issued the visas to them to travel to Madrid.

About 1,500 Filipino delegates have not yet returned home and this has naturally worried the CBCP—that they might turn into TNT’s (“Tago ng Tago” – always hiding), similar to what happened to some delegates in the previous World Youth Day in 2002 in Canada and 2005 in Germany.

Immigration to the world’s most advanced metropolises has become more and more enticing because of hardship and poverty in the less developed countries. Even refugees, from war-ravaged countries or where there are pervasive persecution and human rights violations, would usually escape to these metropolises because their governments guarantee freedom and liberty.

If people can’t enter through the legal process, they would try whatever means in order to leave. How ironic that many of these immigrants—whether documented or without legal papers—would become unfortunate victims of harsh immigration controls which, in most instances, also violate the very basic and fundamental civil liberties they have longed for.