Nationalizing Transnationalism? The Philippine State and the Filipino Diaspora


With over 8 million Filipinos living overseas, it could be argued that people have become the country’s largest export commodity. With their remittances making up 13% of GDP, they are as well crucially important economic actors. Has the Philippine state been instrumental in this exodus and in harvesting its fruits? Addressing such a proposition requires further refinement of three basic concepts – state, diaspora and transnationalism – through the use of three structuring templates. As a preliminary, the dichotomy of state strength and weakness is grounded in an analysis of a particular sector, namely emigration. By drawing on the typologies of Robin Cohen, Filipino overseas communities are portrayed as possessing, to some extent, the characteristics of much more readily accepted diasporas. However, a sketch of the varied experience of a heterogeneous Filipino diaspora underlines the differences between permanent migrants, contract workers, sea-based workers and irregular migrants. The diverse lived experiences of these groups – and their relations with their “home” nation – call into question the salience of notions of “transnationalism”. This questioning is reinforced by an examination of the Filipino state’s role in creating a “self-serving” diaspora through a review of the three phases in Filipino emigration policy since 1974. The characteristics that come to the fore are rather forms of “long-distance nationalism” and “rooted cosmopolitanism”. Taking cognizance of the multiple identities and loyalties in the case of the Filipino diaspora, a process of “binary nationalisms” is posited as a more fruitful avenue for future research.

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