By Andrea Malaya M. Ragragio
Davao Today

I first came to Davao a little more than a year ago to accept a teaching position at the University of the Philippines Mindanao campus. My contract in UP Diliman had run out, and I knew too well that jobs for anthropologists are hard to come by in Manila, or anywhere for that matter. My prospects were to be a bum at home for some time (the potential indignity terrified me), or eventually to apply to a call center (but this terrified me more). I knew that I had to do something before my savings and my self-confidence ran out.

Nevertheless, I must admit that I was initially less than thrilled about transferring to my new job. I had never lived alone, or so far from home for any substantial amount of time, and now I was going to have to do both simultaneously. My Cebuano language was non-existent; the only closest word I knew was ‘namit’, and that isn’t even used here. I had no close friends or relatives in Davao, or in the whole of Mindanao, for that matter. Indeed, my ‘contact in case of emergency’ was going to be a flight away.

Given my ambivalence I was dreadfully unprepared for the inevitable questioning by others about my decision. I should have known better, of course. Many Filipinos tend to be anywhere from innocently curious to maliciously chismosa, and it was best to come with a script handy.

I realized this in the months before I left, when I had to secure my clearance from UP Diliman. This entailed hopping from one office to the next to check whether I had any outstanding loans or if I had nicked any office supplies. It’s not an exaggeration that in each and every office to which I went, they all expressed some degree of puzzlement as to why I would be moving to Davao. “Is that where you are from?” was invariably the first question. “No, I’m not,” I would reply. “Are you getting married there?” or “Did your family move”? No and no. If they persisted I would just smile sheepishly and shrug my shoulders: “Wala lang.” Cue for them to finally bring it to a polite close, “They say it’s very safe there.”

“Yes, yes they do.”

I would normally not have a problem with this, but after the tenth such exchange my initial ambivalence had morphed into a sort of defensiveness.

Why was my decision consistently met with confusion? Mindanao is supposed to be the land of promise, isn’t it? Why did it seem to be such an unusual thing to do, this leaving home and family and friends to work in this alien place? Isn’t this what droves and droves of Filipinos are now doing, leaving homes and opting for, albeit, overseas?
Ding! It wasn’t the leaving home per se that was so unusual, but where I was headed – definitely NOT overseas.

This led to more questions. If I had told them that I was going to work abroad instead, would they be just as inquisitive? Would I be asked about my family situation or civil status as much as I was?
Would confusion become congratulations?

That said, the reactions certainly weren’t hostile. I suppose they were just genuinely wondering how such a choice would be the advantageous one.

My defensiveness gave way to reflection. I really shouldn’t take it personally; I probably was indeed an unusual case. After all, thinking about my peers, I know that almost all who have opted to move have moved abroad. Those who would be moving within the country would be moving into Manila, not out of it. My move was, literally and figuratively, in the opposite direction as everyone else.

The main motivation we can see for this mobility pattern is economics – milk and honey and greener pastures are, after all, economic metaphors signifying gain, health and wealth. For many Filipinos, rice, jobs, and everything else in between are becoming increasingly harder to find in their own localities. Tickets out of poverty, then, are quite often equivalent to actual transport tickets out of those localities and into city centers like Manila or in other countries.

This packing up and moving out, in turn, form ideas of what choices are more valued, or esteemed, in our collective hearts and minds. If moving abroad or into the national center (working, studying, marrying) is seen as a sign of having made it economically, socially, and even culturally upscale, then my move would be deemed unusual indeed.

The reactions I received as I was getting my clearance was a symptom of all of these, and my own response to their reaction speaks of how individual circumstance has a role to play here somewhere. I have no siblings to send to school, or elderly kin to support, or anything else that would oblige me to compromise my career between what I wanted to do and what I had to do. There’s no pressure to make money, so there wasn’t anything to distract me from teaching, doing research, and spend time for my various advocacies. In this sense I am as close as I can possibly get to exercising what others might call “free will” in disposing of my time and labor – which is increasingly becoming a luxury in these times. And because, as I was growing up, there was never any special preference for moving abroad, I can stay put in this country, exactly where I want to be.

We should all wish for and work toward the day when this “luxury” is no longer so for Filipinos.  In the full exercise of their will they will find that the Philippines in which they chose to stay is a true
land of opportunity and promise. (

Andrea Malaya Ragragio is a UP Mindanao professor of anthropology, author of the book, Archaeology and Emerging Kabikolan, and a member of the All UP Workers Union. She finished cum laude for her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, and secured her Master’s degree inArchaeology at UP Diliman.

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