Thursday, June 12, 2008


Today, the 110th anniversary of our independence, it behooves us to remember the millions of Filipinos toiling in foreign lands so that their loved ones back home could have a better life. Who would have imagined 110 years ago that there would be a diaspora and that Filipino workers—professionals, skilled, unskilled—would populate every nook and cranny of this world?

So much Filipino blood, sweat and tears have been shed on foreign shores. Someday, we hope to see a reversal of fortune and Filipinos will be on the top of the heap in their adopted countries and on top of the world back home.

The other day I watched Chito Rono’s “Caregiver” (from Star Cinema), the Sharon Cuneta starrer on the life and work of a Filipino caregiver and other caregivers in London. I could nitpick on a few things but on the whole, the movie was a great tribute to the overseas Filipino workers (OFW), the caregivers in particular. I definitely recommend it for viewing and I hope many Filipinos abroad would get to watch it.

I must say, I had a lump in my throat the whole time. “Caregiver” was not meant to be a melodrama but it could be a four-hankie movie especially for those who could identify directly with it, whether they are caregivers themselves or families of OFWs who experience what it is like to be left behind and know about the sacrifices of their next of kin abroad.

I thought Cuneta as caregiver Sara Gonzales really did so well. Cuneta may have been born with a silver spoon in her mouth and went to expensive schools but as an actress she was able to pull it off on the labor intensive front, wiping the bottoms of her elderly Caucasian elderly wards, without looking misplaced or miscast.

The story revolves around Sara, a school teacher. While preparing for her trip abroad (she attends a school for caregivers) she learns that she is being considered to head the English department. She is after all, a very thorough, conscientious teacher. She is also trying to deal with her only son who is beginning to act up. She is set to join her husband Teddy (John Estrada) in London. Teddy is a nurse.

About one-third of the movie deals with Sara’s pre-departure. It establishes the complications and difficulties of leaving one’s fulfilling but not financially rewarding job, leaving one’s supportive family network and relocating abroad. At least Sara has a husband waiting for her in London.

But London is not a bed of roses. Even living with her husband Teddy does not make things easier. He is pasaway, (a pain in the neck) to say the least, he has demons to conquer and he is trying to cope with a job situation that does not do much for his self-esteem. Sara accidentally finds out early on that Teddy is not working as a nurse but as a hospital attendant who does the garbage.

But so what. Even their friend Joseph, a doctor, has become a nurse, and takes orders from a white doctor who almost kills a patient if not for Joseph’s his intervention. (But Joseph is fired for insubordination and embarrassing his superior.)

The first days at the old folks’ home is right away “breath-taking” for Sara. She cleans an old woman who has soiled her diapers while fellow caregiver Karen (Rica Peralejo) tells her to grit her teeth. The old woman who is standing with her bare bottom toward Sara asks feebly, “Are you talking about me?” Their answer: “No, we’re talking about pounds. Pounds, pounds.”

Soon Sara gets shifted to Mr. Morgan, grumpy old man who, because of Sara’s care, gets to show his great heart. She reads him Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the Durbervilles”, she gets to interact with Mr. Morgan’s family (the appreciative son, the suspicious daughter), she goes with him to spend a week in his countryside home and gets served by a caboodle of servants.

But things are not well in her own home front with Teddy. The couple still have no savings for “show money” so they could get their son to join them. Teddy’s been spending uselessly, he’s been drinking, he goes into a rage at the slightest provocation. He is difficult. He wants to go home to the Philippines. And then what? Sara asks.

Sara and Teddy’s interaction with OFWs in London provides a glimpse into how Filipinos try to keep the Filipino fires burning. The regular Holy Masses, the small gatherings, the singing. I particularly liked that episode with Gary Granada singing “Saranggola sa Ulan.” (Hey, Gary, that composition’s great.)

The saranggola (kite) here is symbolic of flight and freedom. Sara has a moving kite-flying episode in the countryside with her “grumpy old friend” Mr. Morgan before he takes his final flight. Of course, he leaves Sara something—the first edition of “Tess of the Durbervilles” which is worth a fortune and, more importantly, a letter in his own beautiful handwriting.

Well, there is Sean, the Dennis the Menace Filipino version who is problematic (Sara catches him shoplifting), and whom Sara becomes fond of. Sean reminds her of her own son back home. There’s a lot more to this kid, his mom and stepfather if their story is pursued. But that is another story.

The big problem is Teddy. He goes AWOL, he mopes, drinks, wastes away while Sara continues to work. In order to save on rent the couple opens their flat to a Filipina OFW. It seems OFWs could always count on fellow OFWs to make things bearable.

Okay, Sara and Teddy decide to go home to the Philippines. On their way to the airport there is something of a denouement. May sumambulat. Here is the moment of truth. Who goes home and who does not? This is not the most ideal movie ending for me, but that should not be the end of the story.

This movie needs a sequel. Happy Independence Day.