The Azkals show the benefits of migration



Earlier this year, a video on Youtube of Prof Winnie Monsod delivering her traditional and much awaited last lecture for the semester went viral. In it, she appealed to her students at the University of the Philippines, my alma mater, to remain in the country after graduating.

Recently, I came across a bunch of fresh migrants to South Australia, my home since 2005. I came here on a spouse visa because of my wife a Filipina whose family migrated here back in the mid-80s. Unlike me, these recent arrivals came here on a skilled or employer sponsored visa. Some of them, ironically were contemporaries of mine at college, but I only made their acquaintance here through mutual friends.

Having been former students of hers, Prof Monsod’s video inevitably came up in conversation. We concluded that perhaps after paying our dues during the early part of our working lives, the country had benefited enough from our toil and talents. Many of us would have preferred to stay, but in order to provide a better environment for our kids, we reluctantly decided to make the move.

The experience of immigration can be a bit harrowing and lonely. Not only do people back home look at you differently when you return, but you also feel a bit left out among the locals of your host country. The irony is that despite having lived in two countries, you end up never really fitting in in either one.

Prof Monsod’s lecture spurred a debate within the global Filipino community about the merits of migration. Many supported her sentiments about staying home. Some say that those who leave the country permanently are turning their backs on it and have lost their sense of patriotism.

Yet, the Philippine national football squad, appropriately named The Azkals, demonstrate the benefits of such migration. Of the 22 athletes that comprise this team, eight of them or more than a third, are of mixed national origin (mongrels in other words as their name suggests which means street dogs in tagalog).

You have the five players of Filipino-English descent: the Younghusbands, Phil (aged 23) and James (aged 24) who play forward and midfielder respectively; Neil Etheridge (aged 20) the goalkeeper who plays for English Premier League club Fulham (all three of them trained in the Chelsea Football Academy, Phil being the leading goalscorer of the youth squad); midfielder Christopher Greatwich (aged 27) who as a youth played for Brighton and Hove Albion and now coaches under-20s in the US; and lastly, Rob Gier (aged 30), a defender, plays for Ascot United in the Hellenic Football League.

Apart from them, there is  the defender Ray Anthony Jonsson (aged 31) who is Islandic-Filipino and plays for Grinavik in the Icelandic Premier League; midfielder Mark Drinkuth (aged 19) who plays for Agon Dusseldorf; and midfielder Jason De Jong (aged 20) who plays in the Eerste Divisie club Veendam in the Netherlands.

Having triumphed in a stunning upset over defending champion Vietnam at the Suzuki AFF Cup during the group stage, these players and the rest of the Philippine squad have captured the imagination of the nation. The Philippines had at one point languished at the bottom of the FIFA world rankings. It was at 195th place out of 200 countries as recently as 2006. With the stellar performance of the team, we are now placed at 150.

There is much to be desired in the development of football as a national sport in the Philippines. The fact that the remainder of the team came predominantly from the Philippine Air Force or Army shows the lack of support from the public towards the formation of a commercially viable football league.  The lack of a stadium to host a semi-final match with Indonesia demonstrates our inadequate sports infrastructure. Then there is the absence of a grassroots youth development program.

Despite all these infirmities, the nation has woken up to the possibility that these young boys represent. Through their dedication and passion not only for the game, but also for the country in which they did not grow up in, but nevertheless have an attachment to as a result of their ancestry and upbringing, these players are proving to be the anti-thesis of Prof Monsod’s argument.

It shows that Filipinos everywhere can still make a contribution to the nation by exploring opportunities that would otherwise not exist for them back home. It demonstrates the capacity of our nation to learn from the experiences and mixed heritage of Filipinos overseas. These athletes are proving to be worthy ambassadors not only of the sport, but of the country. If this is a sign of things to come, then we have every reason to be confident about their future and ours.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy (www.thecusponline.org) and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • RA

    Filipinos who seek greener pastures abroad and decided to spend the rest of their lives for good in the Philippines and apply the knowledge/skills they gained abroad. And you what it’s called? “brain gain”

  • Anonymous

    There is also this thought — and this is one of the themes that Conrado de Quiros plays on.

    Conrado deQuiros has repeatedly said that Filipinos who go overseas (and their children) are not Filipinos anymore (this is a de Quiros theme) and therefore should not play wearing a Philippine flag on their uniform. And there is a corollary to this — those could have been a Filipino-Filipino from Marikina or a Filipino-Mindanawan from Agusan playing instead of defender Ray Anthony Jonsson (aged 31) and midfielder Mark Drinkuth (aged 19). The imports took playing slots that could have been given to Filipino-Filipinos, is this correct? deQuiros would probably say “Filipino-Filipinos should play for Pilipinas” and pride because of higher world-ranking is trivial. More important — Filipino-Filipinos having a chance to run around and play so that Filipino-Filipinos get a chance -for their 5 minutes of spotlight fame– to compete against better players, their development towards higher excellence gets thwarted.

    After the fall of Marcos (and I suppose it happened when Noynoy Aquino won, too), words said to Filipinos returning to Pilipinas — “pare… iwan na lang ninyo ito sa amin. Maganda na ang buhay niyo duon sa Merika; pabayaan na lang ninyo ito sa amin.” Filipino-Filipinos in Pilipinas can use the playing time. One can imagine that a few or a large number of Filipinos in Pilipinas do not really want more competition (especially not from hindi purong Pinoy!!) when there are only a few opportunities that open up — what to do, then?

    Tama ba iyong posisyon ni deQuiros o ano?

    • I would use the Socceroos of Australia as an analogy for the Azkals because it too is comprised of players of mixed ancestry (players with Italian, Serbian, Samoan heritage) who have also moved to Europe in order to play club football.

      Without these players, Australia would never have qualified for the last two World Cups. At this stage in the game, giving local footballers more playing time or slots in the national team to develop their skills would be misplaced. The time to develop players is when they are under-12 until they are under-20. Beyond that, it should be a matter of merit and excellence.

      The only question that matters is does mixing mongrels with pure breeds (if there can even be a Filipino who can claim to be pure breed to begin with is ludicrous since we are a nation of mixed ancestry) cause the team to be less cohesive or effective on the field? And I think the answer to that is a resounding NO. Thus, our players have exhibited all the traits that our global Filipino workers have: the ability to adapt and work cooperatively with people of different cultures and traditions. And that is indeed something worth celebrating.

  • Anonymous

    There is also this thought — and this is one of the themes that Conrado de Quiros plays on.

    Conrado deQuiros has repeatedly said that Filipinos who go overseas (and their children) are not Filipinos anymore (this is a de Quiros theme) and therefore should not play wearing a Philippine flag on their uniform. And there is a corollary to this — those could have been a Filipino-Filipino from Marikina or a Filipino-Mindanawan from Agusan playing instead of defender Ray Anthony Jonsson (aged 31) and midfielder Mark Drinkuth (aged 19). The imports took playing slots that could have been given to Filipino-Filipinos, is this correct? If Filipino-Filipinos are denied the chance to compete against better players, their development towards higher excellence gets thwarted.

    After the fall of Marcos (and I suppose it happened when Noynoy Aquino won, too), words said to Filipinos returning to Pilipinas — “pare… iwan na lang ninyo ito sa amin. Maganda na ang buhay niyo duon sa Merika; pabayaan na lang ninyo ito sa amin.” Filipino-Filipinos in Pilipinas can use the playing time, what to do, then?

    • I would use the Socceroos of Australia as an analogy for the Azkals because it too is comprised of players of mixed ancestry (players with Italian, Serbian, Samoan heritage) who have also moved to Europe in order to play club football.

      Without these players, Australia would never have qualified for the last two World Cups. At this stage in the game, giving local footballers more playing time or slots in the national team to develop their skills would be misplaced. The time to develop players is when they are under-12 until they are under-20. Beyond that, it should be a matter of merit and excellence.

      The only question that matters is does mixing mongrels with pure breeds (if there can even be a Filipino who can claim to be pure breed to begin with is ludicrous since we are a nation of mixed ancestry) cause the team to be less cohesive or effective on the field? And I think the answer to that is a resounding NO. Thus, our players have exhibited all the traits that our global Filipino workers have: the ability to adapt and work cooperatively with people of different cultures and traditions. And that is indeed something worth celebrating.

  • GabbyD, you are trying to make a distinction that frankly is not worth making in my opinion. I am actually saying we benefit from BOTH the diversity that these Fil-Europeans bring to the team as well as the training they received in the countries they grew up in. There is nothing wrong by saying we benefit from diversity within the team.

    It works both ways. Take a look at the young German team that surprised everyone at the last World Cup in South Africa for thrashing the experienced team of England and the talented team of Argentina. People think of Germany as a mono-culture, but their team was a reflection of the openess that is present today with players with Ghanian, Brazilian, Spanish and Polish ancestry.

    Dual citizenship is a product of a country’s migration and naturalization policy, but the rules allow players of mixed ancestry to become eligible to play for either country. Dual ancestry not citizenship made them eligible at the onset. I am not sure if it lowered the cost that much, as there are also large costs attached to playing in Asia as opposed to Europe where they play as professionals.

    • GabbyD

      “…, but the rules allow players of mixed ancestry to become eligible to play for either country. ”

      only IF dual citizenship is allowed right? you can only play if u are a citizen — ancestry is important because it leads to citizenship IF dual citizenship is the policy.

      yes, what i meant is that migration POLICY (not out-migration per se, ie. movement of people) that made it possible for them to play.

      also, … yeah i was trying to make sure if u were making a genetic case for migration. there’s not enough info to say genetics is the key factor because physical ability and training go together and it isnt easy to separate them.

  • GabbyD, you are trying to make a distinction that frankly is not worth making in my opinion. I am actually saying we benefit from BOTH the diversity that these Fil-Europeans bring to the team as well as the training they received in the countries they grew up in. There is nothing wrong by saying we benefit from diversity within the team.

    It works both ways. Take a look at the young German team that surprised everyone at the last World Cup in South Africa for thrashing the experienced team of England and the talented team of Argentina. People think of Germany as a mono-culture, but their team was a reflection of the openess that is present today with players with Ghanian, Brazilian, Spanish and Polish ancestry.

    Dual citizenship is a product of a country’s migration and naturalization policy, but the rules allow players of mixed ancestry to become eligible to play for either country. Dual ancestry not citizenship made them eligible at the onset. I am not sure if it lowered the cost that much, as there are also large costs attached to playing in Asia as opposed to Europe where they play as professionals.

    • GabbyD

      “…, but the rules allow players of mixed ancestry to become eligible to play for either country. ”

      only IF dual citizenship is allowed right? you can only play if u are a citizen — ancestry is important because it leads to citizenship IF dual citizenship is the policy.

      yes, what i meant is that migration POLICY (not out-migration per se, ie. movement of people) that made it possible for them to play.

      also, … yeah i was trying to make sure if u were making a genetic case for migration. there’s not enough info to say genetics is the key factor because physical ability and training go together and it isnt easy to separate them.

  • GabbyD

    this article confuses me.

    you say that these fi-foreign blooded players is the benefit of migration? because they have european genetics? or european training?

    are these men foreigners who decided to be filipinos? or are they dual passport holders?

    if its the former, is it a benefit coz they have european genetics? i’m uncomfortable saying that getting european physical features is a “benefit” to philippine migration.

    if its the latter, then its not migration that led to this, but the lower cost of returning due to the dual citizenship.

  • GabbyD

    this article confuses me.

    you say that these fi-foreign blooded players is the benefit of migration? because they have european genetics? or european training?

    are these men foreigners who decided to be filipinos? or are they dual passport holders?

    if its the former, is it a benefit coz they have european genetics? i’m uncomfortable saying that getting european physical features is a “benefit” to philippine migration.

    if its the latter, then its not migration that led to this, but the lower cost of returning due to the dual citizenship.