By Alfonso Ralph Mendoza Manalo
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The Philippines is globally renowned as a labor exporting country that facilitates its Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), often sending them as guest workers abroad. First coined in 1988 by former President Corazon Aquino, Overseas Filipino Workers are popularly known as the “Bagong Bayani” or modern-day heroes in English. This paper unpacks this term and demonstrates how it has shifted over time with the institutionalization of labor exportation in the Philippines. It also traces how it has been institutionalized in state affairs. In doing so, this paper also clarifies what the term Bagong Bayani constitutes and how it humanizes or further commodifies the lived experiences of OFWs. Tracking its development as a term determines how its perpetuation differs within political discourse and how it influences the Philippines’ culture of migration. This paper seeks to add to the existing literature on Philippine Labor migration by focusing on how the term has evolved since its inception in 1988 by comparing the term’s use amongst President Aquino’s (1986-1992) and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s (2001-2010) administrations. This paper will also look at how Philippine presidential administrations use the term to invisibilize particular lived experiences of OFWs and their stories of exploitation, vulnerability, and strife to further legitimize their presidency. In doing so, I argue that the term Bagong Bayani is a fluid term that changes over time between administrations. It describes the value of OFWs following the political philosophy and agenda of the seated president. In shifting per the discourse of a particular Philippine president, the term is used to frame the lived experiences of OFWs in a variety of ways to legitimize their administration.
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