To Chance to be Called "Ma'am"

by Rina Jimenez-David, Philippine Daily Inquirer

ASKED why they were willing to give up dollar-denominated salaries as domestics so they could return to work as teachers in the Philippines, Pinay DH's in Hong Kong had a common answer. "The chance to be called 'Ma'am' by our students, instead of having to call our employers 'Ma'am' every day."

No matter how they struggle to hold up their heads, to assert the dignity of their honest and necessary labor, Filipinas working as domestics, especially those holding college degrees, must indeed feel they've been taken down a peg or two. And this may explain why the "Balik-Turo" program of the Department of Education held such seductive appeal to the women. Else, how to explain the queues that formed at the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong when the DepEd announced the exams and interviews for some 2,000 teaching positions reserved for licensed teachers who had left and found work abroad?

In "Babalik na si Ma'am," presented as part of the public affairs documentary show "I-Witness," director/writer/cameraman Howie Severino introduces us to a few of these intrepid women, balik-guros and returning heroes in every sense. Without resorting to dramatics or trying to create maudlin moments, Severino manages to tell stories filled with contradiction
and reflecting the conflicted feelings of the returning teachers and the families on both ends of their journeys.

** *

THE CENTRAL story in "Babalik na si Ma'am" revolves around Mercy Elegado who, after working in Hong Kong for more than a decade, decides to resume oher profession among kin back in Isabela.

What makes Mercy's story memorable are her relations with the Cheung family, for whom she had been working for six years before she decided to return home. Moving indeed were the scenes showing Mercy and her three young wards in the course of their lengthy parting, with Mercy wondering how the youngest, for whom she had been caring since his birth, would fare
at night without her at his side.

At the airport, the children and their mother embrace Mercy, with the mother telling Mercy that she must return to Hong Kong soon to visit them "this time not as an employee but as our friend."

But as Severino says, "Mercy had been looking after a family in Hong Kong, in Isabela, she would be looking after the children of an entire barangay." "Babalik na si Ma'am" closes with a scene in which Mercy walks among her students, all of them calling out to her: "Bye, Ma'am, bye Ma'am," surely the culmination of a dream she had nursed through the lonely years in Hong
Kong.

* * *

HOWIE says that Education Secretary Raul Roco made clear that no special favors or incentives were offered to the balik-teachers. Those who decided to take up the DepEd's offer had been working as OFW's for many years, and
had in fact achieved most of their goals, including building their own homes and sending their children to school.

In short, in returning to the country and taking a pay cut, they were working no longer for security or survival, but out of a sense of service and a desire for dignity and stature. Sammie Saludares, for instance, chose to return to teaching so he could be with his children, though his wife Delia had to stay behind in Hong Kong. Mercy's husband has been working for over a decade in Saudi Arabia and was also set to join Mercy back in Isabela, where they would try to start a family now that they were
financially secure.

"Babalik na si Ma'am" is the other side of the OFW story, a story of people making often-painful choices and nursing dreams. It is also the story, said Howie, of a country eternally in need of new heroes, and of our people continually rising to the challenge. 

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