Photo: Transitions Abroad

Long before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was conceived, which established treaties, the ancient kingdoms of Siam and Luzon had been engaged in trading as well as sending troops by the latter to fight the Burmese during the Sukhothai Dynasty. But it was only on June 14, 1949, that the the Philippines and Thailand signed a Treaty of Friendship formalizing their bilateral relationship.

The Philippines was a popular destination among Thais before World War II, since the country’s education system was patterned after the US curriculum aside from cheap tuition and low living costs compared with the United States and England.

Among the popular Thai personalities who were Philippine-educated is the popular band Kalabaw. Its members studied at the Gregorio Araneta Foundation (now De La Salle Araneta University). The band’s name is from Tagalog kalabaw (water buffalo). Adamson University, Central Luzon State University and the University of the Philippines are other institutions where Thais often studied.

But the trend has come to an end as the Philippines’ political and economic stability have declined.

The pattern of migration has significantly changed in the past years because of the strong collaboration of Southeast Asian nations. The ASEAN Economic Community aims to provide employment and other economic opportunities for the region’s 622 million people.

There are only eight professions certified under ASEAN’s Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) for skilled personnel who can work anywhere in the region. They are medical doctors, dentists, nurses, architects, engineers, accountants, surveyors, and tourism professionals. Yet although the teaching profession is excluded, it is in high demand among the non-English-speaking countries.

According to the Thai Department of Employment, Filipinos have claimed the top spot among migrant workers from the other nine ASEAN countries taking jobs in teaching, management, engineering, architecture, and business. According to the department’s statistics published last year, the top five were the Philippines (14,830), Malaysia (2,924), Singapore (2,034), Myanmar (1,948) and Indonesia (1,279).

Ranked 14th in the world by the EF English Proficiency Index in 2018 – compared with Thailand, which landed in 64th place – Filipinos are sought after to work overseas. Non-English-speaking countries like Thailand have been steady destinations of professionals seeking English teaching jobs since the late 2000s.

It is estimated that there are nearly 18,000 Filipinos in Thailand, according to the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok. However, that figure could change significantly, because of the nature of entry among the Filipinos who eventually became workers. It is assumed that the 4,000 undocumented Filipinos on the record as of December 2015, the last period for which figures are available, were either tourists or workers with expired work permits or without a work permit.

Because of recent economic and political failures in the Philippines, many people from various professions leave in search of the proverbial “greener pasture.” This pasture may be mean teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL). As citizens of an ASEAN member country, Filipinos can stay for up to 28 days in Thailand visa-free.

Filipinos come to Thailand because of these factors in their homeland: few permanent jobs; low-paying jobs; limited financial opportunities; stressful relationships; stressful work; the desire for a better standard of living; looking for adventure; change of lifestyle; and encouragement from friends and relatives who are already in Thailand.

Filipinos have admitted to this author that they were tourists upon their entry and later found employment as teachers in different provinces in Thailand. Such people are given a one-year Non-B (work) visa and a work permit. The contract is renewable for another year depending on the performance of the employee and the ability of the employer to pay. Thus these tourists become teachers.

According to a popular job site, ajarn.com (ajarn is a common transliteration of อาจารย์, the Thai word for “teacher”), Filipino teachers are rarely paid the same salaries as native English speakers (NES). The monthly salary of an NES ranges from 35,000 to 60,000 baht (US$1,060-$1,820), while Filipinos are offered between 18,000 and 30,000 baht. A number of Filipinos in Facebook forums have mentioned that they get an average of 18,000 baht, forcing them to work outside of school hours as part-time English tutors. But this does not deter them; instead, it is a challenge to prove themselves.

Because of a similar climate to their homeland,, and their similar appearance to their Thai hosts, Filipinos easily adapt to their new environment. In most schools around the country, Filipinos can speak and understand the Thai language. Besides English, they are also teaching mathematics, science, social studies, and arts.

As the receiving country, Thailand has benefited from the Filipinos who teach English in its educational institutions. Qualified Filipinos are given support by their employers to continue further studies and research grants. These skills are passed on to the Thai students.

As a sending country, the Philippines receives monthly remittances, thus strengthening the purchasing power of the expatriates’ families back home. As well, the skills and knowledge gained by the teachers will be useful in the Philippines if they choose to return home.

Despite personal and institutional problems, Filipino teachers remain steadfast and dedicated to their profession. Their contribution to the development of the English skills of Thai children, which will be passed on to generations of Thai professionals, cannot be undermined. Cultural exchange is also an important factor to look at as the wave of Filipino migrant teachers in Thailand has cemented the historical ties between the two countries.

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Eunice Barbara C Novio

Eunice Barbara C Novio is a Thailand-based freelance journalist. She is also a lecturer at Vongchavalitkul University in Nakhon Ratchasima. Her articles have appeared on Asian Correspondent, America Media, and The Nation. She is also a contributor to the Bangkok Post and Thai Enquirer and a stringer to Inquirer.net's US Bureau. She won a Plaridel Award from the Philippine American Press Club.

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