Two Year Deadline

I have lots of news and then some old things.

I just turned 28. And that means I’ll be in full panic mode for the next two years. I am no longer bata! But as it turns out, I’ve been having the same dilemma since age 16: passion or money (dollars, to be specific)
I want to be an expert of my craft. I feel I’m not good enough to be LC (What were you thinking, Dave? All she has is a fancy accent) So I’ve been eyeing the UP Open University’s Language Education course. I got excited because I can continue working while studying online. My mom’s helping with the cost, too.
My mind sorta changed when my husband’s bestfriend visited home from New Zealand. He advised that I should act fast if we want to go abroad. I’m turning 30! It’s not like i can just skip mortgage and go (my condo only costs less than P6000 a month, which really wont get us anywhere)
And I had to step back and think. I’m happy as a teacher, but what kind? I’m not so good with kids. It seems the only kind of teachers in demand abroad are K-12 teachers. So it seems I’m good with communication. But where will that take me? It’s not like Canada or Australia doesn’t have enough English speakers to go around.
I could go abroad with my midwifery degree. I’m not particularly happy or good as a midwife. I could be. Who knows?
So if i stick with what I’m good at, I’m gonna be stuck in the call center life. It’s fine for the present, but not really enough to raise a family. The industry is also fragile.
This is the same dilemma I had at age 16 when my mom forced me to take up midwifery. I guess I haven’t really grown up.

Why Can’t We Form Unions in BPOs?

Disclaimer to the Disclaimer: I hate that writing nowadays always have to start with a disclaimer. People on the net flame each other like hell. Some are prone to over-sensitivity. This article is pure opinion (therefore, most of it is bullshit) so your opinions (therefore, your bullshit) are welcome as well. I don’t seek to bash my colleagues in the industry that has made a large part of who I am today. I don’t write in absolutes, only in puny generalizations. Not everything I say here applies to everyone and everything. This article is not based on any fact or research. This post is merely based on my oh-so-limited observations of my oh-so-limited worldview. I’ve only been in the workforce for a mere eight years, for just two companies so far. I’m just a kid, by most smart people’s standards. Commenters, please play nice with each other. Let’s make respect a more common commodity in the internet.

Disclaimer: I am not here to state that union-forming in Business Process Outsourcing companies (BPOs) would not be beneficial for the employees. I truly believe that if workers take a stand in an organized and official fashion, they would be more protective of each other’s rights and would be empowered against exploitation. This article is not about the benefits or the disadvantages of forming employee unions in Philippine BPOs. This article is about why BPO workers of the present time would find it extremely hard to form labor unions.

Why Can’t We Form Unions in BPOs?

Generation Me

Let’s first take a look at the background of current BPO workers. A typical BPO worker would be in their 20’s or 30’s, being proficient in English and all, most likely educated in a nice (read: conservative, Catholic) school. Growing up in the relatively quiet 90’s era, contentment means bfs/gfs, swanky smart phones, Starbucks every day, perhaps a car someday.

From a very early age, we were taught in our conservative, Catholic, English-as-a-medium schools to shut up, pray and obey. We were taught that speaking up for our rights is rash, brazen and wrong. The purpose of our education is to serve. We were taught to shun those noisy, strange, unfashionable rally-going kids who speak deep Tagalog, as if the government will ever hear their diatribes over their cheap megaphones. This culture had served the nuns and priests who run the schools and it sure does serve our current white masters.

We BPO workers are notorious for being transients, staying in a company for a few months, 2 years maximum, at our leisure. Supervisors and managers are in the same age group, with only a few years of experience. We manage to stay afloat… Nay, not just afloat but aggressively progress.

These factors keep unionization as the last thing on our minds. Not happy with your immature supervisor? Pack up and go. Not happy with your unfair manager? Go AWOL. Not happy with the way the company is run? There are plenty of other centers out there, desperate for workers. Tenure? Retirement? Who cares? Just keep the medical benefits and the money rolling.

How many of us really chose to be in this industry, anyways? How many of us actually studied to work for a call center? How many of us are actually nurses, teachers and engineers? We take this job because it pays, not because we love it, not because we are meant for it. We are told that we are paid more than we deserve. We are expected to shut up and just roll with it since we are paid more than the minimum wage. Do your job well. Do it perfectly, because after all, no other industry will give you a decent pay.

Fear Itself
Although we have certain bravado of easy employment from one center to another, in our very hearts, we are also haunted by the idea of unemployment. We are afraid to rock the boat because we fear that we may not find employment outside of this industry.

It is the culture of a call center to make their employees intensely aware of other BPOs who are competing for clients. The outsourcing business is competitive, even cut-throat. We know that clients can take their business to other centers. We know that that one wrong move can send them packing to India or other countries.

A typical call center agent is intensely aware of every contract, memo and agreement that he signs. He knows that one step out of line and he’s toast. There is no real job security, only the hope of a new one.

Growing Up
Twentysomethings turn to thritysomethings, the thritysomethings hit their forties. Kids’ needs grow as families are formed, broken and reformed. We begin to think of mortgages, tuition fees, even retirement. We seek security, in our careers as well as our relationships. I cannot tell what the fate of the BPO worker population will be. I cannot say if and when they would realize their power as workers. I cannot say if and when they would realize the need for this power. Was it the same when the dot-com industries began and everybody was of the same age? I wonder.

Many Waters

Many waters cannot quench love; neither can the floods drown it. – Song of Solomon 8:7

While Typhoon Onyong (Ketsana) raged outside, Andy and I got facials.

Outside the office spa, there was brown knee-deep water in the streets. I stupidly decided to head home, worried about my mom and lolo. I got to the halfway point when I realized that the floods were getting deeper, developing a strong current. I took shelter with some neighbors (Joseph, Junior and Ella, which will now be formerly known as Complete Strangers) until I found J.R., (which will now be formerly known as Random Muscle Guy) to help me brave the currents back to the office.

I got a change of clothes from the store below, just before they closed the mall. We spent the first night in the office with minimal power and water. The toilets turned ripe in a short matter of time since there were about a hundred of us stranded in the office. Thankfully, there was plenty of food. And the company of my friends made it bearable. I slept on a piece of flipchart paper on the carpet of the Training Suite.

The mall turned out all refugees except for the employees. I felt bad for the people outside. They were stranded on the mall’s patio. How cruel! The waters rose quickly to around waist-deep. The roads became impassable. I heard from the news that other malls served as evacuation centers. This one didn’t have much heart.

It took in, however, an anxious lola to be, a bewildered husband and a seventeen-year-old girl on the verge of tears…and of giving birth. Her name is LJ and she will name her baby girl Lois. They sought for help form the doctors of the Medical City Clinic here. There was no power, no water, and no emergency medicine.

We also had another patient: a lolo who suffered from angina. His grandson James took him to Medical City Clinic, only to be stranded inside.

LJ came Saturday night with her mother, Judith and her husband Keith. Her bag of waters began to leak at Sunday 6AM. They called for my help as a medical professional. I assured them that we will try all our best to get her to the hospital, but if help won’t come, I’m ready to assist with the delivery.

Our team of trainers (Carl, Ethan, Nabs, Andy) called all possible government agencies. We tried to hail trucks passing by. All to no avail. There was no way we could get to a hospital by land. We also found a friend in an exuberant Red Cross volunteer, Aileen.

Meanwhile, I tried to calm the patient down. I assessed the baby’s heart rate, the mother’s BP and her temperature. All seemed to be going well. Except that her contractions were getting stronger and more frequent. I was so scared for her. But I also wanted to be strong for her. I didn’t want to induce the delivery by performing an internal examination. So I just monitored her contractions constantly.

At around 3PM, her contractions came every three minutes. I got cold sweat.  “Dear Lord, give me strength if You are to ask me to deliver her baby here.” I prayed. “If this be not her destiny, help us get her safe to a hospital.”

I let her lie on her side, to help her relax and to help the baby get more fresh oxygen and nutrients.  She calmed down and the contractions became less frequent and a bit weaker. All the while, I monitored the baby’s heartbeat. She seemed doing okay in there as well. For the first time, my objective was to delay the delivery, not to hasten it.

At 4PM, I asked Chris, the company nurse to keep monitoring LJ and her baby. I got struck with the idea of using the power of the media. The people in government could not refuse the media because they provide coverage, especially during election season. I called DZMM, a local AM radio, and they patched me with the right government agencies. They sent us rubber boats right away. Thank you Amy Perez and Alvin Elchico. Thank you to the Women of the Cainta Police Force.

We left the site at 6PM. I wanted to ride with LJ and her husband, Keith, but the load got too heavy for the boat. I got off and wanted to run after them. My heart was willing but my legs were not. Aileen and Andy took her to a nearby hospital.

Baby Lois was born 10PM September 27, 2009.

Thank you, everyone for the love you showed a woman in need. You are true heroes in my eyes.


Love isn’t how you feel. It’s what you do.

Madeleine L’Engle in ‘’A Wind in the Door’’

The Fable of Piney

Piney is a three-inch pineapple fruit wtih a four-inch crown. He was planted on a littleplanter on my 21st birthday by my Grampa. To this day, I don’t know what my Lolo meant by giving my a miniature pineapple except that I liked cute tiny things.

Piney wasn’t much of a looker. He had uneven yellowish moss green skin. At least his crown was a stunner: thick deep green spines that were glossy.

I took care of Piney: watering him every other day, making sure he gets some sunlight every other day, talking to him on occassion. I migled him with my family of tiny cacti. The prickly little fellow felt right at home.

And then he started to die. Piney withered before my very eyes. His yellowish moss green rounded body came slumping off the tiny planter. At least his crown was still a stunner.

And I figured, Piney really wasn’t meant to live long. Tiny as he is, he no longer had breathing space in that tiny planter of his. And so I left him to his fate among the cacti,  tiny planter and all  and forgot about him.

One day, I was trimming my nails on our paseo(the prettified alleyway leading to our house) right beside the giant dama de noche bush. I inspected the cacti table. Piney was no longer there. All that was left was his tiny, cracked planter. I figured Mom must have cleaned up the remains. And so I forgot about him.

After some heavy rains a few months later, I came out inspecting the damage to our plants in the paseo. And I found some stunning thick deep green spines that were glossy hiding under some mayana leaves. Piney was prettier than ever! He had new green shoots, making his crown even lovelier.

I asked my folks how that happened. And my brother cockily said “You didn’t know how to take care of it. So i transplanted it, dummy. It’s mine now.”

Moral of the story: Some gifts are better taken care of by wiser people. Or else they wither and die.

Back to the Corporate World

Now that I’m done with the board exams, it’s back to my regular job. I asked for a month-long study leave for the exams and now I’m back.

Call center jobs are another uso in this country. It’s my bread-and-butter. I can’t say it’s a 9-to-5 since I work the ungodly hours of 12MN to 9AM. I train newly-hired agents in a call center a.k.a.  business process outsource (BPO) company. It’s very tough, yet rewarding. It is a bit more lucrative than, say, being a clerk at some daytime office.

One of my teachers way back in high school expected me to be a bohemian: an activist, a writer, or a musician. She never expected that I would go the corporate route, but I reminded her that I was already selling my writings and things back in high school. But then again, I never really left writing, or music, or serving the people.

A major part of what i do in both fields is teaching people. I have to constantly update myself with new methods, materials and theories. I also learn a lot from the people I work with. As the saying goes, “In learning, you will teach. In teaching, you will learn.”

On weekdays, I live in the corporate world of the BPO trainer. Although I enjoy my job, its simply my means of living, not life itself. I go back to earth by serving the poor as a volunteer midwife. In between this hectic schedule is life: I write, make music and hang out with my friends and family.  If I didn’t learn how to balance time, I wouldn’t have achieved this kind of balance.