(Re) Constructing ‘Subservient’ Filipino Migrant Subjectivities


  • Fea Jerulen Gelvezon University of Alberta




In the 1970s, the Philippine state implemented a labour-export policy to alleviate the country’s economic crisis. This policy centres the needs of employers at the expense of the rights and lives of Filipino migrants.  As a consequence, many Filipino migrants find themselves in low-paying, precarious, and exploitative working conditions. However, as foreign employment of Filipino labour is tied to the state’s economic agenda, the Philippine state is caught between protecting the rights of its citizens and economic profits. In this essay, I argue that the Philippine state constructs ‘docile’ and ‘subservient’ migrant subjectivities to serve the state’s neoliberal interests. Although, as migrants learn to become acutely aware of their exploitation, they re-construct a subjectivity premised on challenging the Philippine state’s neoliberal interests through the help of transnational migrant activist groups.


This essay employs a qualitative case study analysis of the Philippines’ foremost institution serving migrants, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and the largest transnational Filipino migrant activist group, Migrante International. I use a Critical Filipino Studies (FilCrit) framework to analyze these case studies. FilCrit recognizes that the institutionalization of migration under US colonization largely influences how Filipinos are incorporated into the global economy to this day.  This essay finds that the goals of the Philippine state and migrant activist groups stems from their opposing values. The Philippine state is concerned about its neoliberal agenda, while migrant activist groups are concerned with Filipino migrants’ everyday lives. 

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Social Sciences & Humanities