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POV Philippines by Jon Joaquin

Filipinos in Macau

by Jon Joaquin

They say you can find Filipinos in every corner of the world, and this is certainly true in Macau. In fact, next to the Chinese, which make up 88.4 per cent of the population, Filipinos are the most numerous residents of the region. At 4.6 per cent they are a very small minority, but their presence is felt throughout because most of them are in the service industry and deal directly with tourists and visitors.

This was my experience when I joined a familiarization tour of Macau in mid-October sponsored by Cebu Pacific, which flies from Manila and Cebu to the region several times a week. One of the first things our tour guide, Tata – a Thai national who moved to Macau 25 years ago with her husband – told our group was that there were “many, many Filipinos” there and that we would see them working happily in almost all establishments.

And seeing them is not difficult since Macau is actually a small place. Measuring only 32.9 square kilometres, it’s a tiny fraction of Davao City where I live, which measures 2,443 square kilometres. But don’t let the number fool you: its people have planned the area so efficiently that it feels much bigger than it really is. Each square meter seems to be used for something useful, and as the land space becomes scarcer they simply reclaim land from the sea. Over the years Macau has grown so much that two-thirds of the land area stands on what used to be water.

Being so small you would think that Macau would have a problem with congestion. And with a population of 667,400 as of December 2018, it is, in fact, the most densely populated region in the world – and that’s not counting the tourists. But in our short time there we hardly felt it. The roads were traffic jam-free and the sidewalks were clear. Macau’s infrastructure and transport system are so well developed that they handle the movement of people and vehicles seamlessly.

The only times we saw large numbers of people were inside the numerous malls that dot Macau, and most of these – including us – were tourists. Around 80 per cent of the visitors are from mainland China, and during our time there we saw literally busloads of them. But we also saw a large number of other foreigners, and of course we bumped into many Filipino tourists – most of whom were busy taking selfies in the many Instagrammable spots. To be fair, most of the other tourists were taking photos of themselves as well.

Many of the restaurants we went to served Portuguese food (Macau was a colony of Portugal from 1557 to 1999) but were staffed by Filipinos – most of them from Luzon and a few from the Visayas. I’m not a well-traveled person so this was one of the few times I encountered fellow Filipinos working abroad, and their smiles immediately captivated me. And it wasn’t just because we were Filipinos because they gave the same quality of service to other guests; their warmth was genuine.

Call me sentimental but I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of sadness as I looked at the Filipina staff working hard for us. They had families back home that they couldn’t be with because they had to work in Macau. It’s a big consolation that at least Filipino workers seemed to be treated well. One of them told us she has been able to bring her family over for vacations, and she herself is able to go home every year. Still, it must be hard for someone to leave everyone and everything behind to work in greener pastures.

Some Filipinos, of course, have managed to stay in Macau and raise their families there. Josh, a 20-something bartender at a popular watering hole, was brought to Macau by his parents when he was just one year old, and they have lived there ever since.

“Are you a permanent resident now?” we asked him, and his answer was a little tentative but hopeful: “Not yet, but that will change soon.” “Do you like Macau,” I asked. “I’ve lived here all my life,” was his short answer.

But for most of the Filipinos we saw there, home is still the Philippines and they look forward to coming back and never having to return to Macau. A young lady from Trace Martires in Cavite who has been in Macau for only three months already looks forward to retiring. She was a hard-worker, always wearing an eager smile that seemed to say she will do all she can so she and her family can enjoy a good life in due time. “Do you like Macau,” I asked. “Trabaho lang po dito para makaipon [Just working so I can save up],” she replied.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the original author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Pilipino Express publishers.

Jon Joaquin is the Editor-In- Chief of the Davao City-based Mindanao Daily Mirror. E-mail Jon at

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