The faith chronicles

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Job placement: Injustice, vengeance, and other surprises

In my utter naivete as a young college graduate, I thought meritocracy would get me my rightful place in the world. I couldn’t be more mistaken, it turned out – for right after finishing school, I made the mistake of sending out application letters and resumes to several government agencies, hoping that one or two would respond, knowing I was a UP graduate and a DOST scholar too. With my newly acquired knowledge, I thought I could advance biology or its application in the country. But not a soul responded.

looking back, I can only imagine how dismal the scene was: Here I was sending out a pile of paper with 2x2s – an expensive investment on my end at the time – only for the whole thing to be thrown into the trash bin or fed into the shredder.

Failing to discern something was amiss, I applied yet again to at least two more government agencies even when I found a job, which I treated as a temp job. There was a strong belief that something great was in store just for me.

It would take some time before I would wake up to an ugly reality: either I was not good enough compared with the competition or I needed a patron to get in.

When eventually I saw first-hand how the power of patrons was real, I lost my faith in government job placements and in the job market in general. Thanks to friends who were insiders, I discovered how positions in a government agency could be had only through the intervention of influential persons and sometimes, barring that, a job can only be had after it is literally sold to the highest bidder (I heard of two cases). For stretches of time, I knew it was only practical to stop even trying unless I had a strong connection inside.

The only employment opportunity I found was in two of the three pioneering local BPO or business process outsourcing companies in the early ‘90s, though that’s a fact I would learn much later. (I am referring to Innodata and Asec in Makati, the third one being Sastech in Paranaque.) Eternally grateful, I promised myself I’d give my all to these job, and I did. I worked hard and strove to be honest in everything.

Yet deep inside, I treated these BPO jobs as a stopgap measure. Secretly, I was still hoping I would be led someday to my dream job, the best fit for me.

It turned out that the only permanent job I could find for the long haul was nothing but that: one in the BPO sector, or more accurately KPO, knowledge process outsourcing, where we processed tons of information. I was stuck.

It was not exactly my dream job, but I thrived in the wisdom of second choices. "Who knows -- maybe this is where I am meant to be."

What’s more -- unlike many otherwise lucky souls, I could say I found a job out of my own steam, without relying on a backer or worse, paying my way through it. It’s worldly pride, it is true, but can you blame me for gloating?

I am not saying all jobs in all government agencies were (or are) being taken in that evil, pre-apportioned way, and apparently I believed that too, because I was hoping my early encounter with a string of bad luck was exactly just that, a string of bad luck.

Soon, there came a time in my working life when I finally I had the backers I needed at yet another big-name government agency, thanks to my good standing in the job market and in the community at large. But apparently I was looking for more misery, for the latest attempt proved to be the worst yet!

Long story short: In my panel interview, I was flatly told that the job positions were prioritized for children of regular employees and that I should be willing to risk a contractual position, with no guarantee of regularization after my contract ended.

Walking away with my head bowed, I took what they said as an insult. It was certainly a slap in the face of someone nearing the end of his 30s and coming from a supervisory position with a salary this much. I hated to be treated like a probee again; I would have been more satisfied with an objection to my advancing age.

The torment it brought me must have been intense, knowing how prone I was to resentment, bitterness, envy, and catastrophizing. It must have been a suffering that only the likes of Sister Faustina’s diary, St. Teresa de Avila’s Interior Castle, St. John of the Cross’s Ascent of Mt. Carmel, or St. Therese of Liseaux’s autobiography could console.  

But at this point, I have long completely forgiven everything, or so I hope. I hope I have freed up all my imagined offenders in God’s boundless ocean of mercy. Nevertheless, whether or not I am avenged now or will be doesn’t matter -- the damage has already been done. It was certainly not enjoyable to be treated like dirt in one’s own country by one’s own people.

If it’s any consolation, I thought that, at least, I was able to understand a lot of things more clearly now. I understood why Filipinos leave the country for work – seven commercial planes of them per day, or so I have read. I understood why Filipinos, most especially the young, are ever ready to switch nationalities.

I have become so understanding that I have even come to understand how fear of unemployment and poverty and one’s deep love for one’s family drive Filipinos to cling to such a practice. It led me to discover how Filipinos are selfish and selfless at the same time, selfless for their families but selfish when it comes to their country or the bigger community because of their families. (And I wasn’t the only one to discover such a “Family First” motto.)

(Come to think of it -- probably it, too, was easy for me to understand protectionism because I came of age right in the age of globalization, which made it possible for thousands of people my age to take on BPO jobs.)

Moreover, I have come to understand more fully that the Philippines can’t advance as a country and perhaps will never do unless there is a strong civic movement out there, founded out of genuine concern for others as a nation and as a people.

If understanding is good, then it must be because it leads to further analysis and hopefully correct diagnosis. I, therefore, thought further that maybe the dysfunction is the after-effect of postcolonial trauma, the phenomenon of self-destructiveness brought about by an enduring colonial mentality.

The trouble with this deeper level of understanding, however -- and the easy forgiveness that goes with it -- is the dismissiveness that often goes, wrongly, with forgiveness. How I wish we as a people would say, “Not so fast, Jose, let’s not sweep things under the rug just yet. Let’s act on the problem head-on, instead of putting it in a damp place where it is certain to be forgotten.

Fate has a way of avenging society’s sins against me, thankfully. Throughout my life in the only industrial sector that recognized whatever potential was residing in me, it was the KPO jobs – yes, a string of them, actually -- that sought me. They all came to me one after another, either by proximity, literally next-door opportunities waving at me, or someone on high actively plucking me out of the crowd for my writing service, for which, I guess, I got free advertisement by word of mouth. The KPO sector is far from perfect -- it has issues of injustice and abuse itself, but I will always give it credit for saving me thus.

The funny twist to this story is that most of my siblings got hired due to connections, due to the backer system I hated so much. Sibling A, after years of unemployment, found work at company A because of former co-workers who had transferred there. Sibling B found work in the same company because his big brother interceded for him (thank you, nepotism!). Sibling C got immediately accepted at his post at this university because his interviewer happened to be the former protégé of a priest my brother knew from way back in his old college campus. After a couple of misadventures, sibling D found a preferred position because a next-door neighbor happened to be a school principal. Her rare chance came as a succor after our aunt’s kind attempt to help, she who was a former teacher, failed.

(As a bonus, when my father was accused of a being a gambling lord by no less than his second cousin, he escaped the possibility of prison after an arresting policeman found out through the usual inquisition that he is related to my mother (perhaps as a distant relative or perhaps as a townmate -- I am not sure.)

As far as being avenged by fate is concerned, I believe I have reached my quota fourfold without me lifting a finger. I have also come to terms with the fact that the 'backer system' has a logic: People prefer to associate with those they know and trust.

But that’s not all. Because of my time in the KPO industry, I was also led to the unceasingly wonderful world of writing, a pursuit that brought me and pushes me to ever-unpredictable directions. Ironically, I never imagined writing as a profession or even a calling, but by and large, I ‘discovered’ writing this way -- it gave me enough audacity to give mainstream media and later, online media, a try. More accurately, I was forced into it until I chose to like it or love it, especially the "wisdom and the wonder" it offered (to quote someone).

Thank God then for connections, and I don’t mean Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or even JobsDB or Elance. 

Wait, there’s a catch, however. These days, I find myself again in that dreaded bitter spot: the uncertain state of joblessness. And for some strange reason, my lucky streak seems to have waned. It's as though all doors closed on me at exactly that point in my life I dread most. This time, there is zero consolation from the usual referrals and projects hovering around the corner or right next door, except for small-time opportunities to help tide me over.

But being even more understanding and even more forgiving at this point -- forgiving of myself and of the whole world, I hope to find my next job either way: either 100% through my own effort or the easier route of resorting to a backer, anyone willing to be my personal guarantor, to whom I would be eternally indebted.

There’s this one caveat, though: that I would never step on other toes, particularly the more qualified, or edge out those who came before me, because I know their pain first-hand.

I may have lost my faith in the country or in the job search, but I haven’t lost my taste for poetic justice. I still dream that, someday, the perverse gatekeeping system that keeps out the qualified but unconnected would be dismantled out of the sheer weight of its folly.

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