Do Bilogs1 persist due to their detection avoidance tactics (agency) or because the current regime allows it (complicity)? This paper presents case studies of current and previous Filipino irregular migrant workers in Japan, showing how their continued existence in the host country depends on a number of factors including their own innovative tactics, shielding and protection from the local ethnic community, selective utilization and exploitation by vested local interests and unofficially cooperating law enforcement entities.
A number of variables define the degree to which migrant agency juxtaposed within the context of regime complicity result in the Bilog’s survival.
Bilog labor is not only very cheap; it is unrelenting and completely predictable: if the job pays, the job is taken – work conditions, duration, location, benefits, even safety are considered but quickly disregarded. Differentiating the Bilog from other workers, local or legal, is his control of his tenure – which is none, as he can be arrested anytime – thus defining the premium afforded each and every work opportunity. While Bilog employers can be argued to be opportunistic, under threat of global competition or struggling to cope with the effects of economic cycles, the complex sub-contracting system – multiple levels in depth – renders employer sanctions benign and workforce agility the paramount consideration in business survival. The economic variable is key yet insufficient to explain Bilog perseverance.
Bilogs avoid policemen but know it is the immigration officer in plainclothes that is the real scourge. That certain times of the year and certain annual events are open season for arrests is common knowledge. Bilogs are apprehended by local policemen but subsequently released without being sent to immigration. A conflicted coherence in Japan’s multiculturalism thrusts, on one hand, and immigration control restrictions, on the other hand, becomes more pronounced as on-the-ground implementation is interpreted differently at the Prefecture level. The political/bureaucracy variable clarifies some questions, yet leaves more unanswered.
Do migrants exercise independent agency or do structural conditions shape their response?