Our Filipino Overseas Workers, have turned out to be the backbone of our nation’s financial wealth and economic prosperity. However, the price paid by these Filipino Heroes have caused, for some families, major social and moral constraints or sad consequences.
Families have been compromised, children growing up without a father and/or mother. in some cases , the family became dysfunctional. With Prosperity, came the pain and sacrifice of OFWs; separated from their families, relatives and friends , which made them not only heroes , but patriots and martyrs.
It has been my observation , and done a random survey; concluding that, every Filipino family, there is probably one or two members that are overseas workers.
For example, my brother Fernando and his wife Lizel, who had to go to Spain in search of a better life, and opportunities. This difficult decision, was not only for them but the future of their children. Fernando and Lizel suffered numerous difficulties and hardships. Lizel, my sister-in-law, had a good job in Globe telecom, but she gave this up, to be united with her husband and children.
The pain of adjustment and suffering, went on for several years. They tried to learn the Spanish culture, customs and language better. Only after 7 years, did Lizel adjust. She became confident with her job as a well sought-after English teacher and tutor. Fernando, on the other hand, started as a kitchen helper, in a restaurant in Madrid. He learned to cook and developed his skills. Unfortunately, the employers became very selective and required only licensed cooks, because of stiff competition by the unemployed. There is about 27% unemployment rate, due to Spain’s poor economy. Now Fernando and Lizel moved to La Rioja, Spain, were the cost of living is less than Madrid.
This past March 25, 2013, Metrobank Research said remittance flows have not shown any signs of slowing down as they almost reached $1.7 billion in January, and that the 8-percent year-on-year increase is the fastest growth for that month since 2010.
This year the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), formerly known CRC and respected as the Dean of Research, published an extensive book research entitled “Working Overseas, Diaspora that Sustains the Nation”.
Overseas Contract Workers (OFW’s) was previously called Contract workers for the Middle East during the mid-80’s, since most Filipinos worked there. The Political and Economic Turmoil caused by the Aguino Assassination in 1983 led hundreds of thousands Filipinos to find jobs all around the world. Filipinos found work mostly in Taiwan and the Middle East, and during that time the contract workers were unnoticed and neglected.
The Gulf War of 1990, ironically, saw the importance of the Contract Workers to the economy of the Philippine Government. Our poor and helpless Filipino workers, forced to flee Kuwait, had no jobs and lost their hard earn money. The government’s economic woe’s was added by the huge drop in remittances and the cost of relocating displaced workers.
A classic example is the case of one of my staff who was originally accepted to work as a Computer Teacher at Kuwait University. He was spared of the horrors of war, but lost the opportunity to earn thousands of dollars with superb benefits. After being jobless for 6 months, he accepted working , in a small training center , for $800. Still, the salary was good since he was young, single, and had no choice. This is the sad reality of an OFW life. Outside the employment contract, he was obliged to do multiple jobs 6-days a week, 12 hours a day,with erratic time for meals. A late lunch at say, 2 pm and dinner at 11 pm . Because, of the different time schedules and “over-tawad” (unpaid overtime). He never got a raise , and always got transferred from one flat to another, with no support whenever from their British or American expat Boss. Like any other Filipinos, he was discriminated upon.
Eventually he got married, but lost his daughter. His painful fate, went down further, when he was sent to jail by envious co-workers. He didn’t even get a fair trial, or had due process. Making things worst, he got no support from, relatives, siblings and in-laws.
Guided by Prayer, He used his courage, wits and guts to survive. Eventually, He had to bribe the Jail Guards with cigarettes, food and cash which he got from friends all over the world. Soon after, he was Released from prison. Just to end up with no place to stay, so, he slept on the streets, braving the cold weather, cruelty of people, and in desperation , he found help from a good samaritan, local citizens. Sad to say, he got no help, from the Philippine Embassy or his ” kababayans”.
Our OFW staff, finally found a kind heart and support of a high-ranking friend in the government, he was sent home with his passport and nothing else. Poor man now, broken, thin, hungry, unkempt and bewildered OFW , returns to his home- land… kissing the floor of his country, with constant gratitude and thanksgiving to God.
OFWs are now dubbed as the new heroes of the Philippine economy. Currently they are receiving numerous praises, word of thanks and featured in internet blogs or news write-ups. The OWWA and other government agencies developed and presented scholarships, livelihood programs and even established an annual award to honor its most distinguished OFWs. But the majority remain unknown… Forgotten.
In a simple statement, OFWs provide Social and Economic Sustainability to the Philippine Economy and to Filipino Households.
The benefits of remittances to the Philippine Economy cannot be overemphasized. Based on research and data given by UA&P, BSP and POEA, remittances as of 2010 reached a staggering USD 18.8 million.
In a comparative note, 2009 remittances came in 2nd with $17.3Billion, after electronic product exports of the Philippines reach at $2.2B. However $14B worth of materials and components for the production of electronic products was needed. Technically speaking, it makes OFW remittances as the number one source of dollar reserves.
Neda (NPPS) Director Rosemarie Edillon cited the importance of remittances. He said “the one of the biggest reasons why the country cannot do without OFW remittances is its important role of promoting inclusive growth or economic growth that trickles down to the masses. OFW remittances is a significant source of human capital development since remittances goes straight to households. These remittance inflows are used to address various household needs such as food, shelter, and education. In some households, remittances are also used as investments in entrepreneurial pursuits and technology transfers.”
Honorable Bansan C. Choa, former PRBRES Board Member, Chairman and CEO of iRemit, provided us with first-hand data about the remittance behavior of OFW’s. He said that this year alone (Jan – Aug 2013), iRemit remittances reached $881,895 compared to $759, 394 of last year.
The company’s yearly remittance of 2011 and 2012 amounted to $1,188,163, $1,006,698 respectively and the average amount per remittance is $421.78 (2013) and $397.55 (2012).
Mr. Bansan, voted as an outstanding CEO, said in the 2010 issue of BizNews Asia, “The Filipinos working abroad actually sends $60 billion a year — enough to pay the Philippine foreign debt of exactly the same amount”.
He added “Great efforts must be exerted by the government and the private sector to help OFW’s and their families make better use of remittances by building up savings and directing these into investments in Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) that in turn can generate more jobs. In doing so, OFWs can participate meaningfully in the Philippine economic development”.
In simple terms, the huge remittances create a positive domino effect. Higher salaries means more remittances; Increased profits for banks and remittance centers; deeper cash reserves; very liquid cash flow; bigger spending for food, clothing, housing, gadgets and for the more industrious OFW’s, investments in the real estate, SME’s (Small-Medium Enterprises), agriculture and livestock.
Everyone is looking at the financial and economic side. I agree if the statistics shown above is based on the assumption that a normal OFW is earning at least $400 dollars and are given bonuses, housing, transportation, food and other benefits.
Again, based on the research by UA&P and collaborated by my staff, there are several concerns that need to be addressed. Numerous violations are repeatedly done to the undocumented and documented OFWs.
The Areas of Concern are: Physical, verbal and sexual abuse; Average working hours per week is from 100-108; Irregularities in contract/contract violations; Underpayment; Job Insecurity; Rest days; Passport confiscation or retention and Eating and Housing Arrangement.
In spite of stringent measures being done by government and legitimate overseas placement agencies, our heroes are still victims of either one or all of the concerns mentioned above.
Economic Experts, Legislators and even the BIR agree with the importance of the remittances. So what have the government done to protect the OFWs?
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said that that POEA’s fees appeared to be too high, noting that a first-time OFW would have to pay around P6,120, while only P2,417 for a returning OFW.
BIR Chief, Kim Henares, despite her controversial tax measures, proved a point when she said that under the tax code, an OFWs salary from abroad is not subject to income tax although earnings from businesses or properties within the Philippines are subject to tax.
But Boo Chanco said “I realize that OFWs are our modern heroes and all. Without them and the foreign exchange they send home, will be in a worse economic shape. But it seems to me that exempting them from income tax is the wrong way of recognizing their positive contribution to the motherland. We may even be depriving them of the opportunity to be complete heroes by helping out where they are most needed now. Let us look at it this way. The biggest problem of government today is the yawning budget deficit. They can scrimp and implement all the creative austerity measures they can think of but they will still not be able to raise the public funds needed to carry out all the poverty alleviation measures needed today”.
Our hard-working Overseas Filipino Workers, beyond doubt are sustaining the Philippine economy and we should all join hands to give them due recognition, honor, and return the favor.
My suggestion, is that the Recipient of remittances should spend the hard earned money on basic commodities like food, clothing, and housing and on profitable investments like housing and real estate, agriculture, small and medium businesses, not on excesses, gambling and immoral, extra-curricular activities.
As for the Pork Barrel Scam, I would like to quote my former professor Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas. Last Sept 29, He said “There is also nothing wrong in part of these PADF money being channeled to legitimate non-governmental organizations (NGOs) if in the judgment of the appropriate authorities, these NGOs are in a better position to implement projects more wisely and expeditiously”.
We give thanks to our Overseas Filipino Workers, and they are not just conquering the world but spreading the Faith, giving good example of our Filipino Values and Expanding of our race, with population growth … ” people power” !
GOD BLESS, the Heroes of Our Economy, our O.F.Ws.
Working Overseas: Diaspora that Sustains the Nation Book by: UA&P
Philippine Overseas Employment Administration: POEA
Kabalikat ng Migranteng Pilipino, Inc. (KAMPI)