Rethinking Labor Export Policy

In the past months, the Philippines experienced challenging international occurrences with local implications. Egypt took to the streets their long-held pains about President Hosni Mubarak‘s government. Libya did something similar against Col. Muammar Gaddafi  albeit with a different result. Taiwan got tough with the Philippine government‘s decision of deporting fourteen Chinese or Taiwanese, depending on whom you ask, to mainland China thus suspending visa-free privileges for Filipinos with Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., U.S. and Schengen Area visas and imposing stricter policies in the acceptance of Filipino workers.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia halted acceptance of Filipino Household Service Workers as a protest against  a “reform package” the Philippines instituted to better the lot of HSWs abroad. China executed three Filipino drug mules despite a love offering of 14 fraud criminals. Japan got hit with a triple super combo.

Then just days ago, the Philippine Government urged some 17,000 Filipinos in Syria to leave the country amid escalating hostilities.

The above events all had one common thread for the Philippines- Overseas Filipino Workers.

With very little resources ready for consumption, the Philippines was caught unawares in the desperate effort of protecting its best export- people. This sentence may also be stated to read- …in the desperate effort of protecting its top overseas investment- labor. With US$18.7 billion inward remittance in 2010, this remains to be a bright spot in Philippine economy. However, recent events present a different insight to this labor export policy.

The Philippine economy depends so much on OFW remittances. Although the government, through the Department of Budget and Management announced the sufficiency of funds to support distressed OFWs, repatriating and supporting Filipinos abroad will never be enough. The PhP13 billion OFW trust fund will never be enough. The DFA Assistance to Nationals fund of PhP187.8 million will never be enough. Notwithstanding such funds, Filipinos abroad will still suffer. Filipinos abroad will still get caught in the crossfire. They will still be executed, killed. It is too often wished that they may never come home in boxes.

There must be a way to keep Filipinos in their homeland. The Philippines must find a way to keep her nationals out of harm’s way. Because, in the first place, they should have never left their country. It was inadequacy that pushed them away. Such inadequacy must be addressed. Hopefully sooner, not later. The moment OFWs suffer, the whole country suffers with them.

Filipinos are united by OFWs. They are a soft spot in every Filipino’s heart. It is time to start bringing them home. But how?

Banyan, in an article for The Economist wrote, ” So, remittances will continue to be the chief bright spot for the Philippines, whose domestic economic affairs are coloured by corruption, sloth and poor governance. Still, actively exporting your best and brightest is hardly the best long-term policy.” University of the Philippines Economics Professor Ernesto M. Pernia is of the opinion that the country is better off strengthening its domestic economy to make employment abroad merely an option and no longer a necessity. He suggests that the government should design policies to spur economic growth rather than simply relying on remittances.

In the meantime, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Chief, Atty. Carlos Cao Jr. will be very busy defending a US$400 HSW minimum monthly salary before the Saudis, who do not think that our workers’ services are worth that much. Pordios!

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