Wednesday, July 25, 2007

OFW issues need holistic solution

We got some heartfelt reactions about the issue on our Overseas Filipino Workers last column. Here's one from Tony Jarque. I've threaded together his three emails.

I am an ex-OFW, having worked in Saudi Arabia for more than 20 years.

Being one of the stakeholders, it always interests me to read any article about OFWs like what you wrote in (last) Saturday's edition of Manila Times.

There are so many reasons why people have to work abroad but mainly due to financial reasons. It is not that there are no jobs available here in the Philippines, but like me, being a mechanical engineer by profession, I was lured by the relatively higher income when I work overseas.

Then my family's standard of living is raised as soon as I became a dollar earner. Also, as soon as one earns more, the family ties become extended so overseas job, which is supposed to be temporary in nature, becomes almost permanent. OFWs maybe likened to those who are in self-exile as such they are not only the new heroes of the land; they are living martyrs.

While facts and figures about the OFWs are quite revealing, what is more important is what we can do to help them in their reintegration, in coming home soon enough. We owe them so much, considering that their remittances keep our economy afloat.

People think that OFWs and their families are better off because of the relatively higher income they get from working abroad, but most people are not aware that more problems are created due to distant relationships. We need to find a more holistic approach in solving migration problems.

We cannot continuously discuss the flight of the OFWs and yet do not contribute to finding solutions to their woes. Accusing the government of not doing their share does not help either.

Based on my experience, I know that the key to coming home is lowering one's lifestyle. When I resigned from a good and high-paying job in Saudi three years back, my colleagues there told me, "Nakahiga ka na sa kama, bakit gugustuhin mo pang bumalik sa banig? Bakit parang inaayawan ko ang suwerte."

But now I can ask them, sino kaya ang mas suwerte sa amin, ako na nakauwi na o sila na nandoon pa?

OFWs need financial literacy to teach them how to manage their money effectively, they have psycho-social problems, some have marital problems, their children are brought up by single parenting.

At present i am connected with an NGO Economic Resource Center for Overseas Filipinos ( Our main program is to harness the potential of migrant remittances for the development of local economies.

I am also about to start an IT learning center here in our hometown Jagna, Bohol as I see internet as a great leveler. IT learning should be brought from the cities to the countryside and be made community-based.

I always say that a poor country and consumer economy coupled with exposure to western culture is a very bad combination. Lately, we went into sachet economy and now microfinance is the talk of the town. For me that is a bad combination too. Please allow me to explain.

With microfinance, the entrepreneurial poor are given capital for their micro-entrepreneurs. While there is nothing wrong about that, however, it only covers one side of the equation – the supply side. So granting that the income of these entrepreneurial poor increases, it only fuels consumerism further. With sachet economy, even non-essentials become affordable. Just look at the TV commercials dominated by shampoos. So where does this end up? The rich (capitalists) becomes richer and the poor, poorer. The income of the poor people are only being siphoned up and the gap between the haves and the have nots widen.

Living a frugal life in a consumer society is a tough one. I have heard poor people say, "If I have the resources, living a frugal life only means I have to continually deprive myself." I believe this is the dilemma that most OFWs have.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

OFWs: heroes or hostage to fortune?

I received many beautiful birthday gifts last month from my best friend forever, Georgina Camacho, who has very snugly settled in Carson, California, USA, with her own home and an exciting job as paralegal in a large and prestigious law firm, Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP.

Among others, we took a cruise from Long Beach to Catalina Island to Ensenada, Mexico, and back to Los Angeles. It was the first time I ever sailed in a big ship. Before that, I only enjoyed small boat and ferry rides. I much prefer air or surface travel.

There were so many Filipinos working with Carnival Paradise, mostly with the band, technical, restaurants and housekeeping departments. Out of the goodness of her heart, Gina so generously tipped them every step of the way because we discovered that they depend one hundred percent on tips for income. They do not receive any salary at all, not a single penny. They even shoulder the cost of their air travel to and from the port of embarkation.

Since Filipinos are natural service giver, they receive a monthly average of US$1,000 in gratuities. They work continuously for six to nine months; then, are sent home to rest for 3 months with an option to go back.

I remember talking to a number of Filipino maids working in Taipei receiving a monthly wage of the equivalent of US$200-300. They work continuously for two to three years. They shoulder their own airfare, pay a placement fee to the recruitment agency here and pay a monthly fee to the recruitment agency in Taipei.

Our heroes—our Overseas Filipino Workers—are, indeed, doing a lot of sacrifices not only to keep their family alive but more so to prop up our economy and even help it grow. Aside from all those hallelujahs we liberally heaped on them, what else are we doing for them?

Not much, if you ask them, especially now that their earnings have gone down since the peso has appreciated considerably. But they go back to their work again and again because there is no gainful work back home.

In Chapter 11 of his new orange book, The Philippine Economy: Do our leaders have a clue?, author Rey Angles writes the economics of sending Filipinos to work overseas.

"When after a long journey abroad they must come home in the end, the OFW has aged, has lost touch with friends, associations and connections, and is now clueless on how he must begin his new life and find work.

"The second point of view belongs to the government and the media who are keenly sanguine about the increasing volume of remittances sent in the economy by an increasing number of OFWs leaving the country.

"Our skilled workers and managers are leaving us in great numbers and, like the players of the basketball team we trained so hard to man our court, are leaving us to play for our competitors.

"It gladdens the heart that our skilled people continue to find greater opportunities in foreign lands. However, it saddens the heart that local industries can't give them work. It saddens the heart that their departure will further impair the already devastated local industries. It is saddening the government is looking only at dollar remittances and has totally ignored the loss of skilled workers and managers in our factories, offices and institutions. It is even more gravely saddening that the government has no plans to how the OFWs can be won back to return and work in our economy.

"Sending our best source of competitive advantage to work for our competitors abroad will remain the strongest proof of the mismanagement of the economy."

In researching the facts and figures for his book, Rey found out that the POEA does not have stock estimates of overseas Filipinos for 2005 and 2006. Neither does it give any rough estimate of the number of Filipinos abroad under permanent, temporary and irregular status who are working or who are employable.

Every Filipino , especially the young and those with entrepreneurial interests, should read Rey's orange book to be able to argue intelligently about the economic realities and indicators that should make a difference in our life, individually and collectively as a nation.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Awesome natural and manmade wonders

thefreedictionary,com defines awesome as "inspiring or expressing awe; outstanding, remarkable." Its synonyms are "impressive, breathtaking, humbling, amazing and awful."

Awesome! is how North Americans have let alone their natural wonders and developed their tourism industry around them. Awesome is the way they created other tourists attractions. Awesome is how they take care of the needs of their visitors and make the experience memorable for everyone.

Awesome is the way they take care of the physically and mentally challenged, the very young, the very old and the diverse interests of each visitor. For example, there are drinking fountains of varying heights to quench the thirst of different-built and different-able visitors.

Awesome is the way those involved in the planning, organizing, controlling, leading and operating of every nook and cranny of these facilities do their job with careful attention to details and customer satisfaction.

The Niagara Falls – awesome! "The Niagara River, as is the entire Great Lakes Basin of which the river is an integral part, is a legacy of the last Ice Age. It straddles the Canadian-United States International Border and both in the Province of Ontario and the State of New York. At the bottom of the falls, the water travels 15 miles over many gorges until it reaches the fifth Great Lake-Ontario. It is only the second largest falls on earth; yet, it attracts some 12 million tourists to her majestic awesome beauty each year."

Town of Niagara on the Lake – awesome! It is a lovely and quaint little town that has preserved its traditions and heritage as it attracts hordes of tourists. Until recently and for the longest time, it was led by Mayor Ricardo Viola, a Filipino immigrant.

The Grand Canyon – awesome! "It is more than a great chasm carved over millennia through the rocks of the Colorado Plateau. It is a gift from past generations. Its beauty and size humbles us. Its timelessness provokes a comparison to our short existence. In its vast spaces we may find solace from our hectic lives."

The vintage Grand Canyon Railway and the old-fashioned City of Williams – awesome! "The Railway was the lifeline to Grand Canyon National Park in the early 20th century. The historic train almost faded into history itself when passenger service to Grand Canyon National Park stopped in 1968 as train travel gave way to the popularity of automobile travel. But like any legend it refused to die."

Lake Mead, Lake Havasu, London Bridge and Hoover Dam – awesome! "The lakes cater to boaters, swimmers, sunbathers, and fishermen while its desert rewards hikers, wildlife photographers, and roadside sightseers. It is also home to thousands of desert plants and animals, adapted to survive in an extreme place where rain is scarce and temperatures soar. In 1962, London Bridge was falling down. Built in 1831, the bridge couldn't handle the ever-increasing flow of traffic across the Thames River. The British government decided to put the bridge up for sale, and Robert McCulloch, Founder of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and Chairman of McCulloch Oil Corporation, submitted the winning bid of $2,460,000. The bridge was dismantled, and each stone was numbered. Everything was shipped 10,000 miles to Long Beach, California, and then trucked to Lake Havasu City. Hoover Dam is the highest and largest hydro projects in the USA."

Las Vegas – awesome and awful! The artistic man-made attractions and the hugeness of most everything dazzle. The Society of Seven and Lani Misalucha have found a nurturing home and appreciative and adoring audience in Flamingo Hotel.

Disneyland and Universal Studios – awesome! They afford an opportunity to be young again and to be happy, just happy.

The residence of Valerie and David Spong in Palos Verdes – awesome! An unobstructed view of the sea, moonlit evenings and natural air conditioning are just three of its plusses. On a clear day, Catalina Island, Long Beach and San Diego are within sight.

The state of local tourism industry – awful! We have awesome natural wonders like Pagsanjan Falls, Boracay, Chocolate Hills to mention a few and equally awesome man-made attractions like Ambuklao Dam, Banaue Rice Terraces, and others. Let's enliven our seemingly sleepy tourism industry. Also, let us reform our tourist companies and guides.