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.


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