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.


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