AN important qualification: The following quote was widely attributed to presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda in the social media Sunday night, but as of mid-morning Monday I was unable to find a reliable (as in, non-social media) source for it.
In response to the firestorm of invectives being hurled at the Administration over the plan of the Bureau of Customs to impose additional taxes and random inspections on “balikbayan boxes,” Lacierda is reported to have said, “Hindi naman sa gobyerno napupunta ang ipinapadalang dolyar ng mga OFW’s kaya hindi ito nararamdaman direkta sa ekonomiya ng bansa.”
Or in (approximate) English, “Dollar remittances from OFW’s do not directly affect the country’s economy.”
Now again, not having found a source I can be comfortable with to confirm that statement, if Atty. Lacierda denies having said that, I would feel professionally obliged to point that out.
But you were thinking it, weren’t you, Ed? Oh yes you were. After all, you’re one of the mouthpieces for a president who famously claimed in one of his otherwise-forgettable “the Philippines is open for business” speeches that “Filipinos look for work overseas because they want to, not because there aren’t job opportunities here.”
No wonder BOC chief Bert Lina feels he can get away with profiling OFWs as smugglers and direct his minions to randomly pillage tiny shipments of household consumables. As far as the Aquino Administration is concerned, OFWs are an imposition; they unnecessarily create a need for additional government attention because they’re selfish and not willing to express their patriotism through struggling to make ends meet with jobs on five-month contracts that pay less than minimum wage.
This economy, not to put too fine a point on it, would collapse if it were not for OFW remittances. According to statistics released by the BSP just last week, through the first six months of this year, cash remittances—remittances that are coursed through banks—totaled $12.08 billion, or P562.7 billion at the current exchange rate. Total remittances over the semester were about $13.37 billion. So far this year, remittances are about 5.5 percent higher than last year; the full-year total for 2014 was just short of $27 billion, of which $24.34 billion accounted for bank-routed cash remittances. The total remittances last year were the equivalent of 9.95 percent of GDP, and a little less than half of the entire national budget.
There are only two uses for remittances once they arrive in the Philippines: The greater amount of them is spent more or less immediately, for housing, utilities, school tuition, food, clothing, entertainment, new cars, and cell phone load, all things that result in paychecks for other people, business revenues that produce more goods and services, and tax revenues for the government. The part of remittances that is not spent right away becomes savings deposits, funds that allow banks to extend credit to households and businesses, generate interest income, and are later used by the depositors for large-scale spending such as investing in a small business, or buying a house.
But apparently none of that directly affects the economy.
It’s actually irrelevant whether Lacierda made that statement or not; the policy actions of the Aquino Administration over the past five years speak louder than any incoherent words he can manage to string together in a sentence. OFWs, as far as President BS Aquino 3rd is concerned, are at best an annoying imposition on the government, a noisy but otherwise inconsequential part of the population that can be safely disregarded.
Throughout history, responding to a torch- and pitchfork-wielding mob forming outside the gates of the Palace with a dare has generally never had a good result; just ask Anastacio Somoza or Muammar Khadafy how that worked out. Oh wait, you can’t, because they’re dead.
Nobody in their right mind wants it to come to that, but neither would anyone in their right mind tempt the wrath of 13 million OFWs and their families who make up a third or more of the entire population of the country. The BOC plan to molest balikbayan boxes may be the worst affront to OFWs under the Aquino regime, but it is only the latest one – whether or not it is the one that has finally pushed the people beyond the limits of their tolerance remains to be seen. If it is, the damage to the Philippines’ social and economic fabric could be incalculable. If the government has any sense at all, they should start backing water now, and hope they still have the strength to fight the current carrying them toward the edge of the falls – get Bert Lina out of the BOC and put him somewhere he can’t do any harm, reassure everyone that the sanctity of balikbayan boxes will be respected, and offer many, many apologetic thank yous to OFWs for having such a positive direct effect on the economy.