TWO recent developments in the Middle East and in the global economy persuade us to recommend that the government—including both the executive and the legislative—should now conduct a strategic review of the Philippine overseas workers program.
These developments are:
First, the recent fire at a hotel in the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, which killed 19 people, 14 of whom were Filipinos.
The frequency of OFWs being caught in disasters and succumbing to acts of violence and abuse and tragedy, has become now too pronounced for comfort or complacency.
Across the world, many OFWs await execution for crimes committed or just alleged; many have been harmed and victimized at work. The litany of grief is long. The government is always overmatched whenever dislocation or disaster occurs.
Contraction of OFW work force
The second development that causes alarm is the rising repatriation and layoffs of OFWs in Middle East countries that have been severely affected by the dramatic fall of crude oil prices. As oil revenues have fallen, these countries are less able to host or keep many of our workers.
The prognosis is such that our country must now plan for the steady contraction of our OFW work force, and a consequent reduction of OFW remittances.
At the same time that the OFW work force is contracting, the government has not been successful in its re-entry program for OFWs. Many returning workers have great difficulty finding jobs here at home. Local companies won’t open their doors to them. Many OFWs complain bitterly that the administration of President Aquino has turned its back on them after being forced to accept their status of honor as our nation’s modern-day heroes. That status was first proclaimed by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. And the landlord of Hacienda Luisita has always seemed to disdain the poor, powerless and socially inferior. This disdain is somehow visible in his facial and body language whenever he has to deal with OFWs in some ceremony or another.
Since its introduction under President Ferdinand Marcos, the Overseas Contract Worker program, with its huge generation of remittances to the homeland, has evolved to become an indispensable component of the national eeconomy, contributing as much as $25-$27 billion a year, larger than any single industry. The remittances have become a lifeline for most OFW families and the communities where they live. They have helped to found modest businesses for OFW families. They have funded the real estate boom.
PH: a diabetic on OFW remittances
Precisely because of its success, in an insidious way also, the income from OFWs is so vital that the country has become dependent on it annually. The country is like a diabetic. The government would go nuts if the OFW faucet were to suddenly run dry.
All these form the compelling rationale in our view, for the nation to start a comprehensive and strategic review of the OFW program.
This is a task for serious managers and statesmen.
We need better solutions for the problems that have arisen. We need to have a continuous and sustained effort to improve the lot of OFWS, to save more lives, and to assist their families here at home. The bandaid approach to employment-generationis not working.
A strategic review is key to understanding the full contours of the problems. A strategic review will lead to developing strategies and solutions that will benefit the OFWs and the nation.
The bottom line should be this: The OFW program is too effective and valuable to the nation for it to be left to the mercies of chance and time.
We have to think strategically about this challenge.
The time to act is now, not tomorrow.