OVERSEAS Filipinos number 10.2 million as of 2013, per the global mapping done by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. Filipinos are the country’s number one export. The labor export policy started in the “mid-1970s, when rising oil prices caused a boom in contract migrant labor in the Middle East. The government of President Ferdinand Marcos, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, saw an opportunity to export young men left unemployed by the stagnant economy and established a system to regulate and encourage labor outflows.”
This system, which continues today, “has both a private and public component. On the private side, licenses were issued to Philippine-based agencies to recruit labor for employers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other destinations. On the public side, the government established the agency that would later become the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), in order to provide contract labor directly to foreign employers, maritime agencies, and governments. The changes had the effect of bringing the work of Filipinos abroad under the authority of the Philippine government. Whether recruited privately or by the government agency, workers and recruiters enter into a contract that is enforceable under Philippine laws.”
What appears not to have changed is the kind of assistance offered by Philippine embassies with the increased deployment of Filipino workers abroad. In traditional problematic areas, diplomatic posts are not able to respond to the issues affecting Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Legal services are not made readily available to OFWs, most especially the undocumented ones. Often, our embassies or consular offices are the last to know of a death, maltreatment or commitment to jail. And this is where reform has been wanting.
The total cash remittances sent home by overseas Filipino workers “rose 4.3 percent to a record $28.1 billion last year, according to data that Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). It is projected to increase by 4 percent this year.”
In a recent survey by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) covering the period April to September 2016, the total remittances sent by OFWs was “estimated at P203billion. These remittances included cash sent home (P146 billion), cash brought home (P45.7 billion) and remittances in kind (P11.1 billion). The majority of OFWs sent their remittances through banks (60.3percent) while the rest through agencies or local offices (2.4 percent), door-to-door delivery (1.2 percent), friends or co-workers (0.3 percent) or through other means (35.8 percent). The remittances sent by OFWs to their respective families may just be a part of the total salary received by the OFWs.” Today, we have an OFW bank.
Of the total cash remittances sent by OFWs, the “remittance sent by elementary occupations comprised the biggest share at 21.9 percent, or P31.9 billion, or an average remittance of P48,000 per OFW who is an unskilled worker. The total remittances of OFWs working in Asia, comprising 85 percent of all OFWs, accounted for 79.5 percent of the total. From other countries, the percentage shares are as follows, Europe (8.8 percent), North and South Africa (7.3 percent), Australia (2.2 percent) and Africa (2.1 percent).”
Per the PSA, the number of OFWs who worked abroad at anytime during the period April to September 2016 was “estimated at 2.2 million. Overseas Contract Workers (OCWs), or those with existing work contracts, comprised 97.5 percent of the total OFWs during the period April to September 2016. The rest (2.5 percent) worked overseas without contract.”
There were more females than males among the OFWs, with the “female OFWs comprising 53.6 percent of the total. Female OFWs were generally younger than male OFWs, with more than two-thirds (67.8 percent) of the female OFWs belonging to the 25-39 age group. By comparison, male OFWs in this age group made up 57.4 percent. Male OFWs aged 45 years and older accounted for 23.9 percent of all male OFWs while their female counterparts in this age group made up 13.8 percent. Among occupation groups, elementary occupations (34.5 percent) comprised the largest group followed by those who worked as service and sales workers (19 percent), plant and machine operators and assemblers (12.8 percent), and craft and related trades workers (11.6 percent).”
Calabarzon reported the “biggest share of OFWs with 21 percent, followed by National Capital Region and Central Luzon with 12.9 percent and 12.7 percent, respectively. Forty-seven percent of the total OFWs came from these three regions. Meanwhile, Cordillera Administrative Region reported the least share of OFWs at 1.8 percent. Saudi Arabia continued to be the leading destination of OFWs. About one in every four (23.8 percent) OFWs worked in this country during the period April to September 2016. The other preferred destinations were the United Arab Emirates (15.9 percent), Europe (6.6 percent), Kuwait (6.4 percent), and Qatar (6.2 percent).”
What do these numbers mean? Remittances keep the country afloat year-to-year. The Department of Foreign Affairs can give more protection to Filipinos just by looking at remittances and markets and this means a strong legal defense network for OCWs without distinguishing if one is documented or not. For undocumented workers, the solution is to rein in the anomalous activities of placement agencies, an old issue needing a quick solution under PRRD. Filipino families are broken because more mothers leave home to work abroad. Elementary occupations carry the burden for the nation. The Middle East is a major destination for Filipino workers. Consequently, the Kuwait ban ordered by PRRD showed to all that the Philippines can immobilize an economy dependent on Filipino contract workers. The Duterte administration should renew efforts to put in place covenants with these countries importing Filipino workers.
Flor Contemplacion (Singapore), Romilyn Ergy Ibañez (Saudi Arabia), Mark Culata (Saudi Arabia), Arlene Rivera (the first murder in Kuwait), Lourdes Hingco Abejuela (Kuwait) and others. Today, we read about Joanna Demafelis whose body was found inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment. Apparently, she had been in that state for almost a year.
It’s one thing to talk and promote political sound bites. It’s another to act and act with firmness to defend Filipinos abroad. The Kuwait ban is a new foreign policy approach to countries hosting OFWs. With PRRD around, things are not as it used to be for all Filipinos. We are today on an equal footing with the host nations. The Kuwait ban serves as a strong message to all. Mess with Filipinos, you mess with Duterte.