The business pages of Oct. 16 carried two stories – seemingly routine – but nonetheless retold the grandest stories of this generation. The first said that the OFW remittances for an eight-month period ending August totaled $15.5 billion. The second was that the BPO jobs breached the 1 million mark just recently.
Plus the obvious thing that would follow: total revenue of the BPO sector is expected to reach the $25 billion level in 2016. Or, we hope, in the perfectly understandable usage of Vic Sotto, the “betterer” scenario of $26 billion in 2016.
The most awesome thing–the government does not tell the public about this–is that the surging OFW remittances comes at very little cost to the government. The POEA is a “low maintenance” agency and the fees it collect are more than enough to pay for its operations. The OWWA does not need subsidies unlike most of the GOCCs or government-owned and -controlled corporations. Hardly any infrastructure build up is required to boost the OFW demand. The TESDA, which is more important to the national economy than most frontline departments, is barely given attention and support.
In contrast, the much-hyped economic roadshows staged by the country’s economic managers yield very little or yield nothing at all. The FDI of the country is still the most pitiful in the region. And Vietnam, just a few decades from a brutal war, is better at attracting foreign direct investments than us. This is in direct contrast to labor promotion and marketing. The agencies contracting foreign employers need no roadshows. The recruiters (both the foreign principals and their local agencies) thrive here because of a willing and dedicated pool of workers ready for overseas deployment.
On the BPO sector, the Philippines’ cheap but talented technical talent is the reason overseas companies offshore/outsource jobs here. Example: A NCC, or a support staff in the network department of BPOs, is paid roughly $45,000 to $50,000 a year in the US. Here, the best and the most dedicated NCC staff – most probably a cum laude in applied physics with nowhere to go – can be had for a monthly salary of only P25,000 to P40,000 (or about $620 to $1,000) a month. There is no reason BPOs will not relocate here.
Now, it is also a given that there are two sectors among regular income earners that are engaged in “conspicuous consumption” on a sustained basis. These are the OFW families and the BPO workers. The combined spending of the two guarantees that income is pumped into the mainstream to ensure demand for houses, cars, appliances and basic foodstuff. The dreaded economic condition called “the paradox of thrift” does not take place here, what with the willingness – giddiness even – of the OFW families and BPO workers to spend.
While it is true that workers from the Greater Central Luzon area are more aggressive in getting OFW jobs, it is also true that OFWs are generated from across all regions in the country. Not one region in the country is unrepresented in the overseas diasporas of Filipino workers.
A decent GDP growth of 6 to 7 percent a year, this is the reality, does not need a superhuman effort from our leaders, or from a president for that matter. The two sectors alone – OFWs and the BPO sector – have been injecting impossible levels of dynamism into the economy on a sustained basis. Decent growth is the net result.
With, in addition, the gains from the patrimony, mining and tourism, even a lazy, middling president can post a 6 to 7 percent GDP growth without really trying. We can classify tourism under patrimony as tourists come here for the sights. Tourism infrastructure is an infant thing and tourism promotion consists of plagiarizing old slogans from the yore.
So when you hear President Aquino tell the nation on how the national economy has been shining bright like the economic star of the region under his administration, do not take him too seriously. He is just doing what all presidents do – tout their accomplishments and present their better side, even imaginary, bogus ones. It is the duty of every president and administration to say exclusively good things about itself.
A double-digit growth rate will be impressive. But a growth rate of 6 to 7 percent a year is expected under the circumstances.
What undergirds the strength of the economy is the sacrifices of our workers, not Mr. Aquino’s hectoring on integrity. The Filipino workers in the overseas diasporas labor under a condition of extreme loneliness and homesickness. Yet, they carry on. The BPOs workers mostly work night shift, battle with routine work and boredom, plus obesity and the like. They, too, carry on.
When the US and the rest of the developed world was struck by the Lesser Depression in 2008, the prognosis of most economic forecasters was this: a dramatic drop in workers remittances. As expected, Filipino overseas workers defied that global trend. Remittances of remittance powerhouses China and Mexico indeed dropped. But not the level sent by the Filipino OFWs. From 2008 on, the Filipino workers showed to the world what world-class resiliency in times of adversity is made of.
We have overtaken India in the call/contact segment of BPO sector. On the hard core thing, we are catching up as more physics/math majors with nowhere to go (and with a supreme mastery of algorithm) are migrating into BPO jobs.
OK, this question needs an answer. Can’t President Aquino take credit for the BPO boom and the OFW sector’s true grit?
As Oscar Sanez, the former overseer of the BPO association, said it was Mrs. Arroyo who masterminded the growth in the BPO sector. The father of overseas employment, the institutionalization of it, was Ka Blas. Enough said.