There are about 12 million Filipinos scattered around the world outside the Philippines and they contribute something like $30 billion to $40 billion (if you include unofficial remittances) to the economy of the nation. That’s about 13 percent of national GDP.
There are Filipinos everywhere, albeit they are a bit thin on the ground in South America and Russia.
People often think of these expatriate Filipinos as construction workers, domestic helpers and yayas (nannies), and indeed there are quite a lot. But amongst them there are also many skilled professionals — doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers, architects, teachers, etc. — many of whom are overseas on a long-term basis and have integrated into the societies in which they are based. It’s a truism to say that if I am in some overseas country I, even as an Englishman, would usually feel an affinity with Filipinos there. It’s easy to relate.
The pull of nationhood does seem to be very strong amongst the longer-term professional Filipino expatriates. They look at their home country from their position in usually more developed places, USA/Europe for example, and probably think, “What can I do to help?” or, “Should I return and contribute directly?”
This sort of thinking is what happens when you get older, of course! Difficult to answer these sorts of questions, although I think that many decide to make a small investment in a house or one of the masses of condominiums that are being so well overbuilt. To make some form of structural change, though, would probably be a “mission impossible” for any one of the individuals in the many different overseas Filipino groups spread around the world.
Long-term professional expatriate Filipinos know how political and social systems operate in the advanced economies; they have integrated themselves into them. Question is, how do they represent this knowledge back home in the Philippines? I know of expatriate Filipinos who would simply not consider investment in their home country for the same reasons that foreign investors are reluctant to tackle investment here. Given the emotional and familial links with home, that is a really sad indictment.
Wouldn’t it be good to see a united group of overseas Filipinos forming a substantial investment fund for the Philippines? The “Overseas Filipino Investment Fund,” for example. Its activities and its trials and tribulations could be widely publicized and it must be assumed that such a fund would be less prone to problems in dealing with the so difficult requirements and procedures and their continual changing.
To limit the options for investing a bit of money back home in the Philippines to simply buying a condo or a house to rent out to other people severely restricts any ability by this group, the long-term overseas professionals, to bring about or influence any potential change for the better for fellow countrymen stuck back home in this opportunity-less environment.
The Filipino middle class is largely non-resident in the Philippines. Given that a middle class is the accepted and proven engine for change, then it needs to find ways of bridging the geographic gap in order to ensure that it is capable of bringing about and actually makes change. To do this would require a lessening of the Filipinos’ rather insular cultural proclivity. Small groups cannot in this context achieve as much as big groups, or a big group. The expatriate middle class should really try to mobilize itself and link up with the non-expatriate middle class and between them start doing material things to prise open this tightly restricted, unequal and politically orchestrated social economy.
The Philippines, thanks to its expatriates and its overseas workers, can go far but for now, they are just seen as people who have to get jobs overseas because there are not enough at home and they are lauded for the contributions to consumerism in the home economy. Better that they are lauded for bringing about change and developing the nation into an industrialized economy like the places where so many of them work and live, for an economy that grows because of consumerism funded by money earned outside is an economy built on sand.
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.