The Philippine migration data we ought to know

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TOOTS OPLE

I LOVE watching “Shark Tank”. It’s an American reality TV show where real-life billionaires like Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, get to grill entrepreneurs seeking investments in their companies. In that show, any entrepreneur that appears before the “Sharks” without knowing their profit margins, customer acquisition costs, sales projections and other numbers, get skewered before millions of viewers. I wish we could do the same for bureaucrats who seek higher budgets each year without investing enough in research in order to know the needs and size of their respective constituencies.

Yet, the sad fact is our approach to governance and policy-making is reactionary rather than long-term. We love anecdotes, and we often refer to such anecdotes when trying to fathom realities on the ground. When I do press interviews about certain OFW cases, journalists would often ask me about the numbers such as the number of trafficked women overseas. Unfortunately, as a leader of a non-profit organization, I don’t have the capacity or resources to obtain such numbers. The government does.

Last Thursday, I attended the public presentation of the first-ever Social Weather Station (SWS) Scoping Study on International Migration in the Philippines, which was commissioned by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). Dr. Thetis Mangahas, who happens to be one of my favorite people in the world, gave the presentation in her role as lead expert. What is the difference between the usual SWS surveys and a scoping study? The latter relies on existing data while an SWS-commissioned survey generates its own data. For this scoping study on migration, Dr. Mangahas and her research team relied on the existing reports and data of 24 organizations, including such institutions as the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, 70 key datasets and profiles as well as 252 statistical tables.

The results of the scoping study should provide our policy-makers several reality checks. Based on the SWS study, the number of Filipinos who wish to work abroad is declining while the current OFW population is ageing. It also showed that women have outnumbered the men both as OFWs and as permanent emigrants. Surprisingly, the same study showed that there were fewer women availing of the labor department’s ASSIST WELL program for distressed OFWs than men. This should prompt the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration to look at possible barriers to entry for distressed female OFWs who have since returned to the country.


The top geographical sources of emigrants were the National Capital Region (NCR), Calabarzon (Region 4-A), Central Luzon (Region 3), Ilocos (Region 1) and Central Visayas (Region 7). For our OFWs, Mimaropa (Region 4A) emerged as the number one source, followed by Central Luzon, NCR, Ilocos, Western Visayas (Region 6), Central Visayas, Cagayan Valley (Region 2) and Soccsksargen (Region 12).

For female OFWs, the leading occupational category is domestic work, which should no longer come as a surprise. In 2017, some 7,810 OFWs who returned to the country cited retrenchment as the reason for returning while 5,884 said they had to return because their contracts had ended. Around 2,510 OFWs said they came home because they had decided to stay in the Philippines.

In terms of social protection, while the number of OFWs who have enrolled as Pag-IBIG Fund members continue to increase and is now at the 4.7-million mark, OWWA membership has fallen way below the two-million mark in 2014. One area that ought to be looked at is the steep decline in the number of OFW PhilHealth contributors, from 3.1 million in 2013 to 930,000 in 2015.

It also affirms the need to intensify financial literacy among OFWs and their families. Based on the chart, “How OFW Families Spend Their Remittances,” debt payment comes in fourth, after medical expenses, education and food. We need to know more about this debt phenomenon – when did the OFWs incur the debt? Was it before they left or after they have returned? Or was it because the families failed to prudently manage the money remitted from abroad?

One of the difficulties encountered by the SWS research team is that the DFA and the POEA as well as other relevant agencies have different background variables. For example, different agencies have different names for certain job categories, and the DFA looks at the world in terms of regional groupings while the POEA is country-specific, data-wise. This makes comprehensive research extremely difficult due to the variance in definitions, context and of course, the intentions of the source.

This writer agrees with Dr. Mangahas’ recommendation for the government to identify a single agency that must take the lead in ensuring a collaborative and continuous data collection and adherence to data quality. The SWS is also pushing for a State of Migration Report that would enable all of us to have a clearer understanding of the Filipino Diaspora.

The good news is that there is data, available and gathered through a variety of programs by the different agencies. Thanks to NEDA and the SWS, we now have an inkling of the kind of vital information that can be gained through a more organized collection and analysis of migration-related data.

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