Hundreds of Filipino workers had been stranded at Hong Kong international airport and missed coming home to their waiting families in the Philippines for Christmas because their travel agent defrauded them of their money collected supposedly to book their flights.
It was a heartbreaking experience for both mothers and kids, especially for toddlers who had long anticipated being reunited with their moms once again even for a brief week during the Christmas holidays.
The culprit, Rhea Donna Boyce, 39, a Filipina who co-owned Peya Travel agency with her Australian husband at the WorldWide House in Hong Kong Central, was arrested on Dec. 25 by Hong Kong police and now faces charges of fraud, or “conspiracy to defraud” if ongoing investigations lead to her husband’s involvement in the scam as well.
Some of the OFWs were lucky enough to have been assisted by the Philippine government when it stepped in and paid for their flights later, vowing to launch an investigation into Peya’s owners and operations.
But the trouble and pain the travel agency caused those families only added to the miseries of hundreds of thousands of Filipino families separated by the diaspora of OFWs having to work overseas for a living.
Driven away from home by poverty and a lack of local economic opportunities, Filipino mothers working in Hong Kong, other parts of Asia, the US, Europe, the Arab countries and elsewhere in the world, are singing lullabies to put their masters’ babies to sleep instead of their own.
An estimated 10 million Filipino workers – doctors, engineers, architects, accountants, seafarers, both documented and undocumented – help power foreign industries and make other people’s homes comfortable for about 170 different nations around the world, just so they could earn enough to feed their families back in the Philippines.
The Filipino diaspora is a decades-long indictment of economic mismanagement, and a scourge that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to address as part of his campaign promise in May 2016. So far, the OFWs have welcomed the initiatives of the incumbent government during its 100 days: setting up a department dedicated to the overseas workers, establishing a local one-top-shop for streamlining government processes, extending the Filipino passport validity, setting up an OFW bank and raising its assistance fund from P400 million to P1 billion, among others.
But these are not enough. We hope the bigger steps are taken now toward the long-term solution. The end goal should be to end the Filipino workers’ diaspora.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd said in July this year the final goal of the President Duterte is to get all OFWs back home, with better-paying jobs waiting for them. Bello cited the Philippine Development Plan (Dutertenomics) as aiming to generate 2 million jobs per year, or 10 million by the end of Duterte’s term in 2022.
Dutertenomics, however, may not suffice to achieve the grand vision of bringing back the OFWs home for good, given that this is mainly based on manufacturing and the “Build, Build, Build” program.
The OFWs must take part in the crafting of a long-term plan for their reintegration into the local workforce based on the skills and expertise they have acquired in different fields while working overseas. Government planners must hold consultations and take suggestions from them.
South Korea demonstrated in the early ‘70s an effective way to return home for good from the mine tunnels, hospitals and factories in Germany and build a new life as a nation. The South Koreans, who used to envy the flourishing Philippine economy in the 1960s when many of their compatriots were dying from famine, vowed in tears as led by then President Park Chung-hee on a tarmac in Germany to help their country rise from crippling poverty. The rest is history and the whole world saw how Korea had taken on economic wings.
In the same way, the talents and expertise of the best of our own workers should be harnessed in crafting a plan for reintegration to pave the way for the diaspora in reverse.