ABSCBN asks: Is Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III his mother’s son when it comes to overseas labor export?
Aquino, set to become the 15th Philippine president, may opt to follow-through with his mother’s institutionalization of the economy’s resilient force: overseas Filipino workers.
Under his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, government hand in the deployment of OFWs was subsumed under one agency, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
Overseeing Filipinos’ lot in host countries, on the other hand, was cauterized from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and appended to another unit, the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA).
“Noynoy,” like his mother, should have a direct hand in labor migration, said Tomas Achacoso, POEA administrator under Mrs. Aquino.
Achacoso said having a “direct hand” involves not only improving the system of informing prospective overseas Filipinos of migration’s risks but also in shaping policy issues focused on labor migration and national development.
“The success of labor migration (in the Philippines) has distracted policy-makers from the original temporary role of the program,” the former POEA chief told the OFW Journalism Consortium.
The program of sending out Filipinos to work overseas under POEA predecessors Overseas Employment Development Board (OEDB) and National Seamen’s Board (NSB) was used by then-President Ferdinand Marcos to beef up the country’s dollar reserves amid runaway unemployment.
With foreign investors cashing out of the Philippines under Mrs. Aquino’s time and with a foreign debt, money from OFWs propped up a cash-strapped People Power-born government beginning 1986.
Economists also credited money from OFWs, now nearly 10% of the country’s population, for having arrested the downward spiral of the economy during the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the collapse of the global financial system a decade later.
“Labor migration as the solution to the Philippines’ economic problem is erroneous, and addresses only one aspect of the [domestic employment] problem,” Achacoso said of government’s overseas employment framework.
Economist Alvin Ang notes that for a long time, overseas work and remittances mitigated Philippine economic problems such as a feeble fiscal position and lack of jobs.
But since the word mitigation is “fungible,” which in economics means something can be substituted into a resource; remittances from Filipinos abroad “should not just be band aid.”
Ang agrees with Achacoso that the 6 years under the Aquino administration beginning June is crucial.
Ang echoes his theory of “diasporic dividend” –“net of net” benefit from the country’s migration phenomenon: Now is the time for a Philippine government to explicitly encourage overseas Filipinos to invest in their hometowns.
He says by sending clear signals to local government units, this could happen.
“National government may set the policy environment about luring remittances for development, but many local governments are not minding this potential resource —thus the policy disconnect,” Ang told the OFW Journalism Consortium.
Remittances are sterilized into merely circulating the financial system and going to consumption, Ang explained, especially since these are money of individual migrant workers and their families.
Thus, while the impact of remittances on Philippine development is macro, the vehicle to lure these for development is micro, Ang said.
“That way, and if the local government is involved, then you can target development,” Ang adds.
The policy should be explicit and leave no room for doubt in the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan.
Ang said that government should actively instill a consciousness among prospective Filipino workers that their migration is only temporary; that they do not merely return here to retire after a long overseas stint, but “to work” and remain productive for themselves and for the economy.
Aquino’s campaign platform is to boost foreign investment, pour more resources to education, and generate more jobs locally through agriculture, business process outsourcing, infrastructure, manufacturing, logistics, mining, and tourism.
“If there is no production here, the Philippines will not have any productivity,” Ang said.
“Or else, this country will remain consumption driven —a situation that not even a thousand Noynoys can remedy.”
As a first step, Ang proposes an overhaul of government’s information campaign on migration.
The government’s current pre-employment orientation seminar should be made optional while information should be specific to separately cater to high-skilled and low-skilled workers.
There should be “complete information disclosure of a destination country’s conditions, not just the pay. That way, information on the country where the worker will migrate to would be clearly disseminated.”
Achacoso, for his part, recommends government to address the concerns of labor migration from a “holistic standpoint” by explaining “how labor migration affects national development”.
Given the Philippines’ respectable global stature as regards labor migration, Achacoso said the DFA “should be taught about the principles and mechanics of labor migration, so that they can better argue with host countries about adjustments to make the life of migrants much easier.”
He also hopes the Philippines will request host countries for some compensating payment in return for the skilled workers lost here and hired abroad, such as nurses and doctors.
Achacoso also hopes no less than the President of the Republic sustains “a continuing interest in policy issues that affect labor migration, and intervenes every so often to shape and direct policies and programs.”
Again, though, these policies should not be merely about “consolidating the Philippines’ share of the [overseas job] market over which it has little real control”.
Something also is essential for the incoming president to do, Achacoso said: a better approach to address the lack of programs to create jobs domestically.
“Labor migration as the solution to the Philippines’ economic problem is erroneous, and addresses only one aspect of the [domestic employment] problem.”
Ang noted that the Aquino administration has the wherewithal to hit the diasporic dividend.
“He [Aquino] can help turn remittances into concrete investments.”
Preventing overseas movement of workers is unacceptable, yet the Philippine government should not rely on demand-driven job markets abroad to sustain the economy, Achacoso and Ang said. OFW Journalism Consortium.
Source: Jeremaiah M. Opiniano, OFW Journalism Consortium reporting for ABSCBN
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