by Jeremaiah M. Opiniano
QUEZON CITY— Just how many Filipino workers are there really in Lebanon?
In a country that constantly relies on money sent by Filipinos like them overseas, finding their exact or near-exact number could spell a difference. Having such figure could help in computing the cost of flying them home from discordant labor-receiving countries, for example.
However, as demographers –people who study population movements– lament, the country only has “proxy” data on overseas migration.
Hence, demographers like Nimfa Ogena and Josefina Cabigon of the University of the Philippines-Population Institute said the country is missing out on probing deeper a century-old phenomenon that is tearing apart the country’s socio-economic and political fabric.
But the Commission on Population remains undaunted, planning to include in the fourth edition of the State of the Philippine Population Report the economic, social, and demographic links between international migration and development.
The report, coming out November this year, “is bringing to the fore (Filipinos’) international migration as a population and development issue” since the overseas emigration of the country’s skilled workers “will challenge the country’s socio-economic future,” according to Deputy executive director Mia Ventura. [Disclosure: The author was hired by PopComm as technical editor of said report. –Eds.]
The first three editions of the report carried themes such as unmet need for family planning, youth development, and urbanization.
Still, Ogena told the OFW Journalism Consortium she could only wonder how PopCom will discover the links between international migration and demography since the country’s migration data leave much to be desired.
Both she and Cabigon said that while migration data and surveys in the Philippines—from stock estimates abroad, household surveys, to remittance inflows—are abundant, the validity of findings could be questioned due to the “fluidity” of international migration as well as misconceptions on the phenomenon.
For instance, using data on the evacuation of Filipinos from Lebanon as example will throw a monkey wrench into the business of crunching data.
Media reports citing the Philippine Embassy in Beirut as source cite there are an estimated 34,000 Filipinos there.
As streams of Filipinos come home from that discordant country, the December 2005 stock estimate of overseas Filipinos would reflect they are flying in trickles.
According to that estimate, there is a total of 48,031 Filipinos there, with 41,912, or nearly 90 percent, comprising temporary contract workers.
The figure comes from the state-run Commission on Filipinos Overseas, which said the number also came from Embassy officials. Of that total, the CFO data says 19 are permanent residents while some 6,100 are dubbed irregular or undocumented migrants.
Another example is the stock estimate, also from the CFO, of the number of Filipinos overseas.
That estimate, which the CFO compiled based on information from multiple government agencies and the country’s diplomatic posts, showed the country now has 7,924,188 Filipinos in 193 countries, the figure being lower than the December 2004 stock estimate of 8,083,848 (see table 1).
Of that total, some 3,651,727 Filipinos were identified as temporary contract workers while 3,391,338 were listed as permanent residents. Undocumented migrants, on the other hand, are reduced to 881,123 from 1,297,005 last year.
That set of data, Cabigon said, “is not accurate, and the figure may be more or less.”
CABIGON wonders how that stock estimate information from CFO plays a role in the country’s Census of the Population, where the country had a 76,504,077 population during the 2000 Census.
“The (use of the) stock estimate as a fraction of the total population, let’s say it is a tenth, is inaccurate. And if the 76.5 million in 2000 includes Filipinos overseas, that seems questionable,” she said.
Not only that the estimates of overseas Filipinos must be deducted to the domestic population count, Cabigon added. “There also seems to be a distortion of concepts between overseas contract workers and immigrants. (The latter is) not counted anymore as part of the Philippine population”.
Corazon Raymundo, another Pop-I colleague, agrees.
“Immigrants have a different definition (in demography) because they left the country with the intention to leave and stay out of the home country permanently.”
However, Cabigon said temporary contract workers or permanent residents should be enumerated in the household data “if [they] return to the country.”
Cabigon also thinks there is a “distortion” to the concept of overseas Filipinos. For one, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), which specifically pertain to temporary contract workers, are “misconstrued” to include permanent residents and undocumented migrants.
Others even lump international labor migration, which covers “OFWs,” as international migration in general, Ogena observed.
“It is not necessarily so.”
Another complication to the equation are situations when Filipinos abroad who were registered prior to their flight abroad as temporary contract workers become permanent residents, or even undocumented or illegal migrants, Ogena added.
Undocumented migration also reveals a difficulty in tracking down the number of Filipinos passing through those channels, said Ogena. “Even those Filipinos who go through regular channels,” she added: “we can’t document them properly.”
And thus, Ogena and fellow demographers think there is still no way “to put together a coherent (set of) data that can be used for analysis and research.”
CFO’s Planning, Research and Policy Office’s Golda Roma said the stock estimates are annually prepared by an inter-agency committee composed of CFO, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and the country’s 80 diplomatic missions.
Likewise, each of this government office has its own statistics and recording system of Filipinos who leave the country.
The CFO monitors those leaving as permanent residents or as spouses of foreign nationals, the POEA the newly hired and re-hired temporary contract workers, and each diplomatic post the Filipino presence in their respective countries.
Other agencies like the National Statistics Office use three household and income surveys related to Filipinos abroad: the quarterly Labor Force Survey (LFS), which is 72 pages thick; the annual Survey on Overseas Filipinos (SOF); and the triennial Family Income and Expenditures Survey (FIES).
The SOF looks at salient characteristics of OFWs and other Filipinos abroad, including remittance patterns and behavior, from April to September every year. It also presents data on remittances sent through banking and non-banking, or informal, channels.
Another government agency that has its own monitoring system is the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation, which records Filipino migrants passing through air and sea ports.
Roma, however, said the BID doesn’t use the embarkation and disembarkation forms that Filipinos fill up when exiting and returning to the country.
There is also the Philippine Retirement Authority that records the number of Filipinos who availed special retirement retiree’s visas.
Roma, however, explains that because Filipinos abroad can now avail of dual citizenship as a result of Republic Act 9225, “only a few retirees avail of the visa, thus leading to a fewer number in the agency’s records.”
Despite these figure-watching schemes, Roma, Cabigon, and Ogena are dissatisfied.
RESULTS of migration-related surveys such as those in the SOF lean towards migration’s economic consequences, particularly remittances, the three former directors of Pop-I observed.
Knowing that international migration has a social cost to Filipino families, Cabigon said “non-economic hard data” about migration are nowhere to be found except in case and micro-level studies.
“It is hard to counter-argue those who project the positive economic benefits of international migration,” she added.
This data paucity also constrains demographers from looking at migrants’ and migrant households’ demographic characteristics, or from seeing international migration as part of population policy (see related story).
While CFO’s has stock estimates of overseas Filipinos from 1997 to 2005, Ogena cautions using time-series comparisons of the data, because migration “can be defined differently” by people.
Lack of funding to conduct a national migration survey (to even include internal migration) is also a constraint. Cabigon said the idea of administering a National Migration Survey covering both internal and international migration have been discussed as early as the 1970s,
Having accurate international migration statistics is a global concern because many countries do not have those.
“The low response levels regarding data on international migration flows stem from the lack of data collection systems that provide those data and the difficulty of producing all the data required by users from a single data source,” a paper of the United Nations Statistics Division stated.
UNSD added that for countries to obtain a comprehensive view of international migration processes, “the combination of different data sources that produced different types of data (border statistics, residence permits, population registers, etc.) is needed”.
UNSD, since 1997, is trying to harmonize international migration statistics worldwide, following the document Recommendations on Statistics on International Migration, Revision One. Its pilot test of an “International Migration and Travel Statistics Questionnaire” three years ago revealed there is an estimated 200 million migrants and refugees worldwide.
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