OFWs -Philippines' biggest export
Despite recognized contributions to Philippine economy, OFWs remain marginalized, un-protected and neglected
It is no doubt that the Philippines' biggest export now are the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Government data showed that there are an average of 2,952 OFWs deployed daily (POEA 2007 Overseas Employment Statistics www.poea.gov.ph). With such average daily OFW deployment, it is no wonder that the Arroyo administration is meeting its 1-M yearly deployment of OFWs. It is estimated that there are now almost 10-M OFWs working abroad practically with presence in almost every country in the World.
The massive deployment of OFWs is the main reason why on a yearly basis OFWs remittances grew hitting new records surpassing previous years. It is forecasted that by end of 2009, a 6% increase of OFWs remittances will be recorded from previous year. Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas earlier said "The October figure was 6.7-percent higher than the level in the same month last year and brought total remittances for the first 10 months of the year to $14.3 billion, up 4.5 percent from a year ago." (Remittances hit record US1.5-B in October, PDI, 12/5/2009). The $14.3-B recorded only by end of October 2009 is now even higher than the total remittances of last year (2008) amounting to $12.6-B.
What's driving the government to engage on an intensified human labor export? Why past and present administrations continue to export its human labor on a massive scale?
The worsening socio-economic conditions in the Philippines are the primary driving force why the government continues to export its own growing labor force in an intensified scale. In the first place the government failed to improve the socio-economic conditions of the majority of the Filipino families. Consider some of the socio-economic key indicators below:
• 75% to 88% of Filipino families do not earn enough to meet daily needs (Eiler, June 2004)
• Daily cost of living for a family of six is P565.85 (Feb. 2004, Ibon)
• Minimum wage in the NCR is P360 per day
• 10.9 million Filipinos unemployed and underemployed
• 7.1% unemployment rate (October 2009 recent report from National Statistics Office)
• Regular increases in prices of basic goods and services
• Worsening economic crisis and grinding poverty
The Philippines has remained backward, agrarian and without basic industries
The Philippine economy is incapable of absorbing the labor force that arises mainly from the countryside – the millions of unemployed landless peasants. Under the present backward agrarian economy, the big landlords and multinational agribusiness and mining corporations own or control most of the land, displacing millions of peasants some of whom become seasonal migrant farm workers and fishermen and the majority into landless rural poor.
This situation has been aggravated by the policy of land conversion that allows landlords to convert their lands into so-called industrial zones, housing estates and eco-tourism projects.
With the greedy accumulation of lands to few landlords, internal migration from the countryside to the cities grew into the millions leading to the proliferation of shantytowns. In search of jobs, some were absorbed by the construction and service industries. Others became domestic workers. But the majority could not find work in the few import substitution and packaging industries in the cities.
Many began to look for work abroad. Some became seamen. Others joined the U.S. navy (as provided for in the GI bill). Still others joined their relatives and friends who were brought earlier as cheap labor in the plantations and canneries of Hawaii, California and Alaska.
Without basic industries
The Philippines cannot generate the jobs necessary to employ even its trained or skilled labor force. Thousands of graduates from colleges and universities in the medical, engineering, teaching and other professions cannot find work or work with adequate wages commensurate to their training. These graduates are forced to seek employment abroad to seek a better life. Since the early fifties with the post-war reconstruction economies in the imperialist countries, they have gone to the U.S., Europe and Canada to work in sweatshop factories, hospitals, nursing homes, and the service industry.
Human Labor Exportation
As a measure to control social unrest, the Marcos regime adopted the labor export program (LEP) as part of the structural changes imposed by the US government.
The LEP was intended to relieve the unemployment problem, as well as alleviate through the remittances of migrant workers, the chronic financial crisis brought about by the neo-colonial pattern of trade and the massive foreign borrowings to finance infrastructure-building and the import-dependent-export-oriented industrialization program.
The LEP resulted in the mass exodus of Filipino migrant workers abroad in the construction and related industries in the Middle East, as well as domestic workers, factory trainees, entertainers and construction workers in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Europe.
Filipinos as Export commodity
The LEP systematically turns Filipinos into export commodity. The administration from Marcos to the present have become like labor contractor in encouraging the export of Filipinos as docile cheap labor in exchange for their foreign currency remittances that have been used to pay for the country's foreign debt and trade deficits. This, at the expense of the exploitation and oppression of Filipinos abroad and the social costs that families bear from long years of separation between husbands and wives and between parents and children.
To guarantee that its product remains cheap and docile, the government as a matter of policy routinely denies protection and support to migrant workers even in the face of blatant abuses, including murder and rape, perpetrated by foreign employers and recruitment agencies. On top of these, it continues to impose on them all sorts of fees and taxes, including an income tax that constituted double taxation which generated so much protest that it had to be withdrawn after years of implementation.
Root cause of Filipino Migration and modern-day slavery
The principal root cause of modern day Filipino migration abroad lies in the internal character of Philippine society. As a semi-colonial semi-feudal country, it does not have the basic industries that can develop the economy and absorb its yearly army of unemployed from the rural and urban areas. It is hobbled by feudal and semi-feudal conditions that restraints the country's development.
There is also the secondary pull of US imperialism, the demand for cheap labor in the sweatshops and service and construction industries in the imperialist countries, in the Middle East awash with petrodollars, and the so-called tiger economies where foreign domestic workers are recruited to take the place of housewives most of whom have been absorbed into the local labor force.
As per Migrante-Middle East records, its various chapters in the Middle East have been receiving an average 5 cases a day of abuses (physical, mental and sexual), maltreatment, and other forms labor malpractices.
Based on Migrante's latest count, there are 23 OFWs on death row, 20 of these are in Saudi Arabia; while 10 of which we have no information on the nature of their cases.
Since 2001, six Filipinos were beheaded in Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, there are 14 cases of OFWs on death row that were commuted. Notably, these 14 cases of commutation were made possible because of the vigilance and active campaigns staged by different OFWs organizations pressing hard the government to act decisively to saving their lives from execution.
OFWs struggle continues
The government's continued neglect to OFWs worsening conditions abroad paved the way for OFWs and their families' realizing the need to organize. Country formations of OFW groups then have been formed in Asia Pacific, America, Europe, and the Middle East.
On December 18, 1996, coinciding the annual commemoration of the International Migrants Day, the formal alliance of progressive Filipino migrant organizations has been launched. Since then, Migrante International became a vital force in creating public awareness about the plight of Filipino migrant workers by exposing the full impact of the government's labor export program –making OFWs as the country's no.1 commodity now for export and principal dollar earners.
On the celebration of International Migrants Day on December 18, rallying OFWs and their families, Migrante vows to continue to serve Filipino migrants and help rebuild our Motherland, and will carry on building alliances and cooperation with migrants of other nationalities.
We remain committed to our vision-mission: "We dream of a society where families were not broken up by urgent need for survival. We dream and will actively work for a homeland where there is opportunity for everyone to live a decent and humane life."