Overseas Filipino Workers


In the course of doing work with the International Organization for Migration and the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation, I reviewed literature on the impact of remittances in Philippine countryside development. My review suggested the following chain of causes and effects attendant to remittances:

a) Remittances alleviate poverty through increased incomes at the grassroots level in rural communities.
b) Increased incomes lead to increased savings and investments as well as demands for goods and services (for consumption) among migrant families, which stimulate local enterprises to produce more.
c) Increased economic activities create employment opportunities for non-migrant families, and improve the competitiveness of a locality.
d) As employment and investments increase in a locality, individual incomes increase as well, along with savings, which can be re-invested back into capital markets or the creation of new enterprises.
e) The outcome is better quality of life for families and households, and as the outcomes are sustained, will redound to migrant workers exercising real freedom to choose whether to return back to this country (reintegration) or continue with migration.
f) Interventions are needed to ensure that the above benefits of development do not perpetuate income inequalities as remittances are siphoned back to (a) developed, urban areas through consumption patterns in goods and services offered by outsider entrepreneurs and (b) non-rational investments in speculative and unproductive assets that in the long run work against the livelihood of poor, mostly agricultural, communities.
g) Interventions are also needed to address issues that suggest remittances may impact on values that lead to lack of development in families and communities, such as when it leads to the devaluation of child care among parents, lack of dignity in labor, of working in the country, and of living in the country.
The following important lessons are to be taken into account when designing interventions for channeling remittances.
a) Ensure that the primary beneficiaries (or the biggest gainers) of development are the poor, particularly the migrant families, as well as the communities where they come from.
b) Attend to the investment climate of localities being targeted for development as they are a determinant factor in whether remittances are spent by recipient families on consumption or profitable investments (Pernia & Salas, 2005).
c) Ensure that recipients of remittances (such as families left-behind, or donee recipients) utilize remittances in the best interest of the OFWs and long-term local economic development.

(Ideas collected from various IOM publications and materials by Anji Resurreccion for SERDEF, Philippines)


I am a licensed Business Management System (BMS) trainer.  The BMS paradigm says that competitiveness can be measured by answering the questions: Who dictates the price?  Who lines up begging to be patronized?  According to this view, something is said to be competitive when it approximates monopoly situation; that is, it has no competitors.  As such, the buyer has no choice but to line up, wait his turn, and pay whatever selling price is demanded.

 Given this point, it appears that the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) are not exactly that competitive.  Why?  Because there are more Filipino workers than jobs available.  Many Filipinos are precariously stranded in some remote Middle Eastern countries hoping to be given a work contract.  They unduly risk their lives.  To survive, many of them resort to fishing and begging alms from kind-hearted fellow Filipinos. Given their desperate situation, many of them have no choice but to accept whatever outrageously low salary rate is offered, thus further spoiling the labor market situation for OFWs.  It is the foreign employer who dictates the price. They exploit our seemingly hopeless situation.  Some of them are merciless. If we do not agree to their offer and if they say,  “Alright, if you don’t like to accept my rate, that’s up to you. I will just look for someone else.” The poor OFW would quickly say, “OK OK, I agree to your dirt cheap rate.”  If this is what’s happening, then we cannot be called competitive.

 On the other had, the OFW may also be considered competitive in a way.  Why? Because of the many nationalities willing to be virtual slaves in rich countries, Filipinos seem to be the “first preference” or the “customer’s first choice.”  Why are we their “first choice”?  Because we are said to be good English speakers; we have relatively good work attitudes (we are supposedly meek and submissive workers); and we are better educated than the workers of other nations.  The OFW is willing to accept a job that is way below his skill level and educational background.  In other words, he has no qualms about being under-employed.  For example, our doctors are willing to work as nurses; our nurses as care-givers; many of our engineers as utility or maintenance people; our licensed CPAs as mere bookkeepers; and our teachers who hold Master’s or PhD degrees as domestics helpers.

 In other words, the issue of competitiveness is not that simple. If the OFW is the “first choice” of foreign employers because they are clearly more skilled than the other nationalities, besides the fact that our people are willing to accept jobs that are lower than their educational qualifications and willing to receive salaries that are just 10% of their true worth, can we say that Filipinos are competitive?  Yes, they may be the employer’s first choice, but they are virtual slaves anyhow.

 Genuine competitiveness is when we have a rare, in-demand, unique ability that other peoples cannot copy and then the employers have no choice but to line up and compete with each other to hire us.  If the OFW says to the potential employer, “I will not accept a salary below 2,000 dollars a month. Take it or leave it!”  If they have no choice but to say, ”Sure, sure! I will give you whatever price you demand; just work for me.” That is being competitive!  Oh, when will this ever be?

 I am irritated by our present situation!  How low our self-image has fallen.  We are so demoralized and desperate.  This is so wrong.  The truth is, I really believe that we Filipinos are better skilled and more resourceful than the workers of many nations. It is hard to explain why, but for me, Filipinos are especially gifted by God.  Apart from our unique abilities, I think we are also one of the most attractive peoples on the face of the earth – not too large, not too small; not too pale, not too dark.  And we are vaunted to be excellent in relating with other nationalities, so much so that we are often labeled as “the ideal immigrant.” It is because we are able to easily adjust to the newly adopted home nation.

 However, if you ask me, I wish that we were not just competent workers or servants of foreigners; but more importantly, to become competent entrepreneurs, to be job-creators and not just job-seekers.  I pray that God’s promise in the Bible will come true for us:For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.” (Deut. 15:6).  Amen!