Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pinay diaspora

Mao Zedong once said that women hold up half the sky. In the Philippines, they may actually hold up more, probably seven-tenths. That’s if we consider overseas employment that pumps in more than $12 billion into the local economy and keeps the Philippine economy afloat.

Everybody is probably familiar with the usual refrain about OFW remittances. We know for instance that personal consumption expenditure (PCE) accounts for more than 70 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Any movement in PCE therefore could either push down or boost the economy. In the last several years, the country’s GDP has been growing within the range of 5-6 percent, courtesy of buoyant PCE.

In practical terms, robust PCE means people are buying food, beverage, appliances, cellular phones, vehicles, and services thus giving life to factories, offices, restaurants, and shopping malls. It also means people are sending their children to school. You might think our “industrialists” and “tycoons” are providing wealth to the nation by having these factories, telecommunications facilities, and shopping malls. False. It’s the other way around. These tycoons are rich because billions of dollars are coming in from abroad. Those tycoons are simply raking it in. That’s precisely why we call OFWs “modern day heroes.” Had it not for their remittances, this country could have succumbed to a communist revolution more than a decade ago.

Who are these modern day heroes? Media portrays them as bronzed, muscle men with glittering gold necklaces coming home in blue jeans and jackets. Wrong again. Statistics says that they are women. Since the Year 2000, about more than 70 percent of the newly-deployed OFWs are women, mostly professional and technical workers, clerks, and service workers.

They are mostly nurses; composers, musicians, and related workers; teachers; choreographers and dancers; x-ray technicians; occupational therapists; dental workers; caregivers; cleaners; and beauticians. What these figures mean is that Filipinos are actually sending their mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters to slave out abroad so their husbands, fathers, and brothers would have something to eat, buy their cigarettes with, and send the children to school. So there’s one thing that prevents this country from tearing apart from political bickering, it’s the money sent by our moms, sisters, and daughters.

But there is a bad flipside to this. When you send away a mother, the country suffers, not just from brain drain, but from care drain. No doubt Filipinos are good fathers, some of them anyway, but a household could never be complete without mom’s presence. Right now, estimates show that about ten percent of the country’s population or 24 percent of the country’s labor force are abroad. If you consider the trend that seven of ten newly deployed workers are women, one could sense that millions of children out there are growing up without warmth and guidance of a mother.

What are the social consequences of this trend is open to speculation. But it’s hard not conjure negative images about juvenile delinquency, broken homes, dependency, and criminality. Families of OFW therefore are sacrificing a lot so that this country survives the chronic deficit in political leadership. Of course, the country is sacrificing a lot as well as since we are losing lots of talented people to other countries, at least temporarily. Given the training and experience they would get abroad, their diaspora would ultimately be brain gain. But we need their brains now; we can’t even fill jobs for call centers and back office processing here.

And it seems more families are going to have these sacrifices. In the last decade, statistics says that almost 300,000 newly-hires are leaving for various destinations abroad to earn the dollars. Lately, the US has opened its doors to Philippine nurses but opportunities for medical professionals right now are practically limitless as demand from countries like Japan, United Kingdom, Spain, and most of Europe for nurses and caregivers is rising.

What we would like to stress here is that society owes them a lot. And what better way to repay them than having a community-based support networks for these families if only the children left behind wouldn’t go astray? Ideally, OFWs should bring them their families abroad. But since this option is not always available, the continuing diaspora of mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters might have high social consequences. Necessarily, economic factors are the main driving force behind this feminine diaspora and only when the country’s economy is now capable of responding to families dreams for a decent life would this phenomenon decelerate to an imperceptible degree. But there are short term measures that government and the private sector could do. Philippine embassies for instance should ensure welfare of OFWs and help them fight for their rights. The government could also negotiate for a continuing training programs for hired OFWs so that when they come home, they will bring with them additional skills. At the local front, our tycoons could do a lot, for instance, by investing in our school system and training institutions to ensure the continuing supply of skilled workers and professionals. Yes, they could help the economy more by helping the country strengthen its human resources than selling them house and lots, cellular phones, and raking their money in through those super-sized shopping malls.


Deany Bocobo said...

Thanks for a statistic i didn't know. 70% of OFWs are women.

Doubtless there is a "care drain" effect, but are we not ignoring the legendary flexibility of the Filipino? A woman with money is a woman with real power, power to change the lives of her children and family, power to make decisions and to change things.

IMO, we can do a lot to help these "broken families" mend, even though, I believe they are doing it themselves to some extent.

I think the economic survival of those families makes all other options possible. They would not have those options if not for the opportunity to make a decent, if distant living.

Dave Llorito said...

70% of the newly hired. although i would like see the overall figure. newly hired ones account for 30 percent of the total number of OFWs leaving each year.