Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Culture of mendicancy

San Francisco-based Filipino American lawyer Rodel Rodis wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer issue of September 18, 2012, that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are responsible for promoting a culture of mendicancy among their family members and relatives who rely on their dollar remittances. This article must be read, not because Mr. Rodis has enlightened us or written something worth our time, but for his shallow and misplaced ideas so we may purge them out of our thinking.
The world doesn’t need charlatans like Mr. Rodis. He masquerades as a concerned Filipino patriot (as co-convenor and leader of the US Pinoys for Good Governance, USP4GG), yet looks down on his poor Filipino compatriots who leave their homeland to support their families.
Mr. Rodis highlights two documentaries which depict and describe why Filipinos are going abroad to work. But he misses the main storylines of these two films and instead pushes his own false thinking that OFWs are making our society a population of mendicants, people living on handouts and charity.
Filipino workers line up the sidewalks in Hongkong during their day-off. Photo courtesy
of  Kabayanmark Images. Click link to view "Destination Anywhere" by Vanguard, 
The first documentary, “Destination Anywhere,” tells us why millions of Filipinos have gone to work overseas to provide for their families, such as expenses for their housing, clothing, health care, education of their children, and other personal needs. However, the film did not fail to mention that OFW remittances have reached about 20 billion dollars every year, a statistical fact that keeps the Philippine economy afloat.
The second documentary, “Mendicant Society,” however, is more critical of the economic conditions that drive Filipinos to work abroad, and the changes—both the misery and triumphs—they have brought upon their families and the society as a whole.
Why Mr. Rodis should conclude that OFW remittances promote a mendicant culture befuddles the mind. For one, his observation is outside the scope of the two films and is a very dismal characterization. Dollar earnings of millions of Filipinos abroad continue to shore up the country’s economy. Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has recognized OFWs as the country’s new heroes for their remittances, buying properties, and creating businesses. OFW remittances represent 13.5 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product. The economic managers of the current administration of President Benigno Aquino III have also credited the contributions of overseas workers to the country’s economic stability.
Next to Mexico, the Philippines is the second largest exporter of labour. On the average, 2,500 Filipinos leave the country each day to work abroad. Ten per cent of the population of the Philippines, or nearly 8 million Filipinos, are overseas workers distributed in 182 countries over the world. A large proportion of remittances come from women who are the majority of overseas Filipino workers, mostly domestic helpers and personal service workers.
Most overseas Filipino workers are skilled workers who take on unskilled work overseas, thus a brain drain on the country, particularly in the health and education sectors. There are not enough jobs in the country to employ a fast-growing work force. So, new graduates and unemployed workers choose to go abroad even if the result is underemployment, or in some cases, exploitation of labour.
A government that has failed its people should be responsible for the exodus of overseas workers. Work overseas has become the only alternative for many Filipinos to escape from the claws of poverty. Those who criticize overseas workers, such as Mr. Rodis, for subsidizing the living expenses and consumer excesses of the families they left behind fail to recognize the real root of the problem.
It’s the economy, stupid. Provide people with opportunities to work and earn a decent wage to support their families and they will all stay. There’s no place like home, but when economic conditions make life miserable, these will drive people to search for opportunities outside. Instead of faulting overseas workers for their remittances, blame the government for relying on foreign remittances to keep the economy afloat.
The World Bank has observed that the Philippines has been too distracted by the excellent performance of remittances, making the government complacent in addressing its fiscal deficits and low productivity growth. Foreign remittances were so huge, according to the World Bank, they accounted for more than twice the foreign aid the Philippines received. Remittances were also slightly larger than the country’s electronic exports, making Filipino workers the largest export commodity.
Migrante International has also recognized that the Philippines’ biggest exports are overseas Filipino workers and will continue to be for as long as the government relies on a labour export program as the centrepiece of its economic plan. Overseas employment is not the effective solution to the underemployment problem, or to the lack of jobs.
Without basic industries and with a backward agrarian economy, the Philippines will forever be unable to absorb a growing labour force. This situation drives Filipinos to migrate and work overseas, and the continuing export of cheap Filipino labour has turned these workers into modern-day slaves.
Those who criticize OFWs for turning their families into a society of mendicants should read the stories of exploitation of Filipino labour overseas, the cases of OFWs on death row and those beheaded in Saudi Arabia, the abuses and rape of Filipino nannies by their employers, and the unfair labour practices and working conditions most of these workers have to bear.
Repatriated Filipino overseas workers arrived from Lebanon conflict. Photo courtesy
of  IOM International Organization for Migration. Click link to view "Mendicant Society"
Overseas Filipino workers have been neglected by the government, yet their critics who accuse them of creating a culture of mendicancy fail to see the full impact of the government’s labour export program, not just its contribution to the Philippine economy but in helping their families survive as well. OFWs and their families have also borne the brunt of separation, which is not healthy for children who are growing up without their parents around.
Ultimately, development depends on good economic policies, not in viewing overseas employment as a substitute for economic growth. Foreign remittances from overseas workers can also be tapped for domestic investment, but the government must first have sound economic policies and create the opportunities for investment This appears to be the better thinking rather than placing the onus on OFWs for creating a society of mendicants.

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