No Comments 12 December 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

There was a time when many of the jobs Filipinos could land abroad were as maids, seamen and manual laborers. Over time, more and more of our skilled and trained workers have joined the exodus for higher wages and a better life.

Not too long ago, the mass exodus of nurses left local hospitals and the country’s health system in disarray, although the situation has been reversed in recent years (there is now an oversupply of nurses) as the global demand for medical workers slowed down. But the overseas demand for other occupations such as scientists, engineers, IT professionals, accountants and even teachers remains, tempered only in the past three years by the global financial crisis.

In the face of the unabated brain drain, one would think that Filipinos have come to accept the phenomenon as a fact of life, even a desirable one for many well-paid migrant workers. It took a triple whammy in August to revive the national debate on the seriousness of the problem.

First to shake the country was the news last August that 25 pilots of the Philippine Airlines have flown overseas, particularly the Middle East and Asia where they were offered nearly triple their salary at PAL. The mass resignation forced PAL to cancel a number of their flights.

A few weeks later, another mild tremor followed. The country’s weather bureau – the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) – landed in the news for two related reasons. First, it failed to make an accurate forecast of an oncoming storm, earning a presidential reprimand. President Benigno Aquino III later fired the chief weather forecaster, Dr. Prisco Nilo, in the aftermath of Typhoon Basyang’s fury that left dozens dead. (Dr. Nilo opted for early retirement and left for Australia last Nov. 2.)

The second reason for PAG-ASA’s sudden notoriety was the announcement that the agency had lost 24 of its key personnel, many of them veteran weather forecasters, who had resigned to join the state weather agency of Dubai. The shortage of experienced personnel was one reason cited by the agency why bungled its job on ‘Basyang’.

The third whammy was the announcement by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that 83 of its geologists had left for overseas work over the past three years, hindering government programs for mapping earthquake faults and mineral resources.

To be sure, government officials are fully aware of the negative impact of the OFW phenomenon on the local economy. After all, it has been the official policy of every administration since the 1970s to export labor as a means of easing the domestic unemployment situation and at the same time generate foreign exchange. Today, between nine to 10 million OFWs are toiling in nearly a hundred countries. They remitted US$17.3 billion in 2009, accounting for more than 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

The brain drain syndrome has proved to be a tough nut to crack. While everyone agrees that the labor export policy should only be a stop-gap measure, there are no easy answers on how to minimize, if not stop, the brain drain.

Likewise, there seems to be no unanimity on how serious the problem is. Some are already pressing the panic button. But there are those who claim that there is really no “widespread brain drain,” but a general mismanagement by government of the working talent that we have.

“We have so many that have ‘brains,’ but they’re either unemployed or employed in the wrong industry,” says Loreto Soriano, executive director of the Federated Associations of Manpower Exporters (FAME), Inc. “It is not true that most of the OFWs are professionals and skilled workers. Pilots and forecasters are very small in numbers.”

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) support Soriano’s contention. POEA statistics show that new or first-time OFWs during the last decade numbered about 300,000, with only 20% of them categorized as skilled, highly skilled and professionals. The rest are labeled as low-skilled and unskilled, including domestic helpers. “If we relate to the number of college/university graduates every year that averaged 900,000 during the last ten years, there is no brain drain,” argues Soriano.

According to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), in 2007 there were more than 600,000 enrollees in Nursing, and more than 500,000 in Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) and Information Technology (IT), but only 40,000 were enrolled in Engineering and related disciplines.

The unabated mass production of nursing graduates has inevitably led to an oversupply of nurses. Today, there are more than 200,000 licensed nurses who cannot land overseas jobs either due to a soft demand or lack of the required hospital work experience. Local hospitals, which experienced a severe nurse shortage about five years ago, are turning down a long list of applicants, some of them willing to pay just to get experience.

“Thus, we see tens of thousands of nurses, engineers, HRM specialists, Information Technologists and teachers employed in call centers, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), sprawling malls and food-chains like Jollibee, McDonald’s and Kentucky,” observes Soriano.

He blames skills mismatch as the culprit, pointing to the failure of the educational system to produce the right graduates needed by the labor market. He notes that despite a huge domestic workforce, thousands of jobs – mostly in technical and vocational fields – remain unfilled due to lack skilled personnel. As a result, a number of factories and light and heavy industries have closed down or moved overseas.

“Local industries during the past 30 years, they are gone. We practically do not have manufacturing, garment, leather goods, cannery and fabrication industries anymore,” laments Soriano.

In its place is the Service Sector, which provides more than half – almost 63% – of the nation’s entire economic output. But Soriano says, “This sector does not provide permanent employment, but only contractualization.” These lopsided contractual arrangements for the supply of workers have also become a factor for migration, says former labor undersecretary Susan Ople. “Contractual workers subsist on five-to-six-month job contracts while a legally deployed overseas Filipino worker has a guaranteed two-year contract with a fixed and higher salary,” she said.

According to Myrna Asuncion, an assistant director at the National Economic and Development Authority, the government has been seeking ways to upgrade salaries and benefits. “But local salaries can only go up by so much before they start hurting the competitiveness of local industries,” she told Agence France-Presse. “We want to provide employment opportunities in the Philippines but there are some sectors that say salaries are already too high.”

Soriano suggests that the government conduct a reality check of the present economic system. “Both government and private sector business must realize that our economy is sick with what I call the ‘Philippine Syndrome,’” he says. Also called the “Dutch Disease,” it results in a high remittance growth rate, leading to stronger peso and increased imports and government debt, which ultimately discourages domestic production, says Soriano. This must be tempered or stopped, he adds, otherwise we will have a “jobless growth-economy,” which encourages smuggling and promotes corruption.

Soriano says monetary authorities should review their policies, noting that a strong peso leads to a rise in cost of local products, which in turn lead consumers to opt for cheaper imported goods to the detriment of local businessmen and workers. He suggests a national economic policy that is balanced, inward-looking and nationalistic in order to support our basic manufacturing, agricultural, light and heavy industries. “That will provide permanent employment to our graduates, thereby creating a large pool of qualified workers for local and overseas jobs,” he says.




1 Comment 08 December 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

One of the most colorful real-life showbiz love stories is the saga of singer-entertainers Regine Velasquez and Ogie Alcasid. The Singer and Songwriter, as the two are sometimes referred to, are two of the most successful artists in Original Pinoy Music history.

Their fans have faithfully followed their careers and had long wished the two would eventually become a couple. But bad timing and Ogie’s unsettled marital status had put off a public announcement of their affair. It was only in the middle of 2007 that the marriage of Ogie to Michelle Van Eimeren was annulled. The closet lovers finally came out in the open to proclaim their love affair. Now comes their nuptial on December 22, which is already being billed as the Wedding of the Year.

The private wedding ceremonies will be held at the exclusive Punta Fuego Resort in Nasugbu, Batangas. The original venue was a beach resort, also in Batangas, but the owners backed out after initially agreeing to host the event. Regine reveals that she took the rejection badly and got depressed for two weeks.

Wedding entourage

The couple’s close friends in the industry are part of the entourage. President Benigno Aquino III will be one of the secondary sponsors. Regine and Ogie had campaigned for the President in the May presidential elections. Ogie’s ex-wife Michelle, who had remarried in 2009, volunteered to do the floral arrangement, and their two daughters – Leila, 12, and Sarah, 7 – will serve as flower girls.

Regine’s gown, a gift from cosmetic surgeon Vicki Belo, is designed by the US-based well-known Filipina couturier Monique Lhuillier, who dresses many Hollywood stars. Ogie will be wearing a suit designed by Randy Ortiz.

An unlikely couple

Before they met and became close, Regine and Ogie were involved with different partners. An aspiring singer/actor then, Ogie was tapped as one of the hosts for the Miss Universe beauty pageant in Manila in 1974 and assigned to chaperon and assist the contestants. But as fate would have it, Ogie – brown-skinned and standing barely five feet – and Michelle – the blue-eyed, blonde and fair-skinned Miss Australia – immediately hit it off. They eventually tied the knot in 1998.

Despite the physical and cultural divide, Ogie and Michelle led what seemed to be a happy married life in Manila. Michelle tried showbiz, appearing in a few TV shows and movies. But while Ogie was making great headway in his career, their marriage started to falter. In 2003, Michelle decided to go back to Australia with their two daughters. In spite of tell-tale signs of a brewing storm, the couple did not give any indication that their union was encountering rough seas.

‘Home wrecker’

Regine, on the other hand, had remained single all her adult life as she was deeply immersed in her career. She was discovered in 1984 when she emerged the first grand champion in the singing contest, Ang Bagong Kampeon. She gained international fame upon winning the Asia Pacific Singing Contest in 1989 and became the first Filipino to do a solo concert at New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall in 1991.

Her first taste of showbiz intrigue came in the early ‘90s when she was rumored to have an illicit affair with singer-comedian Janno Gibbs, who was then married to Bing Loyzaga. Not long after the tabloid gossip had died down, Regine got involved with another singer and fellow GMA-7 artist, Ariel Rivera, while the latter was still on with actress Gelli de Belen. (Ariel and Gelli eventually reconciled and married in 1997.) These two episodes earned her the label “home wrecker” from her detractors.

Regine says she did not expect that her friendship with Ogie would develop into a romantic affair. “Hindi ko rin ine-expect!” she said when asked how it all began. “At saka, isa lang naman ang failed relationship ko [referring to Ariel Rivera]. Actually, dalawa pa lang naman sila [Ariel and Ogie]. Actually, it was really unexpected talaga for both of us, especially sa kanya because, you know, he’s married and we were just really friends. . . I never really expected we’ll end up together. But I always thought he’s a wonderful man.”

The secret is out

In Yes! Magazine’s June 2007 issue, Ogie announced what many had long suspected. “I love her, I’m crazy about her,” he said, declaring for the first time in public his feelings for Regine. He admitted that he and Regine had carried on a secret affair for several years while his wife Michelle and children were in Australia and their marital status in limbo pending approval of its annulment.

A month later, during a press conference for Pinoy Pop Superstar Grand Finals, which Regine was hosting at the time, the 40-year-old Asia’s Songbird acknowledged Ogie’s feelings, and proclaimed that she too loved him very much. “This relationship is important to me. This is the only relationship I have and the relationship I will ever have,” she said.

She said she had mixed feelings now that the secret was out. “Happy ako, although hindi halata, dahil at least now it’s out. But at the same time, very scared on what people will say about me. I’m scared I will be judged again.”

Regine also tearfully thanked Ogie for his discreet behavior all the time they were on. “Nagpapasalamat ako kay Ogie for protecting me. Hindi namin mailabas ito dahil napakaraming kailangang protektahan ni Ogie — hindi lang ako kundi pati pamilya niya.

Michelle by their side

For all what had transpired, Ogie holds his ex-wife in high regard, calling her his “best friend.” Michelle and Regine likewise have become good friends. In November 2009 Ogie and Regine traveled to Australia to attend the wedding of Michelle to Australian businessman Mark Murrow. Regine sang while Ogie played host during the wedding ceremony.

Michelle herself has nothing but kind words for Ogie and Regine. “Alam mo si Regine, talagang ang bait ng tao na ‘yan, and Ogie is so… when he’s with her sobrang saya parang iba ang ugali niya, he’s so happy. So ‘pag sama-sama kaming lahat, parang it’s just nice naman.”

Addressing the engaged couple, Michelle said: “Ogie, Regine, alam ninyo naman yung feelings ko para sa inyong dalawa. I’m just so happy, finally you’re getting married at alam ninyo nandito ako para sa inyo. If ever you need me, we’re here and we wish you every happiness in life, all the best, and mahal ko kayo!”

The lovebirds could not be happier at the turn of events. “At the end of the day, when you’re happy, if you’re okay, then you’re okay,” says the 43-year-old groom-to-be. “It doesn’t matter what people say, you have to do what you have to do with your life. You’ve got to be true to yourself.”


Current Affairs


No Comments 01 December 2010

A report by the Business Process Association of Philippines (BPAP) and Everest Research Institute, an autonomous research and analysis firm, says that the Philippines is set to overtake India as the call center capital of the world.

The report noted that major companies like HSBC, Cisco, BT Plc and T-Mobile are moving their work from India due to the alarming attrition rate there. Several other large firms are also contemplating setting up another core support center in the Philippines.

Another report, by IBM’s Latest Global Locations Trend Annual Report released recently in New York, said the Philippines is now the world’s leader in business support functions such as shares services and business process outsourcing after effectively overtaking India in these categories last year.

The 20-page report, launched in October but was only made available online in November, said it was the first time that India was not in the leading position for these activities. India now ranks No. 2.

“The Philippines has taken over the lead in the global ranking from India, after having challenged the top position for several years,” the report said.

It said the Philippines offered a similarly attractive business environment for international business support functions as India, but has not had the same labor cost increases as have occurred in various Indian “hot spots” in recent years.

The Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP), meanwhile, says the Philippines is already ahead of India in terms of number of call center employees this year.

In a television interview on ANC’s Headstart last Dec. 2, CCAP president Benedict Hernandez said, “When you think of the contact center environment, we have assumed the number one position. Last year (2009), we were about 300,000. This year, its 350,000 in terms of employed Filipino working in call centers in the Philippines compared to only 330,000 in India. Right now, the best place to put a call center from a quality position is the Philippines.” he said.

Hernandez said the country assumed its lofty status because of the quality of English-speaking employees in the Philippines. “We won this war not because we’re lower cost than India. To some extent, we are a little bit higher priced to operate a call center compared to India. We won this battle by virtue of Filipino quality.  We grew faster than India because it’s the Filipino talent, which is world class caliber,” he said.

According to the report released recently, the major outsourcing services buyers are convinced that the Philippines has a number of advantages over India which would help the country to become the most preferred global destination for voice-based sales and customer services.

For instance, they feel that the Philippines enjoys more cultural affinity with the US and possesses a large talent pool. In addition, the Philippines also offers better tax motivations.

BPAP and Everest said the voice-based jobs contribute as much as 45 per cent of India’s entire BPO services exports, estimated at $5.58 billion in 2010. Compared to this, the total export revenues from just voice-based work for the Philippine BPO firms would be about $5.70 billion in 2010.

According to the partner of Everest Research India, Nikhil Rajpal, the Philippines will overtake India in pure call center business in 2010 and be the new capital of the global voice-based BPO industry.

The report also states that major outsourcing services buyers like BT Plc and Cisco are providing more and more voice-based customer support and sales work to inexpensive destinations like the Philippines. For example, the customer support executives in overseas such as the Philippines are paid just one-fourth of what their counterparts in the US with equivalent talent and experience actually get.

Industry experts believe that at the pace at which the Philippines BPO industry is progressing, it is very much possible that in another five years’ time, the firms in that country would leave behind India, whose BPO industry is worth $12.4 billion. The offshoring and outsourcing (O&O) industry has witnessed tremendous growth during the last two years and is now currently worth $9.5 billion.

Last November, IBM opened three new service delivery facilities inside the UP Ayala Techno Hub in Quezon City that will deliver outsourced process services, including human resources, finance and administration, customer relationship management, application management services and shared services (IBM internal) to existing and future clients of IBM’s BPO unit.

This expansion further strengthens IBM’s existing service delivery capability in the Philippines which serves over a million client employees across 84 countries. A mix of BPO services will be delivered to global companies from sectors such as healthcare/ pharmaceutical, consumer goods, technology, entertainment, telecommunication and distribution through these new facilities.

IBM growth markets general manager Bruno Di LeoHe said the Philippines is attractive to international business due to its well-educated workforce, strong work ethic and good language abilities.

“Filipinos are competitive and flexible and productive. That is why we are confident in investing in the future of the Philippines,” he said.

Di Leo said IBM is committed to growth and to the Philippines. IBM operates in eight world-class locations in the business centers of Metro Manila and Metro Cebu and delivers IT and business solutions to leading public and private sector clients throughout the country.

Di Leo also revealed that in the next five years, IBM intends to more than double its employees in the Philippines because the country is a world leader in providing business support functions.

He added that next year, IBM intends to double its business growth in these global delivery centers by building centers of competence with deep industry expertise in business analytics, applications management and helpdesk operations. “We will hire more industry IT architects as well as graduates from top universities,” he noted.

IBM Philippines country general manager James Velasquez said this expansion demonstrates their continued commitment to the country.

“The Philippines is one of the strategic locations in IBM’s Global Delivery network that integrates capabilities, assets and skills without borders. With abundant resources and globally benchmarked processes and methodologies, IBM will provide solutions to global and domestic clients to help them reach higher operational efficiency in a cost-effective way,” he said.

The Economic Times, a publication in the Times of India group, recently reported on all the Indian call centre and BPO companies that are either moving or setting up subsidiary operations in the Philippines. Indian companies now employ over 20,000 in Metro Manila alone. Another Indian call centre company, Convergys, plans to hire 3,000 people this year and Sitel is looking for 4,000 employees.

These companies join well-known multinational companies like MSN-Microsoft, Intuit, Expedia, HSBC, AT&T and IBM, which have already established their service and sales call centers in Manila, Davao, Angeles and Cebu.

The Philippine government has been actively encouraging the development of BPO industries by substantial investments in communications infrastructure. The country’s telecommunications network is superior to that of India, and Filipino call center agents can deal with 20 to 30 per cent more calls a day than can those in India.

BPO companies in the country enjoy income tax holidays from four to eight years, and a five percent tax rate on gross income after that time period. If situated in IT Parks and eco-zones, these companies also enjoy tax and duty exemption on imported capital equipment.

Industry observers note that one advantage of the Philippines stems from India’s much greater general economic success. Last year for example, the Indian economy grew by nearly eight per cent as it has for several years while the Philippine economy grew by only one per cent. As a result, there are many more opportunities for young, educated people in India and there is a high turnover of staff in Indian call centers and BPO offices, as much as 60 per cent a year. With few options, Filipinos tend to stay put.

Others point to the Philippines’ close affinity to the United States that serves as added attraction for America-based multinationals.

Chris Repholz, senior vice-president with the U.S. outsourcing company Zenta, aptly put in a recent speech: “Culturally, India is less westernized than the Philippines. Filipinos speak idiomatic American English better than Indians and their accent is more neutral.”


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