Tag archive for "Migration"

‘LITTLE ITALY’ RISES ON PHILIPPINE HILLSIDE

Migration

‘LITTLE ITALY’ RISES ON PHILIPPINE HILLSIDE

1 Comment 27 January 2011

By Mynardo Macaraig

Mabini, Batangas — On an isolated hillside in the Philippines, a tiny slice of Italy has risen from among the vegetable patches and coconut trees, the product of thousands of overseas workers.

Large stone houses — often with brand-new vehicles in their driveways — cover the district, even though the narrow streets can barely accommodate more than one car at a time.

This is a sharp contrast to the lifestyle in the 1980s, recalled district chairman Raymundo Magsino, 63.

“Back then, we depended on farming: vegetables, fruit and corn. We were the poorest district in the province. These were all just thatch huts,” Magsino said, pointing to the pastel-colored houses that dot the hilly area.

This new wealth comes from the remittances of residents — including entire families — who have gone to Italy to work, turning a district of subsistence farmers into a relatively prosperous community in a generation.

About 6,300 people from the town’s total population of 47,000 have made the trip, said Aileen Constantino-Penas, program director of a non-government organization for migrant workers in Mabini.

The money sent home from Italy by Filipinos doing mostly domestic work and laboring has completely changed the face of Mabini town, located about 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Manila.

Those who have left have brought touches of Italy back with them.

“The accents of their homes are no longer typical of Filipino homes,” Constantino-Penas said.

Italian-style large terraces or wrap-around porches with marble balusters proliferate in Mabini, some with exteriors covered with artificial stone. Other houses look like mini-Pantheons, complete with Roman-style columns in front.

Traces of Italy can also be found inside the houses, even in the bathrooms. Bidets are common here even though they are unheard of elsewhere in the Philippines.

And when speaking among themselves, those from Italy sometimes use Italian words including the occasional “Mama Mia” exclamation, said Constantino-Penas, whose relatives are also among the workers in Italy.

Going abroad to seek higher-paying work is nothing unusual in the Philippines: nine million people, or about 10 percent of the population, are currently laboring abroad.

They work as sailors, nurses, construction workers, musicians, maids and in dozens of other professions in almost every country in the world.

But the people of Mabini have found Italy to be especially welcoming.

District chairman Magsino said some people made the journey to Italy as early as 1977, at a time when this meant sneaking into the country illegally.

Working in Italy really caught on in the 1980s as word spread of the opportunities there, luring even more Mabini residents.

People who have relatives there talked to (prospective) Italian employers and told them that (their relatives) will work for you so they fixed the papers to bring them in,” Magsino said.

Luciana Hernandez, 81, said she was one of the pioneers of the exodus to Italy, having helped arrange for her daughter to go there to work in 1986, back when that meant sneaking into Italy from Austria or the former Yugoslavia.

“An agency took her by plane (to Europe). Then by speedboat, then they crossed the mountains on foot, hiding all the time,” she recalled.

Once her daughter was established in Italy, she was able to petition for the rest of her siblings to go there, where they also obtained jobs, said Hernandez.

Eventually all but one of Hernandez’s 10 children went off to work in Italy. Most of them are still there and have taken their own children with them, she said.

“When they first left, I cried every time I thought of them. But I am used to it now and these days, they can call very easily with these new phones,” she said.

Life as a foreign worker in Italy is easier than in other countries, say those who have worked there. While tales of abused Filipino maids proliferate in many countries, Filipinos in Italy enjoy legal protection and many of them get along well with their hosts, they say.

“Italy is a better place, even if you are just a domestic helper. They treat you well and even give you insurance for hospitalization,” said Alona Solis, 39, who first went to Italy when she was 16 years old.

“They are not allowed to hurt you. You can complain about abuse, unlike some other countries.”

Since she left for Italy in 1986, she has returned to the Philippines only twice: once in 2005 to get married and last December for a vacation that she is still enjoying. But she plans to go back to Italy soon.

“I am used to working there. My boss there already sees me as his child,” she said.

Her husband also has a job in Italy and they share an apartment with her two young children, said Solis, who can speak Italian.

Solis can earn as much as 1,000 euros a month ($1,350) as a domestic helper if she works overtime, far more than she could ever get in the Philippines as a high-school drop-out.

“If the educated people have trouble finding a job here, how much more the uneducated,” she said.

Despite the wealth brought by the Italian ventures, officials concede that there are costs to having so many people from the community working outside the country.

Magsino, the district chairman, said family members left behind had become dependent on the remittances of their relatives.

“Many don’t want to work in the farms anymore. They just play cards and go to cockfights,” he lamented.

Constantino-Penas said her non-government organization, Atikha, had been working to teach the overseas workers how to manage their money and to make sure their relatives at home didn’t suffer the ill-effects of separation.

“There is a social cost of migration. Children left behind don’t want to study. Their mindset is they should go abroad and not study. We see a lot of drop-outs, most of them among overseas workers’ children,” she said.

Her organization is teaching children to stay in school, to save their money rather than spend it, while also helping their guardians learn how to budget and invest the money that is sent home from Italy.

Meanwhile, Mabini tourism officer Pacencia Casapao has struggled against the apathy lingering over the town in her effort to give it more touches of Italy.

“I’ve been asking for someone to come back and set up an Italian restaurant for tourists. But no one wants to do that,” she said. (Agence France-Presse)

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WHAT PRICE OVERSEAS EMPLOYMENT?

Migration

WHAT PRICE OVERSEAS EMPLOYMENT?

No Comments 12 January 2011

By Pepper Marcelo

In September 2010, a Filipina domestic worker returning to Manila from Qatar left her newly born baby in the lavatory of a Gulf Air airplane. She later claimed that she had been raped by her employer, becoming pregnant as a result and, fearing shame from her family, decided to abandon the baby in the trash compartment of the airplane restroom. The baby, later named George Francis by caregivers, survived and has been reunited with his repentant mother.

The following month, another OW committed suicide inside the plane that was bringing him home. Marlon Cueva, 36, was found dead by flight attendants as Gulf Air Flight 154 was preparing to land in Manila from Abu Dhabi. The victim was observed to have been anxious through most of the flight and kept on telling other passengers that he was “sorry.”

Cueva left for the country in September last year to work as an electrician. But barely two months into his two-year contract he resigned, citing “personal reasons.”

These two incidents are the latest grim statistics on the human toll of overseas employment. Every day a sad, often tragic, tale unfolds in every nook and cranny of the world where some 10 million overseas Filipino workers toil under physically severe and emotionally draining conditions.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is currently monitoring some 100 active death penalty cases involving OFWs around the world. Of that number, 16 are for murder-homicide (including rape-robbery with murder), and 74 involve drug trafficking. Last December, President Benign Aquino III admitted that the government had boycotted the Nobel Prize awarding ceremonies in Oslo so as not to earn the ire of the Chinese government, which protested the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to a prominent Chinese pro-democracy activist. Saying the government’s move was “in the national interest,” the President cited the ongoing cases of five OFWs facing execution in China for drug related cases.

Material gain

To be sure, overseas employment has been good to millions of our countrymen and to the economy as well. Think of the mouths it has fed, the students it has sent to school, the houses it has built, the business it has spawned and all the material wealth it has generated.

Then factor in the invaluable boon to the local economy by the enormous remittances sent in by OFWs. The remittance volume last year was projected at $18.5 billion, up by eight per cent from the 2009 level of $17.35 billion. Economists say without these money inflows, the Philippine economy would have been in tatters a long time ago.

But at what price? As if separation from one’s family is not enough pain to bear, migrant workers have to endure untold suffering abroad – abusive employers, inhuman working conditions, meager pay, inhospitable surroundings, homesickness, lack of government support, no job security, discrimination. All this contribute to indescribable physical, emotional and psychological anguish which could push the workers and their families to mental stress, bodily illnesses, and even death. One can only recall the case of Flor Contemplacion, the Filipina domestic worker in Singapore who was executed for killing a fellow Filipina housekeeper and a Singaporean boy the latter was caring for. Citing Contempacion’s unstable mental condition at the time, her supporters pleaded for clemency but to no avail,

Social cost

“It’s difficult to characterize the social cost for OFWs,” says Maria Angela Villalba, CEO of Unlad Kabayan, a program of the Asian Migrant Center which provides services to migrant workers, including savings mobilization and alternative investments at home.

“The situation is this – you’re being uprooted and placed in a situation where the people and environment around you are hostile. You work like a beast of burden from the time you wake up to the time you sleep. You’re always at the mercy of your employer. It is so unbearable that many lose their minds.”

Villalba says the suffering of migrant workers is made worse by the absence of a safe and welcoming place of refuge in their place of destination. “Their coming home to the family after a long day of hard work is taken for granted. But if you do hard work, and you have no family to come home to, and you come home to a cold bed, in a small room, and then wake up the following day to do the same thing, you get yourself into that depressing situation,” she laments.

Given the government’s inability to provides protection and services to OFWs, non-government organizations (NGOs) and migrant workers groups like Unlad Kabayan heroically fill the gap by offering a myriad of services – from crisis intervention, paralegal assistance and counseling to setting up refuge centers and educational services on self-organization, human rights and financial literacy.

The number of OFW-related deaths is rising, notes Villalba, but whether they are due to work-related stress or depression remains untracked. “The government’s response is not all of them died through mysterious circumstances,” she says. “Many of them were supposedly sick, or had accidents, and generally when they’re abroad, there’s a chance or possibility they will die.”

Families left behind

Back home, many families left behind by OFWs are not faring in terms of their psychological and emotional well being. Countless accounts have been told about broken families caused by philandering spouses, either the one abroad or the other left behind.

“Marital relationships require nurturing and intimacy,” says Dr. Gina Hechanova-Alampay, psychologist and founder of the online counseling site OFWOnline. “This becomes difficult when the spouses are physically separated from each other. The OFW and his/her spouse need to find a way to establish such intimacy at least emotionally across the miles. Unless this is done, it is not surprising that they will turn to people who can fulfill their needs for companionship and intimacy.”

With regards to the children, many feel abandoned, and potentially grow up to be spoiled and undisciplined without proper parental guidance. Communications technology such as the internet and cell phones cannot fill the vacuum created by absentee parents.

“Parenting is not just about providing for the needs of children. It is also about being their emotionally and psychologically in order to raise children and teach them the right values,” says Hechanova-Alampay. “Having an OFW parent simply means that the burden of this may fall on the parent who is left behind unless the OFW can constantly communicate with their children to provide such support.”

Besides the separation anxiety that comes from longing for parental care, children of OFWs may also be confused about gender roles or develop a materialistic attitude. Sometimes, when the father is reluctant or unwilling to fill the parental void left by an absent mother, it is usually the eldest daughter who assumes the role of caregiver for the family.

Government’s role

The Philippine government is fully aware of the problems confronting OFWs and their families. But for all its avowed concern for the “Bagong Bayani,” it has not been able to provide the necessary services for workers abroad and their families at home. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) and the Philippine embassies and consulates are grossly short of funds and staff.

Migrant groups have complained that government agencies are slow to respond, and even insensitive and apathetic to the plight of the migrant workers. “I’ve heard reports from workers about government officials admonishing them, ‘With the lack of jobs in the Philippines, you should be thankful to have a job in the first place,’” narrates Villalba. “It is not very encouraging, to say the least.”

Hechanova-Alampay adds that government political and legal officers and consulate staff are not trained to provide psychosocial support to migrant workers. “I think the government needs to recognize this need and find ways either by assigning people in the consulate who would have the capacity for such type of psychological service or to at the very least train staff on doing ‘first-aid counseling’.  The consulate staff could also be trained on spotting danger signs so they can refer OFWs to appropriate professionals.”

Given the government’s inadequate resources and services to cope with the myriad of pressing problems of our migrant workers and their families, our OFWs have only themselves, their kababayans and migrant organizations to fall back on. With very limited options, they can console themselves with the thought that perhaps conditions back home are not any better.

For workers experiencing hardship abroad, Villalba advises them to remain optimistic and to focus on their goals for the future.

“Save your money, and then build your dream or plan your future while you are still here in your destination country,” she says. “You will not be in that country forever; you have a family to come home to. Put your plan together early and realize it with your family before you become strangers.”

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KAPIT SA PATALIM

Migration

KAPIT SA PATALIM

No Comments 10 July 2010

By F Sionil Jose

We have come to esteem our overseas workers as heroes and, indeed, they are. According to official statistics, they bring annually $14 billion or even as much as $20 billion. This vast sum sustains the economy; without it, this nation will collapse — its shopping malls will close, the profligate lifestyle of the rich will cease and thousands upon thousands will definitely starve. FULL STORY

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THE PINOYS’ UNIQUE DIASPORA

Migration

THE PINOYS’ UNIQUE DIASPORA

No Comments 14 April 2010

By Joe Rivera

For Filipinos in the global diaspora, displacement came as an aftermath of the hardships brought about by the Second World War and worsening economic and political conditions in the country, particularly from the late 1960s to the present.

During the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, Filipinos started leaving in droves. The discovery of the usefulness of overseas workers to the local economy prompted the government and the economic elite to encourage sending them abroad to keep the rotten system afloat.

As globalization facilitated the mobility of goods, services, information and ideas, it also engendered the movement of people, which soon became our primary export to the rest of the world. It has been estimated that there are about 11 million Filipinos overseas scattered in every country in the world, or almost 12 percent of the total population of the Philippines. FULL STORY

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OFWS FACE BLEAK PROSPECTS

Migration

OFWS FACE BLEAK PROSPECTS

3 Comments 11 March 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

The Philippine Overseas Employment sector is at a crossroads. For decades, the country has relied on remittances to fuel the local economy and its domestic consumption. Now it faces rough sailing as labor demand from overseas slows down as a result of the global financial crisis.

No other country has had as much an over-reliance on remittances as the Philippines. Compared to other top recipient countries such as India, China and Mexico, the high percentage of remittances to the national income, or GDP, is highly disproportionate.

For example, the ratio of remittances (in billions of dollars) to the GDP of India is 27-to-3, China 27.5-to-1, and Mexico 25-to-2.8. The Philippines, on the other hand, is 17-to-13.8.

The country’s economic survival is dependent on sustaining these OFW remittances. With the current global financial crisis effecting migrant workers, however, the OFW sector faces an accelerating number of complex challenges going into the new decade and beyond.

Europe, North America and Asia are in a recession of unknown duration and depth. Job orders from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, previously considered the best countries for expatriates, have stopped.

Only Middle East countries of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Libya are hiring workers, using government and sovereign funds that sustain much of their current infrastructure projects and OFW manpower demand.

“To them, the Middle East is a difficult place. There’s no freedom there,” says Loreto Soriano, executive director of the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters (FAME). “The point I want to clarify, is that in those first world countries that the Filipino would normally want to go, they are the first to be affected by the crisis. You have to be practical. If you’re looking for a job and want to earn, that’s the place.”

Soriano is an Overseas Contract Worker (OCW) himself, having experienced personal economic benefits (as well as family sacrifice) while stationed in Saudi Arabia in the 80’s. Over the last two decades he has become involved in the migration of workers, and has been advocating the design of OFW components that would be beneficial to OFWs and the nation.

Dutch disease

To him, remittances are causing a “Dutch Disease.” “It is a phenomena in which you are awash with wealth but spend it unwisely.”

The concept is based on the impact of the high remittance growth rate in many sectors of the economy, including appreciating the peso, increasing foreign imports and discouraging domestic production, increasing government debt, encouraging smuggling and allowing for the growth of corruption.

“For example, before, to sustain the wealth of your family, you had a farm, a piggery or small poultry. This is the source of income that provided education to your kids. If you have a daughter in Japan or Saudi earning overseas and sending home money, you don’t need to sustain that farm.”

On a larger scale, “Dutch Disease” is the detrimental outcome of a country’s foreign exchange income without the government’s cost of development and investment.

Erroneous data

The financial sector and government agencies have propagated the falsehood that the last few years’ remittance record increases have been driven by a large increasing group of OFWs working in “recession-proof” occupations.

In fact, professional deployments have declined by 45% from 2005-2007, and less than 5% of all OFWs should be considered working in recession-proof positions, such as healthcare, 70% of whom are employed in Saudi Arabia.

There is a fundamental flaw to the collection and processing of OFW deployment and hiring data. Deployment statistics reflect multiple counting, while job classifications are too few, outmoded, and not sufficiently detailed. Financially, authorities have been aware of OFW statistical inconsistencies and deficiencies for years. Most statistical claims are believed but “upwardly biased.”

Many officials say there is record growth, but it is attributable to change in mode of transfer rather than increased deployments of professionals with increased salaries.

These statistics reflect different channels of delivery – from banking to non-banking, or non-informal channels such as couriers, hand carry and padala transfer methods.

“If there is growth, why can’t poor people feel it? Because it is a jobless growth. From a productive economy, it has changed into a consumptive economy. Because of the inflow of dollars, and industries are dying, there is so much consuming by the families of OFWs. And if there in nothing to buy locally, we import everything we need.”

And contrary to popular belief that OFWS are employed in recession-proof industries and a high percentage of them are professionals, they are not. Though it is stated that 90% of the OFW workforce is composed of professionals, the number is closer to 13%, and that is steadily declining.

The fact is that OFW deployment is dominated by low-skilled workers, encompassing household, service, factory and labor. The deployment of professionals – nurses, doctors, etc. – remains low compared with other skills categories. In the supposedly “recession-proof” healthcare industry, only approximately 3% of nurses were new hires in 2007, down 36% from their peak of 9,000 in 2001.

It is also believed that hundreds of thousands of nurses are deployed each year, when in reality, it is less than 10,000. And that many of them go to the U.S., but actually only 186 went in 2007.

Unemployable graduates

“That kind of dialogue – that tens of thousands of nurses are deployed since 2003 – invited half a million enrollees in nursing for the past six years,” Soriano says. “That’s why you have computer schools like AMA and STI and Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT), companies that are dedicated to IT and engineering, opening nursing courses.”

The Philippines is producing unemployable candidates and qualified graduates for most job orders, yet nationwide specialty “schools” and programs keep proliferating, ignoring the job market reality.

For many years, the Overseas Employment Service Providers (OESP) has voiced their concerns on the incompatibility of college, technical and vocation courses with international standards.

Unfilled job vacancies, approximately 500,000 according to the POEA, were not filled due to the lack of experienced, qualified professionals and skilled workers. There are 389,000 job orders, but only 25% can be filled in the next 6 months.

Increased competition and lack of experienced, qualified applicants will continue to increase and accelerate. There is also a lack of permanent jobs for gainful experience, with manufacturing industries that offer permanent jobs quickly dwindling.

“Can we change that? No, unless there are structural changes.” One of his solutions is that returned and “retired” OFWs should be treated as productive assets and become part of a new economic model that utilizes their experience, knowledge and available investment funds by working under sustainable domestic programs. This includes agriculture and community-based commerce.

Failure to act now, Soriano says, to protect and sustain the OFW economic engine will cause great political and social uncertainty in the country and affect the capacity to be a regional player in the future.

“Our economists and government policy makers should realize this. The effect of their failure to protect the local economy is now affecting the overseas employee.”

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