Tag archive for "overseas Filipino workers"




2 Comments 06 May 2014

By Maribel Castillo


WHILE on a cruise to Alaska, my husband and I met many Filipino workers — now hailed as modern-day heroes of the Philippines — who endure many months at sea to support their families and help keep the nation’s economy afloat. alaska cruise4_550alaska cruise maribel2_550alaska cruise-maribel4_550Comprising almost half of the ship’s staff, Filipinos work as waiters, chefs, retail clerks, spa staff, fitness directors, cruise ship entertainers, lifeguards, production managers, host staff, kitchen staff, cruise ship bartenders, cruise casino workers, security workers, beauticians, excursion organizers, customer service representatives, deckhands, even as ship doctor. Manuel Carlos was the handsome Filipino maitre’ d at our favorite Italian restaurant of the Norwegian Sun. Here is his story.

THE plot is familiar, reminiscent of the teleseryes so popular among Philippine TV viewers. Manuel Carlos (not his real name) was one of seven children of a petty bureaucrat and a homemaker from Binangonan, Rizal. His mother often resorted to creative ways of stretching her husband’s meager earnings to feed and raise a brood of seven. “We were so poor that my parents could not afford to give us an allowance while we attended high school. I walked to school every day so I could save on jeepney fare,” Manuel recalls. “In December, when all my schoolmates got new clothes for Christmas, I had to make do with khakis, the single pair of pants that I would wear every day the entire school year until I outgrew it.”

Early on, Manuel’s mother urged her children to seek their fortunes elsewhere. “Hangarin ninyong lumayo upang kayo ay umasenso”. This is the sorry lot of the poor and the lower middle class in the Philippines. For many, there is only one way to pull themselves out of the rut of poverty. They must tear themselves away from all that they hold dear: family, friends, familiar surroundings, country.

Manuel Carlos is one of those wanderers, among the growing number of OFWs (Overseas Foreign Workers) who are fortunate enough to land a job abroad. Manuel works with one of the world’s large fleets of luxury ocean liners. He is a veteran of the sea, having worked with Norwegian Cruise Lines for 15 years now.

A marketing graduate, Manuel started out as a detail man for a pharmaceuticals firm in Manila. Heeding his mother’s advice, he did a brief stint in Saudi Arabia as a bank clerk. Back in the Philippines, married and with a growing family, Manuel realized he would never be able to send his kids to college on a clerk’s income.

Noted for their hospitality and friendly disposition, Filipinos excel as waitresses and chambermaids on cruise ships.

Noted for their hospitality and friendly disposition, Filipinos excel as waitresses and chambermaids on cruise ships.

So, with hope in his heart, he endured the long lineups in a narrow alley close to the recruiter’s office in Intramuros, hoping to land a job – any job – with one of the cruise lines. Like many others before him, after two long months of patiently waiting in line by the recruiter’s office, he landed his first contract with Norwegian Cruise Lines. In 1994, he started out at the lowest rung of the ladder, working as a mess man in NCL. Manuel spent the next 10 months at sea, catering to the whims of vacationers who dined and wined on board ship as if there were no tomorrow. The hours were long, the pace gruelling and the nights lonely. But he was ecstatic. For the first time in his life, he had savings, and with it he satisfied the elusive dream of owning his own car. “I never imagined I would be driving my own car. I couldn’t even afford jeepney fare when I was a student!”

Several contracts later, Manny realized his family needed more stability. His family was growing. His wife Shirley had borne him three children. He decided to take the plunge and make the ultimate Filipino dream a reality. With his savings and proceeds from the sale of his car, Manny bought a small plot of land in a residential subdivision in Binangonan, Rizal. With his status as an OFW, Sam joined the government’s PAG-IBIG housing program and obtained a half million-peso housing loan, which was released in three batches after submitting photos of ongoing construction. The house was finally completed when Manuel was back at sea. He could barely believe his good fortune until his wife sent snapshots of the two-level, three-bedroom concrete house. He was, at last, a homeowner.

Filipinos are in great demand around the world for their musicality and singing prowess.

Filipinos are in great demand around the world for their musicality and singing prowess.

The years with NCL have been a financial godsend to Manuel, Shirley and kids. Manuel eventually rose up the ladder. He was promoted to the post of assistant MD (Maitre’d). His children are all enrolled in private schools, Manuel declares proudly. Chelsea, 19, is a nursing student at Far Eastern University. Matthew, 17, is a computer science student in Taytay, Rizal. Nathan, 14, is still in high school.

On the surface, all seemed well. But the long months at sea, away from the warm embrace of family, had taken its toll. Young, good-looking and virile, Manuel succumbed to passion and started a four-year affair with a Filipina waitress on the same ship. The relationship bore him a son, now 6 years old. At the time, Manuel basked in his notoriety as the ship’s Pinoy Casanova. Temptation was rife. There were many other lonely women workers on board ship. He started a liaison with another co-worker, with whom he also conceived a child. His two paramours were locked in bitter combat. Sadly, his second lover miscarried.

Back home, his wife Shirley shed many tears, but could not break off with Manuel because she had no income and would be unable to support herself and the children without her husband’s remittances.

It was Chelsea, his eldest daughter, who found the guts to tell him to his face: “You have made my mother miserable. She cries every day. Don’t show your face to us. My father is dead.”

This was Manuel’s wake-up call. He agonized for several weeks trying to sort his life out. That’s when he decided to become a Born-Again Christian. He made a decision to cut off his extra-marital relationships. Twice a week, after his last shift at 11 PM, he joins the Christian fellowship on the ship and spends two hours reading the Bible. He now preaches how to tread the straight and narrow to his fellow workers. He says he has found the courage to resist temptation.

Manuel has now mended the rift with his family. His wife Shirley has been magnanimous in her forgiveness. When Manuel comes home for his 2-month vacation, she will welcome his young son by his paramour into her home. The boy is the spitting image of his father, a reminder of his past transgressions, but also a symbol of the healing that has started to repair family ties broken by the tough challenges posed by being an absentee husband and father.








No Comments 02 February 2014

I am not a fan of the American dream, but I’ve always been a dreamer. The thin line between optimism and wishful thinking becomes narrower when dreams fade into the background of reality. I left the Philippines in 2007 in search of greener pastures in the US. READ FULL STORY




No Comments 02 November 2013

By James M. Noriega

It does not really matter how often I go back to the Philippines. The same nostalgic feeling always brings back old memories but absence and distance have given me a different perspective and appreciation of what I always call home. PHOTO – Author (right) with Filipino worker Ronaldo Go.

The visit this time, however, was for a special purpose. I came home to test and interview shortlisted candidates with the goal of hiring 15 Stainless Steel Tig Welders for a Canadian company, a rare opportunity that could change the lives of the applicants and their families.

How so? For starters, the successful applicants will receive a fortune based on Philippine standards. At $25.62 per hour, they will earn about Php 190 thousand a month, or about Php 2.3 million a year, and with overtime, they can probably add another million pesos. 


The author, James Noriega, (right) poses with two of the Filipino workers – Jordan Lucaben and Juris Ballugo.

The author, James Noriega, (right) with two of the Filipino workers – Jordan Lucaben and Juris Ballugo.

Likewise, they get medical and dental benefits, paid holidays, and disability and unemployment insurance. The best part is the chance later to become permanent residents of Canada, bring their families with them, and eventually become Canadian citizens. And not to forget, they will be working not in some far-flung area but close to one of the most livable cities in the world, Vancouver.

The interview process was both an eye-opener and a tearjerker. Most of the applicants were former OFWs, with stints in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. One who worked in Kuwait related how for five years he was earning only $500 a month working for 12 hours a day, six days a week. Another described the adverse and dangerous working conditions he had to endure in the mines of Angola for a measly pay. From the horror stories I heard, what was clearly evident were the resiliency and endurance of our overseas workers. When I asked them why they wanted to work overseas, they all gave a common motivation. They said they were not seeking greener pastures nor wanting to improve their skills. What they were simply after was the opportunity to earn a decent pay for a considerable period of time so they could support their families.

Poring over the resumes, with particular attention on the applicants’ training and education, I immediately noticed that trade certification programs are nearly non-existent in the Philippines. Even apprenticeship programs are sadly wanting. Worse, there are stories about nursing and HRM graduates paying their way to get accepted as interns and be able to gain work experience. It is like day and night when one compares the prevailing situation in the Philippines with that in Canada, where there is direct linkage between employers and educational and training institutions, not to mention the government incentives for employers to hire apprentices.

I also found that testing equipment in technical and vocational schools in the Philippines are sorely inadequate and outdated. This was evident when I brought a piece of finished industrial part for the applicants to reproduce. Not one of them could come close to duplicating it. But they claimed that they could do it with the right equipment and material, something that I could relate and attest to, having personal knowledge of the capability of Filipino workers. A foreign recruiter who has no understanding of the unique situation of our local workers and who would base his recruiting decision solely on such an encounter would surely come out empty-handed. I can imagine how many Filipino jobseekers have missed their chance to work abroad because of the substandard equipment and inadequate training they receive at home.

Canadian employers are not looking for cheap labor when they set their eyes on foreign workers. After all, wages are mandated by the Canadian government; the salary offered to foreign workers must be at par with the prevailing industry rate. Recruiters are after skills that they can measure and evaluate during hiring. Amid the prevailing economic slowdown in some parts of the world, Filipino jobseekers are competing against applicants not only from Third World countries but also from the US and Europe. In fact, prior to flying to Manila, I hired a number of American and Italian workers. 


Noriega giving instructions to one of the new recruits, Joey Calingayan.

Noriega giving instructions to one of the new recruits, Joey Calingayan.

The selection process stretching to 12 hours a day for a week was strenuous and exhausting. It was such a welcome relief to be able to make a side trip to the world-famous Palawan Underground River. Returning home after many years of living in Canada – considered as one of the most livable countries in the world – one feels like a fish out of a display aquarium being released into the lake. As soon as you hit the street, you at once sense that you belong and you are back to your elements amid the noise, garbage, traffic, and the hot and humid air. Whatever negative things some foreigners may say about our country, the Philippines remains one of the most beautiful places in the world, even made more wonderful as a destination by Pinoy hospitality. 

The days went by in the blink of an eye and it was time to return to Canada. As I headed home, I replayed in my mind how I handled the recruitment process and asked myself if I picked the right applicants. My decision could prove to be a twist of fate to the chosen ones, the same opportunity that was given to my father 46 years ago when he was offered a job in Manila from faraway Ilagan, Isabela. With the able support of my mother, the family survived on their meager government pay and all their nine children turned out to be professionals — justice, banker-writer, engineer-GM, nurse, doctor, architect, dentist, IT manager and animator. I could not help but speculate how the children of these OFWs would turn out some day. Will any of them become the next Mark Zuckerberg or perhaps the first Pinoy Prime Minister of Canada? Who knows? What I am certain about is that I have paid back the break given my father fifteen fold. I feel truly fortunate to be able to share my blessings with some of our kababayan.

(The author is currently Vice President and General Manager at Accent Stainless Steel Manufacturing based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. He finished his Mechanical Engineering Degree at the University of the Philippines. He completed his Masters in Business Administration in Ateneo de Manila University and took courses in the Executive MBA program at Simon Fraser University in BC, Canada. Prior to immigrating to Canada in 1997, Noriega worked at Carnation Philippines as Materials Manager, Sandoz Phils. as Production and Logistics Director, and Philippine Steel Corporation as Vice  President for Supply Chain. He was former president of the Philippine Institute of Supply Management.)




No Comments 09 June 2013

Mateo Ragonjan took a leap of faith in August last year.

The executive sous-chef of a seven-star luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi packed his bags to take up a similar job back home in the Philippines.

He is one of a small group of like-minded Filipinos returning to jobs back home, a sign of confidence in an economy that for decades has seen millions leave in search of better prospects overseas.

Ragonjan now helps run a 300-man kitchen that caters to guests and high-rollers flocking to Manila’s newest and most luxurious casino resort, one of 400 overseas Filipinos who came home to work at the hotel.

“The Philippines is booming at the moment, so I thought it was the right time to go back,” Ragonjan, 41, said on a break from his 10-hour shift at the Solaire Resort & Casino in Manila Bay, developed at a cost of $1.2 billion.

The Philippines economy is leaving behind its reputation as a regional laggard. It reported annual GDP growth of 7.8 percent in the first three months of the year, outstripping China to make it Asia’s fastest-growing economy.

Earlier this year, the government secured an investment grade credit rating, reducing its borrowing costs, while the stock market has reached a series of record highs this year.

Returnees like Ragonjan are just a trickle compared to those still leaving the country, but the hope is that the more the country can draw the diaspora back to the Philippines the more that the entrepreneurial spirit that prompted them to leave in the first place can add fuel to the economy.

Nearly two million Filipinos left last year to take on jobs such as seafarers, maids, laborers, hotel staff, and medical workers, forming one of the world’s largest diasporas of nearly 10 million migrants, about a tenth of the population.

The returnees are limited for now to a few sectors, including entertainment, tourism and information technology, but some hope that it marks the start of a stronger flow.

“I am seeing the trend happening,” said venture capitalist Francisco Sandejas, who as head of the Brain Gain Network, an online platform connecting professional Filipinos overseas to develop business ideas in the Philippines, has been campaigning for more job creation at home for two decades.

“I am just seeing that now it is much easier to convince people to come home, it was never easy and it is still not easy… people are very optimistic about the next three years,” he added, referring to the remainder of President Benigno Aquino III’s six-year term.

Still, Aquino faces an uphill task to overturn criticism he is presiding over a jobless economic boom.

The economy is unable to create enough jobs for around a million new job seekers each year. A quarter of the labour force is unemployed or underemployed and the government is struggling to reduce poverty.

Solaire is the first of four new casino-resorts to open in Entertainment City, a 10-hectare development near Manila Bay that is at the forefront of the government’s push to boost tourism and investment.

Ragonjan said part of his decision to return to the Philippines was because there seemed to be more opportunity than in the past. He says his base salary in Manila is higher than it was in Abu Dhabi, but in returning home he has also given up some financial grants that went with his job in the Gulf.

“If the Philippines continues to grow like this, it can help a lot of Filipinos here. It is good to be back,” he said.

The Philippines’ call center industry, the world’s biggest, continues to grow strongly and the country is also home to small but expanding software and information-technology firms. The country’s business process outsourcing industry is expected to employ 1.3 million people by 2016, up from 640,000 in 2011.

Earl Valencia, a former business incubation manager at Cisco Systems in California, came home with his family two years ago to help co-found a business incubator and accelerator company in Manila to support start-ups and tech entrepreneurs.

“There were a lot of things to anchor me in the United States, but there were also a lot of economic attractions in this part of the world,” said the 30-year old.

To turn the trickle of returnees into a flood, officials acknowledge the economic boom needs to be more broad-based.

Some skeptics say the boom is mostly benefiting the country’s entrenched elite, with little trickling down to alleviate a poverty rate that has remained stubbornly high near 30 percent, far from the 17 percent Aquino hopes to achieve by the time is he due to leave office in 2016.

Per capita GDP was 6.1 percent greater in the first quarter than a year earlier, the highest in at least two years. But official unemployment remained stubbornly high at 7.1 percent as of January, the highest in Southeast Asia.

“Growth is not resulting in the creation of more jobs because the growing sectors are not really labor intensive,” said former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno. “We really need to revive manufacturing. We can do more.”

In one promising sign, manufacturing grew in the first quarter by 97 percent over a year earlier despite sluggish export demand. Capital formation, a measure of investment, jumped 48 percent as the private sector expanded capacity to meet domestic demand, which is partly fueled by funds sent home by overseas Filipinos.

While Aquino has had success in plugging holes in the national budget and imposing revenue reforms, his government still faces a daunting task to fix infrastructure bottlenecks and investment constraints that hinder broader-based growth.

Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan acknowledged that while real GDP per person has risen 11 percent over the last two years, the gains have not been evenly spread.

“Inclusive growth is not about averages, but about the lower part of the income distribution,” Balisacan told reporters after the GDP data.

He said the solution is to link the poor to growth sectors in the economy, such as manufacturing and agriculture.

In the latest World Competitiveness Report by the Swiss-based Institute for Management Development, the Philippines moved up five places to 43 out of 60 economies, overtaking Indonesia and India.

While it showed improvements in economic performance, and government and business efficiency measures, the gains were not accompanied by job generation. It was down seven places in employment, one notch down in overall productivity and two rungs down in labor productivity.

Still, in Manila’s bustling new casino, freshly returned workers, or overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) as they are known, believe the time is ripe for the decades-long exodus to reverse.

“I believe it is really time for our country, our economy to get a slice of the cake that companies abroad are enjoying at the expense of our hard working OFWs,” said Rosario Chavez, a gaming manager at Solaire, who spent three decades abroad.

“I really hope that our government will open more opportunities here, more reasons for our OFWs to come home.” (Reuters)


Current Affairs


78 Comments 02 November 2012

THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has blacklisted 32 local cargo forwarders and their 28 foreign counterparts following rising complaints of undelivered balikbayan boxes.

The DTI on Oct. 16 identified the following local freight forwarders as having no accreditation with the department’s Philippine Shippers Bureau, and as having been the subject of complaints on undelivered packages:

–         2GO Express Inc.;

–         Aerosend

–         Alas Cargo Phil

–         Associated Consolidation Express

–         Dausan International Forwarder

–         FACF Parcel Delivery

–         FRS Philippine Freight Services Inc

–         International Cargo Forwarder

–         J.J. Transglobal Brokerage

–         JAR Cargo Forwarders

–         Mail Plus Cargo Carriers

–         Manila Broker

–         Maru Cargo Logistics Phil

–         R&M Cargo Services

–         Rodah Cargo Manila

–         South Atlantic Cargo Inc

–         Trico International Forwarding (Phils) Inc

–         VCG Customs Brokerage

The following companies, while accredited, have been blacklisted and subject to DTI show cause orders because of complaints on undelivered balikbayan boxes:

–         D’ Winner Logistics Phil. Inc

–         LCSN Express Movers Inc

–         MC Plus Inc

–         Transtech Global Phil Inc

–         Wide wide World Express Corp

On Oct. 31 the DTI blacklisted eight more Philippine firms:

–         ABS-CBN Global Cargo Corp

–         Gen Ex Cargo

–         Jonar Cargo

–         Joseph Glenn L. Galo

–         Pacific Logistics International Cargo

–         Pentfast

–         RDN Marketing & Cargo Forwarder

–         REN International Services

Accredited cargo forwarder RRG Freight Services, meanwhile, is now one of two companies that have been issued show cause orders by DTI-PSB due to complaints regarding balikbayan boxes.

The PSB also advised OFWs to stop doing business with the following foreign principal/cargo consolidators for reports of undelivered balikbayan boxes and other violations.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)

–         Al Rodah Marine Cargo

–         Cityline Cargo

–         Dagupan Cargo Packaging Services

–         Express Link Cargo Services

–         Smooth Express

United States of America (USA)

–         AAA Cargo Express Inc.

–         ABS-CBN Star Kargo

–         Aerosend

–         Alas Cargo

–         Associated Consolidations Express (ACE Cargo)

–         FRS Philippine Freight Services, Inc.

–         Shipping Express

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)

–         Cargo Net Worldwide Services formerly FAL-World Express Cargo

–         Fil Asia Cargo Forwarders Philippines

–         Global Cargo

–         RJM Freight Cargo Forwarders

–         WRJ Freight Forwarders (A Division of Al-Zagel Cargo)


–         Hagibis Express Pte. Ltd.

–         Maru Cargo Logistics (s) LLP


–         Maharlika Enterprise Cargo Services

–         SCRL Cargo

Other countries:

–         Bayanihan Express in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

–         Dausan International Forwarder in Australia

–         Ford Cargo Internationaal (FCI) in Hong Kong

On Oct. 31 the DTI added six more foreign principals/consolidators to the blacklist:

–         Jasim Yaseen Al-Delam Air Cargo Services (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)

–         Pacific Logistics International Cargo (Kuwait)

–         Philand Ynterlink Ltd (United Kingdom)

–         Pentagon Cargo Inc (United States of America)

–         REN International (United States of America)

–         Star Xpress Forwarders (United States of America)

“Overseas Filipino workers who will send their balikbayan boxes and their consignees in the Philippines should book their packages only with reliable and PSB-accredited freight forwarders and Philippine agents to ensure that their packages will reach their destinations,” said Victorio Mario Dimagiba, DTI-PSB director-in-charge, in a statement.

“Senders may verify the company name of the Philippine sea freight forwarder counterpart at www.dti.gov.ph, or they may visit our Philippine Consulate offices abroad,” he said.

Dimagiba said foreign principals and cargo consolidators overseas must have local counterparts that are accredited by the DTI-PSB if it is a sea cargo forwarder and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines if an air cargo forwarder.

He also warned cargo senders from abroad against very low door-to-door rates that some foreign principals offer. “With low rates, they [foreign principals] do not have enough funds to bear the cost of transporting cargoes, and they fail to remit delivery funds to their Philippine freight forwarders, causing the shipments to be abandoned at the ports and not being delivered to consignees,” the DTI official said.

“For consignees in the Philippines who have not received their packages from freight forwarders, they may contact DTI (02-751-3330) or go to PSB office to file an immediate claim or complaint,” he added.




No Comments 25 February 2011

British banking giant Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC) sees the peso strengthening to 37.50 against the dollar this year and further to 35.50 to $1 next year as the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is likely allow the local currency to appreciate further to cushion the impact of imported inflation brought about by rising global oil and food prices.

“We believe the peso will end the year at 37.50 per dollar. By 2012, it will be 35.50 per dollar. The growth in the Philippines is strong, and the foreign exchange should reflect that,” visiting HSBC economist Frederic Neumann said at a press briefing last Feb. 16 in Manila.

The Hong Kong-based economist sees the peso appreciating steadily at P40.50 to $1 in the first quarter, 39.50 in the second, 38.50 in the third, and P37.50 in the fourth quarter of this year.

Sen. Ralph Recto foresees and even stronger peso at less than P35to the dollar this year once the central bank raises its key policy rates from record lows to tame inflation. The BSP has kept its key policy rates unchanged since July 2009 and will review them when the policy-setting Monetary Board meets in March.

What is good about a stronger peso, Recto said, is that it could offset the impact of higher fuel prices as social and political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa disrupt oil supplies and will likely continue in the coming weeks. A rise in fuel prices will spur inflation higher, he said.

“In layman’s terms, when peso is strong, there would be fewer pesos needed to import fuel which we pay in dollars, and this should trigger similar downtrend in prices of fuel and food,” Recto explained.

eumann explained that strong capital inflows to emerging markets including the Philippines as well as the robust remittances from overseas Filipinos would continue to support the local currency.

Latest data show that the country’s gross international reserves (GIR) surged 36.8 percent to a record level $62.371 billion last year from $45.03 billion in 2009 while the balance of payments (BOP) surplus more than doubled to hit a new record level of $14.4 billion from $6.42 billion in 2009.

Record-high in 2010

OFW remittances likewise grew by 8.2 percent to hit a record-high of $18.76 billion last year from $17.35 billion in 2009, exceeding the revised growth forecast of eight percent set by the BSP.

“I would think that as growth becomes more entrenched, BSP should allow the peso to be determined by the market. Given our forecast for growth and inflation, BSP is likely to let the exchange rate do the lifting,” Neumann said.

The bank recently raised its gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast for the Philippines to five percent instead of 4.7 percent this year and to 5.8 percent next year. The country’s GDP growth surged to its fastest in more than three decades after expanding by 7.3 percent last year from 1.1 percent in 2009.

Another bright spot

HSBC economist Sherman Chan said in a study that another bright spot is the country’s external position that remained on a firm footing buoyed by rising reserves and steady growth in equity flows.

“That said, the economy remains vulnerable to rising capital inflows and ensuing appreciation pressure on the peso. The former may fuel asset inflation; the latter could hurt export competitiveness,” Chan added.

HSBC sees inflation climbing to 4.4 percent this year and 4.8 percent next year from 3.8 percent last year. The BSP expects inflation to average 4.4 percent instead of 3.6 percent this year and 3.5 percent instead of three percent next year but still well within the target of three percent five percent between 2011 and 2014.

Neumann expresses concern on the possibility that the BSP would keep interest rates at record lows despite the risk of higher inflation in the coming months.

“Every central bank in East Asia, except BSP, has raised its interest rates. Unless interest rates go up, there will be a danger of inflation,” he added.

$1.7-B in December alone

Central bank data showed that money transfers by OFWs also reached a new monthly record of $1.694 billion last December, up 8.1 percent from December 2009, which eclipsed the $1.673- billion record booked last October.

The amount of remittances in 2010 topped the revised 8 percent growth forecast by monetary authorities, with the BSP initially saying the amount would likely grow by 6 percent.

“The 2010 level slightly exceeded the BSP’s forecast of $18.7 billion, or an 8.0 percent year-on-year growth for the year,” said BSP Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr.

Tetangco said remittances jumped by $1.415 billion from the previous record of $17.348 billion in 2009 as the money sent home by sea-based OFWs went up by 11.9 percent while that of land-based workers increased by 7.2 percent.

Driving factors

“The major driving factors that helped accelerate the growth in remittances were the diversity of the destinations and skills of overseas Filipinos combined with the expanding network of bank and non-bank service providers both here and abroad to capture a larger share of the global remittance market,” Tetangco explained.

He cited the steady improvements on the variety and coverage of global remittance networks that have enabled more OFWs to send remittances at a more affordable cost, including web-based services, automated teller machines, as well as reloadable or reusable cash cards.

“The continuing innovation of financial products and services being offered in the market to facilitate money transfers have likewise contributed to the resilience of remittances throughout the year,” Tetangco said. (Culled from newspaper reports)




No Comments 17 January 2011

By Pepper Marcelo

I have been married for five years and have a three-year-old daughter. We are doing okay but dream of having our own home and traveling. My auntie in the Dubai has offered me help in getting a job there but I am worried about leaving my family behind. I have heard of other stories of how marriages have broken up because the long-distance.  What should I do?

– Farah of Sta. Rosa, Laguna, posted on www.ofwonline.com

For many of the estimated 10 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), coping with life abroad is a stressful, sometimes terrifying experience. For those who have spouses and children left at home, severe homesickness could lead to mental stress and psychological illness. The family left behind can be negatively affected as well.

It is sad to note that while the government constantly harps on the contributions of the OFWs in propping up the national economy, it has miserably failed to provide adequate services to address the physical, emotional and psychological needs of OFWs and their families. What makes the situation doubly pathetic is that even the basic and simple need of OFWs to communicate with their families has been totally neglected by authorities. One would expect that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, with the millions of pesos it collects from OFWs, would tap cheap technology such as the Internet to provide counseling and communication services to the workers and their families.

Thankfully, there are a few non-governmental organizations that attempt to alleviate the miserable situation of our migrant workers. One such private initiative addresses the need for a Help Line for OFWs and their families where they can seek counseling and expert advice.

“That’s where we come in. We tend to be the social support for OFWs who feel they cannot talk to friends or family,” says Dr. Regina Hechanova-Alampay, founder of OFW Online, a 24-hour free online service for overseas Filipino workers and their families.

An organizational psychologist who has done significant research relating to the psychology of the Filipino within a work environment, Alampay has trained employers, managers and workers on how to become more effective in their work. She is currently an associate professor at the Psychology department at the Ateneo de Manila University and the Executive Director of the Ateneo Center for Organization Research and Development (Ateneo CORD).

Based on her extensive experience, Alampay knows first-hand how difficult life is for the OFW, particularly the psychological toll of living abroad for extended period of time on both the worker and the family left behind.

The idea for OFW Online was born in 2007 while Alampay was attending a conference on Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT for D). “They were showcasing how technology was being used to address social problems. I was the only psychologist in that conference and it made me think, ‘Why can’t we harness technology to help OFWs’?”

She said that it took some time to obtain funding for the project. She credits the Singapore Internet Research Centre (funded by the International Development Research Center of Canada) for supporting the project.

OFW Online currently has 18 professional counselors who offer their services seven days a week from 9:00 am to 12:00 midnight. The counselors provide free consultation according to their specializations, such as marital issues, personal development, family matters, work issues and cultural adjustment.

The website has three primary features: Counseling which allows users to chat online with a counselor in a set amount of time, usually one hour (although follow-up sessions can be scheduled); Family Chat which allows OFWs to talk privately with family members; and Forums, where OFWs and their families can post messages.

To date, the website has had more than 25,000 visitors, with counseling exclusively done through chat or email. Asked whether not being able to personally interact with their client one-on-one has its drawbacks, Alampay admits that Internet communication has its advantages and disadvantages.

“On one hand, the anonymity is liberating for some users who would not ordinarily seek face to face counseling,” she says. “On the other hand, this kind of counseling is not appropriate for people with clinical disorders or suicidal tendencies.”

She says the most prevalent problems she and her colleagues are most often faced with are issues relational in nature, i.e., problems with marital relationships and parent-child relationships. “The separation from family is really tough on both the worker and those left behind. It is difficult to maintain intimacy and communications across the miles and that is often the source of difficulties,” she explains.

Alampay emphasizes that there are social costs to migration and a decision to work abroad needs to be thought out very carefully beyond monetary gain. “When possible, I would suggest trying to keep the family together to avoid the difficulties that arise from prolonged separation.”

If one needs more assistance than the internet can provide, she suggests that they seek out a professional counselor in their location. “Sometimes, this can be found in the churches (as in Hong Kong) or nonprofit organizations that may be able to refer them to someone who can help them.”

For her significant contributions to public service, Alampay was named one of 2010’s “The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service” (TOWNS). The award is presented by the TOWNS Foundation to outstanding Filipino women ages 21 to 45 years old who have contributed positively to strengthening national capability and in shaping the nation’s future and served as catalysts for economic, social, and cultural development by providing pro bono their time, talent and resources to government, business media, the arts, the academe, sports, and non-government organizations.

“I feel extremely grateful for the acknowledgment but at the same time humbled because the work isn’t just mine,” she says. “OFW Online was my idea and I got it started but there are many other people who are involved in this and it is in their behalf that I accepted the award.”

With 20 years experience as a human resources consultant in organizations both in the Philippines and in the US, Alampay has taught companies to be culturally relevant and globally competitive in an industrial and corporate setting. “Basically, our role is to ensure that workers are happy, well and productive,” she says. “At the same time, we also assist groups and organizations in becoming more effective, competitive and sustainable.”

In award-winning publications that she has written, such as The Way We Work: Research and Best Practices in Philippine Organizations, Leading Philippine Organizations in a Changing World and For the People, With the People: Developing Social Enterprises in the Philippines, she calls attention to the cultural difference between how work is viewed and treated by Filipinos and the rest of the world, particularly Western society.

For more information about OFW Online, check out its website at www. ofwonline.com.




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.




No Comments 10 October 2010

Without OFW remittances, it would be difficult for the Philippines to sustain the annual GDP growth of 7 percent or more. It is fortunate that the outlook for the earnings of OFWs remain bright, despite the very slow recovery of the developed countries. Thanks to their unique traits and talents, OFWs continue to be the first to be hired and the last to be fired in some 200 countries all over the world. READ FULL STORY




3 Comments 18 September 2010

Mabini, Batangas — Mediterranean-inspired, pastel-colored houses dot the coast and hills of this rural town in the Philippines, dwarfing their traditional counterparts made of unpainted concrete blocks under roofs of corrugated zinc. The larger houses, barely inhabited, many of them empty, belong to overseas workers who plan to return here one day. READ FULL STORY


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