When will they stop exporting labor?

By Val G. Abelgas

OFW-LaneIn the last few weeks, the Philippines was reminded why it should start seriously reconsidering its labor export policy. Reports on the abuses that Filipina domestic helpers in the Middle East and in Asian countries suffered from their employers, including the pouring of hot water on a Filipina maid in Kuwait, and the dangers that Filipino overseas workers face in countries facing conflict crisis such as Thailand, Iraq, Syria and Libya should have moved our leaders to seriously look for viable alternatives to sending hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers as export commodities.

But it’s not just the dangers and abuses that many Filipino workers face abroad that should motivate Philippine government leaders to find ways to generate local employment for these people. It’s not just the permanent injury to children who have to grow up without their parents.

It is the wound that exporting of labor inflicts on our national pride that should finally move our leaders to find ways so that the country could minimize sending our hapless people to distant shores.

Recently, Singaporean bloggers have been telling Filipinos to their face that they are not welcome in Singapore. The online harassment forced organizers of a Philippine Independence Day celebration in a Singapore mall to cancel the event.

In Hongkong, a textbook that asks students to identify the race a particular group of people belongs to states that the correct answer to domestic helper is Filipino. Just last week, a “racist” insurance commercial depicting a male Chinese actor as a Filipina maid drew outrage on social media in Hong Kong, with groups representing the city’s legions of domestic helpers calling for an apology.

Aimed at the employers of Hong Kong’s 300,000 maids, who mainly hail from the Philippines and Indonesia, the domestic helper insurance advertisement for Malaysia’s Hong Leong Bank shows the Chinese actor wearing dark orange make-up and a curly wig as he plays clumsy maid “Maria.”

Also recently, reports that the Oxford Dictionary defines a Filipina as a domestic helper drew angry reactions in the social media.

These are not isolated reports. For years, Filipina female visitors were interviewed lengthily in Hongkong because immigration officers suspect them to be visiting the former Crown Colony to work illegally as maids. Before that, Filipinas going to Japan were thought to be “japayukis” or Filipinas working in the country’s bars and nightclubs.
The government has repeatedly protested such abuses and discriminations, but continues to send its teachers and other workers to work as maids to these countries.

In 1998, when reports on a Greek dictionary defining a Filipina as a domestic helper came out and the Philippine government protested, a leader of a group protecting immigrant rights in that Mediterranean country, said:
“The kneejerk reaction from the Philippine government makes us a laughing stock. In Greece, every rich Greek has a Filipina or two. No amount of diplomatic protest can change that image, because the reality is that as long as the Philippine government continues with its policy of exporting human resources (including domestic workers) the image will prevail. The issue at stake is why in heaven’s name do we have such an image for our women.

“A dictionary is supposed to reflect present reality. This is the reality. It has been there for decades, since the Philippine government started its policy of exporting “human resources”. Sometime in 1991, members of Parliament belonging to the New Democracy Party revolted against their party leader, saying “we are not your Filipinezas!” My reaction was to write a protest letter. Then I realized that no amount of protest could change the situation. Every time you call an MP at home, a Filipina answers the phone. The word Filipina has come to mean someone who not only comes from the Philippines, but someone who does domestic work in Greece. THAT IS THE REALITY.
 Philippine women in Greece work as domestic workers, except perhaps the Filipina staff at the Philippine embassy in Athens, who have Filipina domestics working for them.

“The Philippine government can ill afford the luxury of spending time protesting a dictionary definition. Because the Philippine government is the no. 1 exporter of domestic workers of the world,” he concluded.

Economists and even the World Bank have repeatedly warned developing countries, including the Philippines, not to depend on the inflow of remittances and foreign investments to sustain the growth momentum.

Instead of gloating over the increased remittances, it should be a cause for concern because it only means that local jobs are not available and this clearly shows that whatever growth the country is enjoying now may be temporary. What if the Middle East countries suddenly decided not to hire Filipinos because of security threats or for political reasons? Or Singapore and Hongkong suddenly decided the Sri Lankans would make better maids?

It is folly for the government to depend on overseas workers for economic growth, not to mention economic survival. The government must look at OFW deployment as a temporary solution to the country’s economic ills, and should have a clear program to generate local employment to at least stop the exodus.

Obviously, exporting labor remains a major economic policy of the Aquino government. And that is precisely the problem with the continued dependence on exported labor; it lulls both the government and the people to complacency. The government has become less serious in coming out with a more solid economic program, while the remittance-receiving families are content with receiving those monthly manna from their toiling family member and becomes passive in finding other ways to boost their income.

The recent developments in the Middle East, the worldwide recession, the recent encounters with the law of some Filipino workers, the continued abuse and exploitation of domestic workers in the Middle East and Asia, the death of Filipino workers throughout the world, and the other troubles that accompany Filipino workers worldwide should awaken the Philippine government to the reality that it cannot rely forever on remittances from these workers.

Something has to be done to stop treating Filipino labor as export, and the export of labor as economic policy. And it has to start now.



8 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Guy Camacho says:

    We can’t stop the labor export for now, because there is nothing we can offer for these millions would-be-jobless at home. We simply have to grow the economy by sound governance so there will be enough jobs, assuming we have arrested already the population growth through the RH Bill.
    1. For starters, send all the conspirators in the pork scams to rot in jail.
    2. Then, enact a doable ‘anti-dynasty’ law.
    3. Constitutional change: replace the centralized presidential type of government to federal and parliamentary type, with powers devolved unto regional governments, so that accountability and transparency is proximate to the people.
    4. Change the appointment authority of police directors from the DILG / Camp Crame to Civilian Police Commissions in each police jurisdiction / command. Unless the police are freed from political interference, they will hesitate to enforce the letter of the law for fear of backlash.
    … JUST THESE 4 MEASURES … is enough to bring the country to prosperity and respectability.

  2. Bobby Bagos says:

    Filipinos are expendable commodities as far as our government are concern. OFW’s keeps our economy alive and well and the last thing that our government want to do is to offend the country that hires these people, and as long as there are people willing to make that sacrifice there’s not much that anyone can do about it. If they stay, they face poverty and hardship, so what choice do they really have. Our government has to do more to create jobs for our kababayans, but with so much corruption from the people whose duties are to serve the people, it’s like being caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s really up to the people of our country to make a choice, continue the same old way we hire people to represent us in the government or start using our conscience and common sense and go for the ones that are willing to do more for the people instead of their own pocketbooks. That’s the only way we can dig ourselves out of this pit of poverty and corruption.

    • Roman R. Guerrero says:

      You’re right. Under PAMATHALAAN = Pamahalaang Kasama Namamahala si Bathala; revives the pre-Christian Divine Right Theory of governance as well as creates the corresponding social classes; the Lakans or ruling class lead by the resident of Malakanang (literally “may lakan diyan”); Maharlikas= feudal lords supportive of the Lakan and the 2 classes of slaves; the namamahay = now the modern-day multitude of left-behind poor Filipinos popularly referred as informal settlers, pagpag eaters, etc. And Saguiguilids= the modern-day Filipino migrant workers popularly referred to as OFWs.

      If we want to stop exporting Filipino labors like commodity as well as stop the unbelievable corruption of our politicalleaders, we have to first address PAMATHALAAN which considers taking of public funds as entitlements not plunder bcoz Bathala is the source of it not the people.

  3. Manuel F. Almario says:

    We are exporting warm bodies because we have no cold manufactured products to export. Neither can we export much agricultural products because of our inefficient agriculture. It’s all a matter of national policy, which is neo-colonial.

    • Bobby Bagos says:

      Heck, our number one export products are human labor, followed by mangoes that are mostly rotten on the inside, other food products that are only being purchased by other Filipinos overseas. Here in the US, there are plenty of Filipino restaurants, particularly in areas where there are a large population of Filings, the only problem, only Filipinos patronize them unlike other ethnic restaurants. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and many others are very popular among different groups of people. But Filipino restaurants, you will find nothing but Filipinos, and yet no one seems to wonder why.

  4. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    Despite the bad news we heard from the international labor market where the PHL participate, I still support the continuity of the Labor Service Export of the country for some economic reasons:

    1. In-flow of foreign exchange remittances
    2. Competitive Labor-readiness in the international labor market other than trade
    3. To reduce local unemployment
    4. Others, such as PHL exports to serve the needs of the OFWs, etc.

    But of course the most negative effect of these, to a certain extent, is – it causes family problem back home and the evidence of maltreatment or abuse of Filipinos engaged in DOMESTIC SERVITUDE as live-in helper at home with the family of the employer.

    We do not hear much problem with OFWs hired for their Special Skills and Knowledge i.e. office workers, maintenance workers, construction workers, professionals – more so if they are certified by TESDA.

    I agree, to solve said problem in domestic servitude is to generate more employment opportunities in the PHL.

    And for OFWs in domestic services, is for the PHL government agency assigned in the particular foreign area to MONITOR the status of those officially registered (including the unregistered as much as possible) and maintain RAPPORT with the EMPLOYER to show the PHL government concern for the well-being of our domestic helpers.

    China and Japan were labor exporters many years ago – way ahead of the PHL. You’ll find their descendants in the US, Argentina, Brazil, and other parts of the world and I presume they were not exempted from the agony that the PHL is experiencing now with our OFWs.

  5. Badbeat17 says:

    Philippines should stop sending domestic workers to HongKong,Singapore,Taiwan,Malaysia.These Chinese countries think they are better than any Southeast Asian countries which they all look down on.I would like to know why these countries don’t hire thre own kind that speak thre language and having the same culture. Thre should be Billions of Chinese in China that would be glad to work as domestic workers .

  6. Jords says:

    Globalita is a notorious critic of the PHL government and its policies as far as I can remember but has not offered a solution. It is one thing to criticize and quite another to be part of the solution. What does Globalita mean by “viable alternatives to sending hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers as export commodities”. Please name one?

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