For consolation, the government calls them living heroes for their big contribution to the economy. As the country’s biggest dollar earners, they provide the biggest boost to the Philippines’ foreign exchange.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development and various nongovernment organizations on Saturday recognized the impact of migration on families around the world as part of the 15th celebration of the International Day of Families.
Social Welfare Acting Secretary Celia Capadocia-Yangco said families in the country have a different situation than those in other countries.
“Not all families who go abroad are strongly bonded. There are a lot of problems. Here, the support system you get is much wider than they can get abroad,” Capadocia-Yangco said.
Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency showed that one in every 10 Filipinos is working or living abroad. An estimated 40 percent of these are OFWs, which translates to at least 11 million in nearly 200 countries. The report said 2 million of them are illegal migrant workers.
Fe Nicodemus, Kapisanan ng Kamag-anak ng mga Migranteng Mamamayang Pilipino Inc. chairman, said these statistics are alarming.
“Although the export of labor was originally meant as a temporary solution to ease the country’s unemployment woes, it has become a major pillar of the Philippine government-development strategy,” Nicodemus said.
She said that OFWs’ major reason or “push factor” for going abroad is the lack of employment opportunity and compensation in the country, which hamper their ability to give their children a better life and education and provide for their families’ needs.
“Filipinos are in high demand overseas because we are known to be of high-rate skills, highly educated, proficient in the English language, adaptable to other cultures and environments, warm and caring and easy to get along with,” Nicodemus said.
The overseas deployment of Filipino workers in the last three decades had been a mixed blessing for the country. Millions of ordinary families have benefited with homes built, children graduated from school and businesses started.
Unfortunately, there were unseen social costs to the waves of labor migration, especially to the integrity of the Filipino family.
“OFWs have often voiced regret about missing out their children’s growing years, and being absent during periods of family crisis,” Nicodemus said
Encar Abella of PRO-Life Philippines and a mother of six related how hard it was to rear children single-handedly while her husband was abroad.
“He went abroad in 2000 in order for our six children to continue their education. The first years were hard, every night I cry. To ease the pain, I go to church with my six children every day,” a teary Abella said.
Nicodemus said the separation from family members is probably the most difficult part of being an OFW.
“Families had turned to prayer to ease the pain of being separated,” Nicodemus said.
Dr. Ma. Paz Manaligod of the Department of Psychology of Miriam College said children left behind are most vulnerable to social risks.
“It’s the family that can make or break the child. The extended family can be a strong support system for the child as many children who had experienced separation from their parents developed into healthy, mature adults, provided the children had a loving caregiver,” Manaligod said
She added that parents should not spoil their children too much when they return just so to make up for the lost time. Spoiling them, she said, jeopardizes the values taught by the substitute caregiver.
“If you see that your child is quite spoiled, correct him/her because you’re there already. Don’t think that your child will feel bad, because that’s the moment you can discipline and teach him/her the lessons you want him/her to learn. There should always be an open line of communication,” Manaligod said.
In Abella’s case, she said she made her children realize that every centavo they get from their father is hard-earned money.
“I make sure that we follow a strict budget because we want their father to return to us after fulfilling our goal of giving our children the education they need,” Abella said.
Manaligod pointed out that there had been instances when the migrant worker returns home after several years without any savings, frustrating the family’s efforts to finance their children’s schooling.
“That is the saddest part because they had been working so hard, left the country and their family and yet when they return home, they haven’t fulfilled their goal,” Manaligod said.