The story on our front page yesterday did not surprise anybody who has been watching the labor-export phenomenon in our country.
Father Edwin Corros, the executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said 60 percent of the families of migrant Filipinos remain poor. These are relatives of unskilled Overseas Filipino Workers. They end up with nothing when the OFW breadwinners come home. They have no savings. They have not been able to put aside a portion of the monthly remittances from abroad to start and maintain a business.
They have no savings because the poor Filipinos, so used to their hand-to-mouth existence day-after-day, have not developed the savings habit that even the poor in China, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia have. The Philippines are only better than the Burmese and the Cambodians when it comes to the people’s savings rate.
The absence of social security, healthcare insurance and government or charity-institution subsidies for health care for the poor also contributes to the poverty and zero-savings of these OFW families. For even the families that do have the savings habit can only save ever so little. When serious illness strikes them, all their puny savings go to defray the cost of hospitalization and medicine. When the afflicted member of the family dies, burial expenses become the funding problem.
A bit of good news from the ILO
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has awarded P4 million to an insurance company—Pioneer Life Inc.—for its innovative project: the “Pamilyang OFW Savers and Wellness Club.” Pioneer Life Inc. was among 18 ILO grantees. There were 200 applicants.
The Pamilyang OFW Savers and Wellness Club was organized under the auspices of Fr. Corro’s CBCP commission, the ECMI, short for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI). The aim is to encourage workers and their families to wisely manage their finances.
The program encourages each family to develop the habit of saving and build enough savings to allow for the early return of OFWs to their families.
Launched in July 2009, the OFW Savers and Wellness Club is now in six dioceses and has 900 members.
They participate in financial literacy workshops. Their savings in the Club get higher interest rates than in ordinary banks. They have personal accident insurance and life insurance policies, get cash assistance for burial, and have privileges from corporations that have become partners of the club.
The paucity of help from other sectors—including the government—makes projects like this between organs of the Catholic Church and the private sector an important preserver of stability and order in the Philippines. Without such projects, there would be more desperate poverty and discontent.
The participation of dioceses of the Catholic Church and the ECMI commission of the CBCP in these projects provide the insurance companies a comforting assurance that things will go well.
Reintegration of returned OFWs
The OFW Savers and Wellness Club project, Fr. Corros explained, is part of the reintegration program the Catholic Church has been pursuing for OFWs. Fr. Corros, at the launching of the Pioneer Life project Monday, repeated an observation frequently aired by critics of the Department of Labor and Employment’s agencies tasked with looking after the so-called heroes whose remittances make up the most solid pillar of the Philippine economy.
The priest said, “The government has not introduced a doable reintegration program.”
Government action to help OFWs reintegrate themselves into the domestic workforce is mere lip service, people who know the situation—like the OFWs themselves and such concerned leaders as Susan Ople of the Blas Ople Policy Center—assert.
The DOLE’s Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is supposed to have a bureau devoted to assisting returned OFWs to reintegrate. But the office has no proper head whose duty is to operate reintegration programs and be accountable for failure to do so.
The OWWA has billions of pesos. But OFWs, who pay US$25 to become current OWWA members each time they have a new contract with an employer, complain that it does not adequately promote their welfare.
Open letter from OFWs
Last week, OFWs from various countries, wrote an open letter to future president Noynoy Aquino.
They comprehensively reviewed the Philippine migration situation. They recounted how “Migration gains are mainly remittances by overseas Filipinos to their family members, which are now in the region of US$17 billion and are the primary source of livelihood for millions of Philippine households. At 10.8 percent of the country’s GDP, they are also the third biggest source of the country’s foreign currency reserves and act as primary driver for our economy, shielding us from bankruptcy during the financial crisis in 1997 and the current one.
“The Filipino diaspora, estimated now at about 10 million working or residing in 239 countries and territories worldwide, send back donations to various humanitarian causes, such as disaster–relief, medical missions, schoolhouses, and other infrastructure.” In addition many OFWs have actually made investments in real estate and entrepreneurial ventures here.
But the OFWs pointed out the social costs of the OFW phenomenon.
Their main message to future president Aquino is something all rational Filipinos know: That the OFW program, the export of Filipino talent and warm bodies abroad, must not be a permanent development strategy of the government. It must only be seen as a stopgap measure. Mr. Aquino’s administration must, as he himself has promised, work to make the Philippines have the jobs in industries, agribusiness and agri-industry, and other areas so that Filipinos will no longer be forced to work abroad.