Tuesday, September 30, 2008

OFW Remittances: a Tool for Development or a Sign of Underdevelopment?

That so many millions of Filipinos are forced to go abroad and that the country is so dependent on remittances actually underscore the great failure of the government to build a solid domestic economy.


The Arroyo government will host the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development this October. Bulatlat interviewed Jose Enrique Africa, research head of IBON Foundation regarding overseas Filipino workers’ remittances and Philippine Development.

Bulatlat: The BSP said that the Philippines is the 4th biggest remittance receiver in the world. How do the Filipino people benefit from this?

Africa: The Philippines is the largest among the most migrant- and remittance-dependent countries in the world. That so many millions of Filipinos are forced to go abroad and that the country is so dependent on remittances actually underscore the great failure of the government to build a solid domestic economy.

Of course, remittances are a tremendous help for OFWs and their families and remittances are a vital source of stable foreign exchange. But these should not be used to divert from the more important point of why the domestic economy remains so backward and why Filipinos are forced to go abroad in the first place. The reason the economy remains so underdeveloped and jobs so scarce despite the globally unrivalled importance of overseas work and remittances is because these are not part of the solution but rather symptoms of the problem. The problem is that domestic agriculture and industry are not being built, that foreign and domestic elites are the one benefiting from the country’s resources and labor, and that there is such severe economic and political inequality in the country.

Bulatlat: The Arroyo government said that the increase in remittances is due to increasing demand for labor of countries with aging population. Is this true?

It is true that many populations abroad are aging and so there is a relative increase in their need for new entrants into their workforces and even for nurses and caregivers to care for the aged. But the more basic and principal reason that remittances are increasing is that more and more Filipinos are forced to go abroad and are desperate enough to work harder for less pay than others. And this is primarily because there are no decent opportunities in the country. If Filipinos could find decent jobs in our country, they will stay and be near their families no matter how old foreign populations are.

Bulatlat: The Arroyo government noted an increasing number of highly-skilled professionals working abroad. Can you consider this development?

Africa: This is not true. Even if there are more higher-skilled professionals going abroad now, the number of low-skilled workers going abroad has also been increasing.

Total annual deployments of new hires increased from 1992 to 2006. From 1992-2001, the share of professional and technical workers generally rose from 27.7 percent at the start to 37.7 percent at the end of the period; conversely, the share of production workers fell from 36.5 to 22.0 percent. The share of service workers was more or less stable. However, after 2001, the share of professional and technical workers started dropping and fell steeply to 13.4 percent in 2006. On the other hand, the share of production workers rose significantly to 33.6 percent and that of service workers to 46.8 percent – where these two categories together account for over eight of ten deployments of newly-hired OFWs.

In the 1992-2006 period, over two-thirds of newly-hired OFWs were classified as service workers (37.7 percent) or production workers (30.7 percent) while over a quarter were classified as professional and technical workers (26.8 percent). Nearly all of the “service workers” are accounted for by domestic helpers and other household workers, maids or cleaners in commercial establishments, cooks, waiters, bartenders, caregivers and caretakers; domestic helpers, in particular, account for over two-thirds of this skills classification. “Production workers” are mainly in construction-related jobs with some factory-based work. “Professional and technical workers” are mainly health professionals and engineers although a substantial portion of these jobs are actually musicians, singers and dancers; musicians, singers and dancers accounted for nearly a fifth of “professional and technical workers” in 2006.

In any case, whether or not migrants are higher skilled or not is beside the point because we should not celebrate Filipinos being forced abroad, whether they are highly-skilled or not.

Bulatlat: The Arroyo government said that taxes paid, including those paid by OFWs, are used to finance infrastructure and to create employment.

Africa: First of all, the largest part of the national budget goes to debt service and to corruption. The single largest budget item taking up around 30 percent are interest payments on foreign and domestic debt. At the same time, some 20 percent of the national budget is lost to corruption, amounting to over US$2B annually – as had been estimated by the World Bank, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and even a former speaker of the House of Representatives. Secondly, that kind of reasoning also means that we can say that taxes are used to finance human rights violators through spending on the military which has been implicated in thousands of human rights violations. Thirdly, if the government is really so concerned about generating employment then it should overhaul its economic policies much more than spend on likely graft- and corruption-ridden infrastructure projects.

Bulatlat: The Arroyo government said that OFW remittances are used by their families for their basic needs thus creating demand on goods and services. The Arroyo government further claims that this also translates into more jobs.

Africa: It is tragic that so many families have to depend on family members separating from them and going abroad just to support their basic needs. The so-called multiplier effect on the domestic economy is minimal however precisely because the economy is so backward to begin with. The overwhelming bulk of goods purchased by families are actually imported because there is no substantial domestic manufacturing sector that can produce those goods. Factories have actually been closing down for lack of government support and because of reckless trade liberalization.

If the government wants to create jobs it should put a genuine policy of national industrialization in place because otherwise OFW demand for goods will not go to creating opportunities for local factories. As it is, the manufacturing sector has already lost 125,000 jobs from a year ago with only 2.9 million jobs in July 2008 from 3.1 million last year.

Bulatlat: The Arroyo government said remittances increase supply of foreign exchange. How does this benefit Filipinos?

Africa: The biggest beneficiaries from the foreign exchange supplied by OFWs are foreign creditors who get paid, transnational corporations (TNCs) who repatriate their profits, big foreign financial speculators, and TNCs in export enclaves. These account for the overwhelmingly largest portion of foreign payments that the country makes.

While it can be said that peasants also benefit because they use imported fertilizer, the deeper question is why they have to rely on imported fertilizer to begin with. While it can be said that workers also benefit because they cannot but consume imported products, the truth is that they do not really have that much income to spend.

Bulatlat: The government said remittances are harnessed for investments in human resource capital through education and health care for beneficiaries. The BSP said beneficiaries could go to private schools and hospitals instead of government-owned schools and hospitals. Please react to this.

Africa: The most basic point is that Filipinos have a right to decent public health and education services and should not have to buy these from privatized or profit-oriented institutions. Health and education should be available to all and not depend on whether or not a family can afford these.

The government is abdicating its responsibility and passing the burden on to OFWs. And it can also be asked who in the end will benefit most from these so-called “investments in human capital”. If these Filipinos are likewise forced to go abroad then it is foreigners and foreign economies that will be the greatest beneficiaries.

Bulatlat: Remittances also go to physical capital investments through acquisition of real property including land purchases and home construction, said the BSP. Is this true?

Africa: Because Filipinos are so poor the largest part of OFW remittances goes to immediate and urgent consumption. And even if there are many OFWs able to buy real estate these are personal investments and not really investments in the productive capacity of the economy.

Bulatlat: Are remittances also used as capital? Do OFW beneficiaries also invest in business ventures such as in small and micro enterprises?

Africa: Small and micro enterprises do not just need capital, although this is certainly urgent, but also a supportive trade and investment environment. They should not just be provided with capital but also be allowed to grow under a protected trade regime and within a supportive investment environment. Thus, even if some part of OFW remittances are diverted to them, at the expense of families’ immediate consumption, they will still not prosper if there are no radical economic reforms.

Bulatlat: Do remittances create savings?

Africa: There will never be enough OFW savings to compensate for potential capital lost due to stunted domestic industry and agriculture, and for the hostile domestic economic environment for Filipinos due to reckless trade and investment liberalization.

Bulatlat: Can remittances be a tool for development?

Africa: Remittances can only be tool for development within the context of strategic and far-reaching policies of true agrarian reform and national industrialization. In the absence of these, the “remittances as a tool for development” mantra will just be hype to cover up the government’s severe economic failures. (Bulatlat)

Article printed from Bulatlat: http://bulatlat.com/main

URL to article: http://bulatlat.com/main/2008/09/27/ofw-remittances-a-tool-for-development-or-a-sign-of-underdevelopment/

Copyright © 2008 Bulatlat. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Launch/Lancement - International Migrants' Alliance - Quebec/Canada chapter

Chers ami-e-s, travailleurs et travailleuses migrants, militant-e-s pour les droits sociaux,

Vous êtes tous et toutes invité-e-s au lancement de l'Alliance internationale des migrants - section Québec/Canada!

Quand: Samedi le 4 october 15h à 18h
OU: UQAM, Pavillon Hubert Aquin salle A050
400, Ste-Catherine est, coin St-Denis, Métro Berri, Montréal, Québec

Conférencière: Wahu Kaara de Kenya

Rapport des groupes ayant participé à la fondation de l'Alliance internationale à Hong Kong en juin 2008.

Musique, collation, célébration!

Information: +1 514 528 8812

Dear friends, migrant workers, social justice advocates,

You are all invited to attend the Launch of the International Migrants' Alliance - Quebec/Canada chapter!

Keynote Speaker: Wahu Kaara from Kenya

When: Saturday, October 4, 2008 3pm to 6pm
Where: UQAM, Pavillon Hubert Aquin, Room A050
400, Ste-Catherine est, corner St. Denis, Metro Berri, Montreal, Quebec

Reports from the founding of the International Migrants' Alliance in Hong Kong in June 2008.

Music, Snacks, Celebration!

Information: +1 514 528 8812

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Vancouver, B.C.-- An estimated crowd of 70 people, which included guests, well wishers and members of the Filipino community came together to celebrate the successful launch of the MIGRANTE B.C. last September 14, 2008. MIGRANTE-B.C. is a new community-based organization of Filipinos in British Columbia that asserts that Filipino migrants deserve the greatest promotion and protection of their rights wherever they are.

At the Longhouse Church in the east side of Vancouver, the community was welcomed by First Nations Elder Jim White and Longhouse Church Pastor Barry Morris. Councillor Ted Stevenson (City of Vancouver) and Members of the Legislative Assembly David Chudnovsky (Vancouver-Kensington), Shane Simpson (Vancouver-Hastings) and Jenny Kwan (Vancouver-Mount Pleasant) sent in their greetings of solidarity to the new organization.

Member of Parliament Libby Davies (East Vancouver) personally delivered her sincere greetings and best wishes to the Migrante B.C.’s members and supporters. “While the Migrante B.C. is new and small,” MP Davies said, “you have a mighty spirit” and “your strength, discipline and political consciousness and awareness are all good things” that help build a network to take up the migrants’ cause. She pointed out that the collective Filipino experience is important and encouraged the community to find its political voice, more so in the upcoming federal elections, and engage in political debate. Speaking of workers’ rights, she brought up the issues of the temporary foreign workers who are very vulnerable to exploitation and also of the long standing injustice of the live-in-caregiver program. Of the latter, she said, “you come here and you find that you have left one prison for another.” MP Davies declared that she and the New Democrats will work to remove the restrictions on the live-in-caregiver program so that “people can come here as permanent residents.” “You have our support,” she said, “and we will continue to work on this issue.”

The Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement Labour Centre), the biggest trade union alliance in the Philippines, MIGRANTE International, and Ka Osang Beltran, the widow of the late Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran also forwarded their militant congratulations and commended MIGRANTE B.C. on its “commitment to defend the rights of Filipino migrants and their families as we all fight for a society that genuinely promotes the rights and interests of the workers and people of the Philippines, wherever we may be.” From Canada, messages came in from PINAY, the Filipino women’s organization in Quebec, MIGRANTE-Ontario, the Victoria Philippines Solidarity Group and the Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights.

Ms. Maita Santiago, the General Secretary of MIGRANTE International, the international alliance of Filipino migrant organizations, delivered the keynote address. She gave a brief situationner of the plight of Filipino overseas workers now found in 197 countries and territories around the world. Ms. Santiago lauded the historic launching of the MIGRANTE B.C. at a time when grassroots migrants organizations have joined ranks under the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), the first global network of its kind in its Founding Assembly in Hong Kong earlier in June. Ms. Santiago also shared the stories of those involved with Migrante International in its work of assisting Filipino overseas workers and their families in the Philippines. Maita, an immigrant to Canada herself, came with her newborn son to the launch and said that her son, “like all our children, symbolize the hope and aspirations of Filipino migrants for a better life.” A lively question and answer period followed the keynote presentation.

Cultural numbers performed by the members showcased the artistic talents within the MIGRANTE B.C. A short video presentation on the life of the late Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran in the program was a poignant reminder of Ka Bel’s last visit to Vancouver as part of the Philippine Solons Tour this year. Those who supported Ka Bel, many of who are now founding members of MIGRANTE -B.C., provided the accommodations, medical assistance and community support for that tour.

Two banners of Migrante B.C. were proudly displayed, each banner a labour of love from the migrants themselves. Bert Monterona, international award-winning painter and visual art designer from Mindanao, made the blue banner with the Migrante B.C. logo. The other banner was worked on by Bootz Estella, a Migrante member from the Igorot tribe in the Cordillera.

Jane Ordinario and Florchita Bautista, emcees of the program, declared that MIGRANTE B.C. is a fitting memorial to the legacy of the late Crispin Beltran who defended the national and democratic rights of workers, including that of the Filipino migrant workers.

For reference: Migrante-B.C.
109-4155 Central Blvd.
Burnaby, British Columbia
Canada V5H 4X2
Tel: 604.408.0830

See photos and report at Arkibong Bayan

Monday, September 8, 2008

Urgent action for Irene Fernandez!

Dear members of the International Migrants' Alliance,

As you all may know Dr. Irene Fernandez, member of ICB-IMA, has been prosecuted by Malaysian government for documenting and exposing the “Abuse, Torture and Dehumanized Conditions of Migrant workers in Detention Centres” in Malaysia. She was sentenced for 12 months imprisonment but the appeal against the decision is still on going.

Her case will be resumed in court on 10 September 2008 in Malaysia and the actual hearing for the appeal will begin from October 28 - 30, 2008, followed by next hearing dates from 24-28 November 2008.

In support of Dr. Irene's case and to demand her immediate release, I would like to encourage all members of IMA, to:

1. Organize urgent actions on or before 10 September 2008, at 9 am (Malaysia time) in front of Malaysian Consulate/Embassy in your respective country

2. Prepare actions during the hearing of her appeal from October 28-30, 2008 and November 24-28, 2008

Since Oct 28-30 is IAMR activity in Manila, perhaps we can include this in our plan of action during IAMR.

Here in Hong Kong, AMCB-IMA we will organize a protest action in front of Malaysian Consulate on 10 September 2008, at 10:00 am (HK time).

Release for Dr. Irene Fernandez now!
Justice for Dr. Irene Fernandez!


Eni Lestari
IMA Chairperson