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The Kris Aquino/James Yap and Chiz Escudero/Heart Evangelista brawls triggered a blogging frenzy. “There are more pressing concerns,” former Sen. Richard “Dick” Gordon protested. These range from Filipinos squeezed in the Sabah controversy to a severely strained school system. “Let’s keep our focus on issues that matter.”

Act on the little-noticed stream of underage Filipino women recruited clandestinely from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), urges the new study “Filipino Youth and the Employment-Migration Nexus.” The Scalabrini Migration Center prepared this analysis for the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

Many from the ARMM slip to Gulf countries where some slave as underpaid, oftentimes maltreated, maids. They “have passports that indicate they are 25. But they’re minors…. This diminishes the integrity of the passport as an identity document. A protocol to review documents at the passport application stage should be introduced…. Full birth registration in the area should be prioritized.”

Irregular migrants are dubbed “TNT” in local jargon. That means “tago  nang  tago.” Estimates peg the number of TNTs  at 1.07 million—and rising. How many flew to Rome, ostensibly to attend the canonization rites for St. Pedro Calungsod, only to submerge as TNTs?

Migrant youth are between 15 and 24 years of age. They make up 10 percent of the ranks of overseas Filipino workers. There are 10.4 million Philippine-born Filipinos who reside or work in 193 countries, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas estimates. About 4.8 million won’t be coming back. Temporary migrants, including OFWs, number 4.5 million

Young women OFWs outnumber the men. The imbalance is more apparent in Mindanao. Data on Philippine student migration are patchy. Top destinations are the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Japan and Korea. Youth migrants are not likely to return home soon in large numbers. Policy has focused on women migrants. There is no “youth lens,” although the number of young Filipinos seeking to work abroad, while modest, is growing.

Economic disparity is one cause the country holds daily snap elections. Some 3,752 men and women vote with their feet daily—to search for jobs abroad. The number of those who waved goodbye last year was over 30 times the anxious 36,035 who left in 1975.

There is no end in sight. What was a temporary 1970s program has become “permanently temporary,” notes the Unicef/Scalabrini study. The rhetoric in the Migrant Workers Act of 1995 says the state does not see overseas jobs as key to economic growth.

In practice, government does just that. Its previous medium-term development plan sought to deploy “a million workers every year.” The current plan expands migration impacts beyond remittances (P877.4 million last year). The Aquino government acknowledges that the deeply rooted pattern of overseas employment cannot be changed over the short term.

“At the level of households and individuals, working abroad has become part of livelihood strategies… and life aspirations. The country’s dependence on labor migration has been reproduced in the microcosm of households. The idea of working abroad has been shuttled to the younger generation…. Working abroad is now part of the aspirations of many Filipinos, including those in the ages 15 to 24.”

Radically altered weather patterns are “increasingly recognized as a key driver of migration,” the Asian Development Bank states. In just two years, more than twice the population of  Sri Lanka were displaced by climate-change effects—from storms to sea level rises, the bank notes in “Addressing Climate Change and Migration.”

“Asia is currently the source of about a third of the world’s migrants,” the ADB says. China, India and the Philippines are the top three migrant-sending countries. Altered weather patterns will exacerbate internal movements within countries, not just across borders—in a region where megacities have emerged.

In 1950, there were only two megacities (complexes of more than 10 million population): Tokyo and Shanghai. By 2025, there will be 13, including Metro Manila. “Yet, very few countries have the means to estimate current—let alone future—migration” within national borders.

“Several major cities situated at or close to sea level in the region—including Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta and Manila—will be affected as seas rise and populations surge. Quality of water supplies is projected to be significantly affected…”

In Southeast Asia, the impact of climate change will also be affected by the “ability of affected populations to bring resources to bear,” the ADB adds. Among the hot spots are: northern Philippines, western Java and eastern Cambodia.

Indeed, given its long focus on adult OFWs, Philippine data on youth migrants remain patchy. “Without basic data, the youth are rendered invisible or are indistinguishable from the general population,” the Unicef/Scalabrini study notes. A first necessary policy reform is to correct this data gap.

Youngsters grow up in a “culture of migration.” Working abroad is automatically ticked as better than local options. “Timely and accurate labor data must be provided, specially for  young  Filipinos.” Pre-employment seminars should not narrowly focus on work abroad but also on job and entrepreneurial possibilities in the Philippines.

“Climate change will become a key migration driver.” ADB lists interlocking needs from anticipatory disaster risk management to insurance, to linking with Global Environmental Facility, etc. Inaction is not an option, Dick Gordon rightly noted.

That whittles those Kris Aquino/James Yap  and Chiz Escudero/Heart Evangelista brawls into context.

(E-mail: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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