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Three kinds of people

By Juan Mercado
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:08:00 12/16/2009

Filed Under: Overseas Employment, Population, Employment

MANILA, Philippines?The traditional dawn masses, which start nine days before Christmas, acquired a new feature since the early 1980s: overseas Filipino workers returning for the holidays, whose numbers have soared.

This year, OFWs walked into barbed exchanges between recruitment agencies that are with the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters (Fame) and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. These could curdle into frustrated hopes.

Jobs are short, says Fame executive director Lito Soriano. Australia, New Zealand and Canada were hit by recession. Of the Middle East countries, only Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Libya held steady.

By charter and instinct, BSP focuses on bottom lines. Liability tallies do not reflect the impact of parentless families on bewildered children, for example. And the breakups of long separated spouses don?t appear as ledger entries.

Analysis that ?emphasize purely on economic factors fail to capture the broader social framework in which decisions to migrate are taken,? cautions UN Human Development Report 2009.

Today?s diaspora involves more than just one in 10 Filipinos working abroad. About 200 million?Indonesians to Poles and Eritreans?have migrated. ?The overwhelming majority, who move, do so inside their own country?about 740 million of them. (That?s) almost four times as many as those who moved internationally.?

Think of those who fled the Amapatuans, MILF?s commander Kato and Bravo, Abu Sayyaf and other warlords. About 11.7 percent of Filipinos will migrate in their lifetimes.

Today?s recession morphed into a job crisis. In Spain, where over 70,000 Filipino OFWs work, unemployment soared to 15 percent. ?It topped 28 percent among migrants .? (Most migrants) are younger, have less formal education and work experience. They tend to work as temporary laborers and are concentrated in cylical sectors,? notes a United Kingdom and German labor force analysis.

There are over 1.93 million Filipinos in OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. About 46 percent have college or tertiary education. Compare that to 23 percent for Vietnamese.

The United States is clipping H1B visas (technicians) for companies that tap into its Troubled Asset Relief Program. Korea froze its Employment Permit System. To hire local bumiputras, Malaysia scrubbed 55,000 visas for Banglasdeshis.

Filipino policymakers, meanwhile, are totally obsessed with political survival. Few track what the European Union founder Jean Monet called the ?running undercurrents.? These are ?deeper long-term processes, like population growth, aging or climate change. (These) will persist, regardless of the direction taken by the recession.?

Whoever among Noynoy Aquino, Manny Villar, or Gibo Teodoro will become president in May 2010, he?ll have about 92.2 million Filipinos to serve. That?s 16 times the 5.56 million Filipinos tallied by the first-ever-census in 1877.

Come 2020, there could be 109.7 million of us. Will many still itch to leave home to seek jobs abroad? Will people continue to swap rural penury for indigence in slums of 126 ill-prepared cities?

In all likelihood, yes.

?Poverty from joblessness drives migrants. In October, 2.72 million here had no jobs, the National Statistical Coordination Board reports. That?s the highest rate in Southeast Asia. About 6.78 million had only part-time work. Given half a chance, they?ll pull up stakes because ?hunger is a wanderer.? They?ll shrug off dangers. We see that in Filipinos sneaking into Iraq. ?Abusive and exploitative conditions (especially for domestic workers), and lack of redress mechanisms, can trap migrant women in a vicious cycle of poverty and HIV vulnerability,? concludes a recent research in the Arab states.

How do you make people stay?

Implement radical reforms to boost production, and narrow inequalities. ?Life expectancy in Lanao del Sur, for example, is only 59 years. Someone born in La Union has reasonable chances of living up to almost 75. A Singaporean?s life expectancy, however, is 80.

?Make the crooked ways straight? is the Advent message. An entrenched, self-seeking elite will resist that tooth and nail. Look at the 250 or so odd political dynasties. These include, among others, the Macapagal-Arroyos, the Marcoses, the Estradas, and the Singsons of Ilocos Sur.

Aging takes a toll rarely noted in headlines. By 2050, the average age of a worker in an advanced country, say Germany, will be 45. It will be 38 in Thailand and other developing countries that have completed their ?demographic transitions? (decline in birth and death rates). This gap creates a demand for workers.

The Philippines, however, hasn?t even started its democratic transition. It has a ?youth bulge??a heavy preponderance of young people, needing schools, health services?and jobs in cities or abroad. There are your future OFWs.

A migration policy of the future is evolving and will alter the world of tomorrow?s migrant. It will be radically different from those who came home this Christmas. Our leaders must, therefore, think beyond the box of remittances and elections to broad humane policies.

?When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people,? we?re told: ?Those who let it happen. Those who make it happen. And those who wonder what happened.?

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

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