No Free Lunch

‘Exporting’ people as policy

Is it the government’s policy to promote the “export” of Filipinos? Should it be? This has never been an easy question to answer, and it’s quite understandable that the question never gets a straight “yes or no” answer from the government. The difficulty of the question lies in how economic benefits seem to clash with the social costs of “exporting” Filipinos.

Growth in the deployment of overseas Filipino workers has actually slowed down in recent years, reflecting increasing opportunities here at home. But we can be sure that large numbers of Filipinos will continue to seek greener pastures abroad, well into the future. People have long been cited to be among the country’s greatest assets, and there are those who believe that our ambivalence on the matter of migration as a policy has cost us substantial missed opportunities. This ambivalence, it is argued, has kept us from being more strategic, and instead have been largely reactive on the matter through the years.


It is a fact that Filipinos are favored over other nationalities by employers in various occupations abroad. Hardworking in nature, Filipinos could well be the most adaptable people in the world—and that is why they are found in almost every nook and cranny of the globe. We have an uncanny facility for learning new languages; our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal was known to speak over 20 languages. We are a loving and caring people, and millions of us make a living out of loving and caring for total strangers. Dr. Bernie Villegas also recounts that employers he has interviewed overseas cite one reason they favor Filipinos: “They take a bath every day.” We do have a superior product to offer the world, and the world knows it.

Some believe that we should charge host countries abroad for the massive public investments we have made in our superior workers now helping sustain their economies. They argue that the United States and other host countries are actually net recipients of foreign aid from us, if one counts how much our government had invested in the education of doctors, nurses, teachers and other professionals now contributing a substantial part of their GDP. It may not be farfetched, then, to consider seeking compensation from foreign governments hosting large numbers of Filipinos, for the massive investments our taxpayers have made (and that those foreign governments effectively saved).


Still, one should not be unduly focused on the economic dimension of the question. After all, human welfare has economic, social, environmental, political, cultural and spiritual dimensions. In each of these dimensions, there are implications of large-scale international migration of Filipinos that must be reckoned with. The social implications of the OFW phenomenon are well known. The strategic political role of OFWs both in their host countries and in our own domestic political scene is also now being recognized. Similarly, overseas Filipinos have become agents for cultural change both in their host countries and here at home. And then there is that strong conviction among many, particularly among Christians, that there must be something in God’s plan that is behind the fact that nationals of the only Christian country in Asia are now found in virtually every part of the globe.

Our challenge lies in maximizing our country’s benefits from international migration while mitigating the various attendant costs, foremost of which are the breakup of families and brain drain. We can vigorously negotiate, for example, that foreign employers and host governments make it easy for family members to join OFWs they employ. The government can ensure that reliable overseas telecommunications are widely accessible and affordable so separated families can be constantly in touch. We can exercise reasonable regulation on the exit of professionals, especially those educated in public institutions. But first we need to clearly and unequivocally define our policy and strategy on international migration. Then we can be deliberate about everything else we need to do to make international migration a win-win proposition for all Filipinos.

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TAGS: “exporting” Filipinos, deployment, Overseas Filipino Workers
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