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Editorial

When OFWs come home

/ 12:10 AM July 23, 2014

There’s some good news from the manufacturing sector. As economist and professor Cielito Habito noted in his July 15 column in this paper, the sector is showing tremendous growth—an average of 8.1 percent in the last four years, against only 3 percent in 2004-2009. More specifically, “Total employment generated by manufacturing establishments with 20 or more workers (1.1 million) represented a 21-percent increase since 2010. This is remarkable given that overall job growth was only 3.2 percent in that same period.”

The industries that accounted for the biggest job contribution are electronics, apparel, food products, motor vehicle parts and accessories, and computers and peripheral equipment and accessories—and the jobs they offer “are almost entirely (99.6 percent) wage- and salary-paying jobs,” Habito said. It is a healthy indicator both of the long-term prospects of manufacturing businesses and of a more stabilized labor employment landscape. This is a sector that is seriously generating jobs, and Habito is positive that with new investments and certain substantial improvements, “manufacturing should continue being on a roll for some time to come.”

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Let’s hope that this felicitous state of things holds. President Aquino’s administration should do its utmost to sustain the surge, because if the manufacturing sector goes south at this time, it would compound a problem that is staring the Philippines in the face: what to do with the overseas Filipino workers that have to be repatriated from the three current hotspots of Gaza, Libya and Iraq.

The latest report from Libya is that a Filipino construction worker was kidnapped on July 15 by militiamen. The OFW, who was riding in a car with a Libyan and a Pakistani, was then beheaded allegedly because he was not a Muslim. His remains were recovered in a hospital only on July 20, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs. The deteriorating security condition has prompted the DFA to order some 13,000 Filipinos in Libya to leave, but so far only 207 have reportedly turned up for evacuation. And as the accounts of those who escaped the turmoil following Libyan strongman Moammar Ghadafi’s fall in 2011 attest, fleeing Libya by land via Egypt or Tunisia is fraught with danger and difficulty.

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The number of OFWs in Iraq and Gaza are significantly lower—reportedly 927 in Iraq, but only about 600 to be repatriated because the rest are deployed in the peaceful Kurdistan region, and about 100 in the besieged Palestinian territory. Still, factor in the families of about 14,000 OFWs who are suddenly rendered jobless by the forced evacuations—many of them probably still paying off the recruitment fees and other expenses entailed by their overseas deployment—and you get an idea of the magnitude of the problem: Where to put these returning workers given an economy that can hardly accommodate the roughly 517,000 new college graduates who join the labor force each year, not to mention the millions more (a staggering 12.1 million individuals in the last quarter of 2013, according to a Social Weather Stations survey) who constitute the country’s unemployed population?

Even with a manufacturing sector that’s growing by leaps and bounds and needing more and more workers, the absorption rate would still not be enough. In the last four years, according to the Philippine Statistics Office data quoted by Habito, the sector hired some 1.1 million workers—certainly a welcome number, but still too small to effectively address the widespread joblessness.

Of course, the Aquino administration can ease unemployment by greenlighting big-ticket projects. But it’s been a slow slog in that area, with three massive public-private partnerships awarded only this year, four years into the President’s term. The biggest transportation-related project, the P271-billion North-South Commuter Railway in Luzon, will be offered to investors in the latter part of the year yet.

The administration halted major projects and effectively underspent in 2011 because it said it wanted to reevaluate all the projects approved by its predecessor. Fine—but three years hence, the delays in project implementation have become a serious constraint to the “inclusive growth” promised. Time is running out on giving Filipino workers a shot at a decent job at home.

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TAGS: Cielito Habito, economy, Global Nation, Libya, news, ofws
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