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Summing-up of the State of Migrants Under Aquino (2010- June 2012)
Despite his promises and posturing, President Benigno Aquino III, after two years in office, had done nothing to stem the tide of forced migration and instead pursued a more intensified, aggressive and sophisticated labor export policy than his predecessors.
Underdevelopment and forced migration By October 2011, an additional 1.35 million Filipinos have been forced to go abroad by sheer lack of opportunities, decent jobs and wages, livelihood and social services in the country. This figure is higher by 5.3 percent than the 1.281 million OFWs from January to October 2010. According to independent think-tank IBON Foundation, the number of jobless Filipinos has risen to unprecedented heights from 2001-2010 and continues to reach record-high levels under Aquino. Hundreds of thousands are underemployed. At least one-fourth of the country’s labor force has gone abroad to find work. At the end of 2010, 11.2 million Filipinos or 28 percent of the labor force was either unemployed or in search for additional jobs. On July 2011, the National Statistics Office (NSO) declared that the rate of unemployment increased from 7.0 percent in 2010 to 7.2 percent; 19.1 percent was underemployed, an increase from 2010’s 17.9 percent. One in every four Filipino workers was either jobless or underemployed. In his 2011 State of the Nation Address (SONA), Aquino attempted to downplay the jobs crisis by claiming a lower unemployment rate (1.4 million jobs created). However, he failed to mention that the jobs created were disproportional to the ever-growing labor force (an additional 1.2 million by July 2011) and underemployed (an additional 829,000). This is not to mention those already unemployed and underemployed before this. According to the January 2012 Labor Force Survey (LFS), 64.3 percent is unemployed and actively looking for jobs. Most of the unemployed are fresh graduates, young and educated – some half are aged 15 to 24 years while 30 percent is 25 to 34 years old. The number of jobless and underemployed Filipinos increased by over 600,000 during Aquino’s first year in office. Those who land domestic jobs suffer very low wages. Since 2001, the gap between the mandated minimum wage and the family living wage (FLW) in the National Capital Region (NCR) had considerably widened. In 2001, minimum wage was 52 percent of the FLW; by end of 2011, the P426 NCR minimum wage was only 43 percent of the P993 FLW. Worsening joblessness feeds on already chronically low wages, with the current minimum wage grossly inadequate to sustain even the most humble of families. Family incomes are not keeping up with the inflation. The average family in NCR now lives on P22 to P37 a day. This indicates the poor quality of life that minimum wage earners in Metro Manila can afford. 1
To conceal this striking reality, the government tried to obscure the number of impoverished Filipinos by lowering the official poverty line. However, the rising hunger and malnourishment rates belie any attempts to face-lift the figures. The gap between the rich and the poor has further widened, with the income of the top 1 percent of families equivalent to that of the bottom 30 percent of households, IBON said. Social service spending, moreover, has not improved under Aquino. The government has failed to allot enough resources to address shortages and insufficiencies in education, health, housing and welfare services. Social services’ share in the gross domestic product (GDP) has continued to drop in light of annual budget cuts and privatization of public utilities. Aquino claims that his administration’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program reduced poverty, an exaggerated and unscientific boast, if anything. Being a beneficiary of the CCT is not tantamount to a family emerging from below the poverty line. It is not sustaining and offers merely band-aid solutions to the problems of joblessness and low wages. Aquino also fails to mention that the cash dole-out supposedly for 100,000 families would only hold for five years, during and after which no prospective jobs, wages or livelihood are available to beneficiaries. The present administration is also second place in terms of poor land distribution among post-Marcos regimes. Department of Agrarian Reform Sec. Gil delos Reyes admits that they would not be able to finish land distribution in time for the 24th anniversary of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) on June 10 – leaving some 500,000 hectares or almost half of DAR’s target for land distribution undistributed by 2014, affecting at least 1.1 million farmers. Perhaps the most controversial lands up for land distribution are the Aquino-Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita that remain undistributed to this day despite favorable ruling by the Supreme Court for farmers and farm workers. This comes as no surprise from a president who hails from a landed clan and family of hacienderos. In search of jobs, higher wages and livelihoods, the number of Filipinos overseas and leaving everyday – and the amount of remittances they send back – has been on the rise over the last three decades. The Philippine economy’s dependence on labor outmigration and remittances has become unparalleled under the Aquino administration.
Remittances and intensification of labor export According to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), there are now 15 million Filipinos abroad. This figure is substantively higher than the 8.6 million recorded by the Center for Overseas Filipinos (CFO) in 2010, not including the 330,424 recorded number of seafarers in the same year. Table 1: Number of Filipinos overseas 2001 2002 2003 Permanent 2,736,528 2,807,356 2,865,412 Temporary 3,049,622 3,167,978 3,385,001 Irregular 1,625,936 1,607,170 1,512,765 TOTAL 7,412,086 7,582,504 7,763,178 Growth 2.3% 2.4% Rate Source: Center for Overseas Filipinos (2010) 2004 3,187,586 3,599,257 1,297,005 8,083,848 4.2% 2005 3,391,338 3,651,727 881,123 7,924,188 -2% 2006 3,556,035 3,802,345 874,792 8,233,172 3.9% 2007 3,692,527 4,133,970 900,023 8,726,520 6% 2008 3,907,842 3,636,259 653,609 8,187,710 -6.1% 2009 4,056,940 3,864.068 658,370 8,579,378 4.8%
Migrante International (MI) pegs the number of overseas Filipinos between 12 to 15 million. For MI, DOLE may be bloating the figures to make it appear that employment rate abroad has increased. The CFO, on the other hand, may 2
be brandishing lower numbers in an effort to obscure the annually increasing number of undocumented Filipino migrants all over the world. Of present, overseas Filipinos are scattered in at least 239 countries situated in six continents, namely, Asia, Australia, North America, South America, Africa and Europe. The biggest population is located in the United States (3.5 million based on the 2010 US Census); next is Saudi Arabia (1.5 million based on POEA 2010 data); and Canada (639,686 based on 2009 CFO data). There is also a big concentration of Filipinos in the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Qatar, Malaysia, Japan, United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Singapore. In the Philippines, about 30 to 40 percent of the 99 million population is remittance-dependent. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) places the Philippines as the fourth leading migrant-sending country in the whole world, next only to China, Mexico and India. According to data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), 1.5 million Filipinos were deployed abroad in 2010. This figure is 50,000 or 3.4 percent higher than the deployment rate in 2009. Majority of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are deployed in Saudi Arabia (293,049), the UAE (201,214) and Hong Kong (101,340). Most are in the service sector (154,535) working as domestic workers, hotel and restaurant staff and caregivers; 129,647 are in manufacturing as factory workers; and 41,835 are professionals (doctors, nurses, teachers, etc). Table 2: Number of Deployed Landbased Overseas Filipino Workers by Major Occupational Category New Hires (2004 – 2010)
Source: POEA (2010) A closer look into overseas deployment data would show that of the total number deployed in 2010, 781,966 were rehires while only 341,966 were new hires. The number of new hires decreased by 2.2 percent compared to 2009 (349,715) and 2008 (376,973) data. In the past three years, there was a slight decrease in the number of new hires deployed. In the first quarter of 2011, according to the POEA, only 380,188 new hires were deployed or 3.9 percent lower than the 395,189 number deployed during the same period in 2010. Table 3: Number of Deployed Overseas Filipino Workers by Type of Hiring (2008-2010)
Source: POEA (2010) 3
The POEA attributed the decrease in the number of new hires to the global economic crisis that erupted in 2008. The downtrend in deployment in first quarter 2011, it said, was the result of the crisis in the Middle East-North Africa regions and the multiple disasters in Japan. The agency further said that the decrease in deployment of new hires should not be interpreted as a drop in demand for OFWs in the global market. In fact, by end of 2011, the POEA was confident that it had reached its target job orders and deployment for the year. However, according to a study by MI, job orders have indeed decreased over the years, even before the global economic crisis transpired. This, however, did not stop Filipinos from being forced to leave the country in search for “greener pastures”, as the yearly increasing growth rate of migration shows. Aside from the average 4,500 who leave the country daily who pass through the POEA, millions depart through irregular means. They are those who become victims of trafficking and illegal recruitment, who eventually become undocumented in their countries of transit or destination with the hope of landing jobs despite not having regular documents. Meanwhile, seafarers still constitute the biggest sub-sector of OFWs. The Philippines is still one of the biggest maritime countries, with Manila still in the list of the biggest most important ports in the world. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Philippines is still the top source of seafarers. An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 seafarers are added to the total deployment every year. Table 4. Number of seafarers in the world, 2003 = 1,250,000 or 67% of deployment Philippines 28.1% Russia 6.8% Ukraine 6.3% China 6.2% India 5.0% Indonesia 4.0% Poland 3.5% Greece 2.8% Turkey 2.5% Myanmar 2.3% Source: POEA Remittances from OFWs remain at record-high from 2001 until 2011 despite the global economic crisis. Statistics from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) show that it had reached a whopping US$20 billion by end of 2011, from US$ 18.8 billion in 2010 and US$17.3 billion in 2009. During the first five months of 2011, an estimated US$ 7.9 billion were remitted, 6.18 percent higher than remittances during the same period in 2010. According to the World Bank, the Philippines is the fourth biggest remittance-receiving country next to India, China and Mexico. It is no secret that the Philippine economy relies mainly on remittances to keep it afloat. By 2010, despite the global economic crisis, remittances had already made up 8.7 percent of the Gross National Product (GNP), surpassing the share of traditional exports of agricultural products. Table 5. Top 10 OFW Remittance-Sending Countries Country 1)United States 2)Canada 2008 7,825,607 1,308, 692 2009 7,323,661 1,900,963 2010 7,862,207 2,022,611 Jan-May 2011 3,232,073 830,863 4
3)Saudi 1,387,120 Arabia 4)United 776,354 Kingdom 5)Japan 575,181 6)U.A.E. 621,232 7)Singapore 523,951 8)Italy 678,539 9)Germany 304,644 10)Hong 406,134 Kong Source: BSP (2010) Table 6. OFW Remittance (2001-2010)
1,470,571 859,612 773,561 644,822 649,943 521,297 433,488 339,552
1,544,343 888,959 882,996 775,237 734,131 550,515 448,204 362,524
616,193 382,347 381,192 307,964 317,786 242,411 194,475 148,873
This can be attributed to the following factors: (a) OFWs compensate the dwindling dollar by sending more amounts to their families back home; (b) OFWs get double or triple jobs to offset effects of the crisis in host countries; (c) OFWs resort to more borrowing/loaning to be able to send money home; (d) OFWs are now sending savings they had acquired over the years, if any; and, (e) the number of undocumented OFWs sending remittances back home has increased. Further, in a study made by the ILO, more and more OFWs have been looking for additional sources of income on top of their regular jobs in order to survive the global economic crisis. No matter, what is obscured from these figures is the fact that increasing remittances means millions of Filipinos have to slave it out even harder in foreign shores just to up or continue sending money to their families. And the government cannot only but rejoice. However, although annual remittances increased amid the global economic crisis, its growth rate has been decreasing in recent years. From a 25 percent record growth in 2005, it dropped to a lowest 5.6 percent in 2009, a year after the global crisis erupted. Table 7. Trend in Remittance
POEA, BSP (2010) 5
In the US where 50 percent of remittances originates, the growth rate had decreased from 7.8 percent in 2008 to 7.3 percent in 2009. It had a slight increase to 7.9 percent in 2010 but has been suffering a steady decline since the country’s debt crisis ensued. The continuing decrease in growth rate is a constant worry for the Philippine government. If the trend continues, the government will be in big trouble because it relies mainly on remittances for its foreign exchange revenues. Table 8. Relationship of Remittances to Other Philippine External Income (Source: BSP, ADB, WORLD BANK, DOT, INQ7)
This explains the Aquino administration’s desperation to further seek job markets abroad and intensify its labor export program. Through remittances, the government earns exponentially without having to shell out much capital investment. Even funds for labor outmigration management through agencies such as the POEA or the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) are directly sourced from OFWs or recruitment agencies and employers through various fees. The Aquino administration, while mouthing local job generation as its core program to eliminate forced migration, continues to hail the ”remittance bonanza” to further promote labor export in the attempt to offset the downtrend in growth rate. To do this, it has become more aggressive in implementing labor export, hence, the Aquino administration’s active lobbying for job markets and signing of bilateral agreements with host countries in the past two years. Recently, it even lifted several deployment bans in perilous countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan in its greed for remittance inflow. Aside from overseas remittances, labor export provides a tempting alternative to the unemployed and underemployed. Because of this, the government is not obligated to create jobs that offer decent wages and instead it becomes convenient to evade responsibility of implementing policy reforms to turn the economy around. By its nature as the exercise of individual choice, albeit forced by circumstance, migration does not in and of itself require much government ‘investment’ and will occur even if the state does not devote substantial economic, financial, administrative and political resources. The natural economic ‘compulsion’ of many Filipino workers to seek work wherever they can to survive does not require any strategic government thinking, planning or intervention. It is also notable how the migration phenomenon has spawned a vast industry of related services such as recruiters and remittance services, as well as created profitable opportunities for other private sector actors such as banks, real estate developers, telecommunication firms and malls – again, with little need for government attention. Instead, the Philippines’ labor export policy is disproportionately focused on maximizing the overall inflow of remittances as a development goal in itself without weighing this against the welfare of migrant workers and their families. 6
Anti-migrant and neo-liberal policies The country’s economic situation has not improved under Aquino’s unreformed government policies. Development policies in the country, including Aquino’s Philippine Development Plan (2011-2016), continue to rely heavily on foreign investment, export-dependence, debt and the so-called free market – principles from which a more intensified and aggressive labor export policy is entrenched. Aquino’s essential economic thrust is clear-cut: stick to adherence to policies of neoliberal globalization, implement these more thoroughly and systematically than his predecessors, promote privatization through his Public-Private Partnership (PPP), and selectively implement social protection programs like the CCT. For OFWs, Aquino has employed the same impetus. The situation of OFWs has gone from bad to worse in Aquino’s two years. Since Aquino took his oath two years ago, it had been especially more grueling for OFWs and their families. Policywise, there are no indications that he would instill much-needed reforms to curb forced migration and deviate from a policy of labor export. Budget cuts During Aquino’s first two years, funds for direct services for OFWs were slashed in the National Expenditure Program. For fiscal year 2012, budget for OFWs only got a less than one percent share (0.17 percent) in the P1.8 trillion national budget. Direct services for OFWs from concerned government agencies, namely specific items under the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Department of Justice (DOJ) as lead agency of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) and the Office of the President (OP), were decreased. Budget for OFW welfare and services in said agencies suffered an 18 percent cut (P792 million) from last year’s sum of P3.8 million. This translates to a pitiful per capita spending of P261.83 for 15 million overseas Filipinos. Moreover, while funds for welfare and services for OFWs decreased, increases were made in the DOLE and POEA budgets mainly for their “marketing and job placement” purposes. The national budget is one concrete manifestation of the government’s thrust to further intensify the government’s labor export policy despite declarations from Aquino that he will focus on local job generation and more incentives for returned OFWs to address forced migration. State exactions and double taxation Under Aquino, OFWs suffered more state exactions throughout the whole migration cycle. Since 2010, the government had imposed numerous other fees from OFWs pre- and post-departure – the increase in e-passport fees, mandatory Pag-Ibig contributions, Philhealth premium cost hike, mandatory medical insurance, Affidavit of Support fees, to name a few. MI estimates an average of P20,000 collected for every OFW processed by the POEA. If 4,500 OFWs leave daily to work abroad, the government earns P90 million a day, or roughly P32.8 billion yearly, from processing fees and other costs shouldered by OFWs. State exactions have caused OFWs and their families to become debt-ridden, contributing greatly to the widespread landlessness and poverty of many. It is not unheard of for peasant families to mortgage or sell their small parcels of land or to submit their children to unpaid labor just to be able to pay debtors or produce the sum needed to pay for exorbitant pre-departure and placement fees. Government neglect of OFWs in distress
For the first time in history, four Filipinos were executed abroad under one presidency. The number of Filipinos on death row has increased from 108 to 123. At least 7,000 Filipinos are languishing in jails abroad without legal assistance and at least 20,000 are stranded and awaiting repatriation. In his two years, the Aquino government failed to address the immediate evacuation and repatriation of OFWs affected by conflicts in the MENA region. The so-called “one-country team approach” of the DFA, DOLE and OWWA is nonfunctional, with the concerned agencies blaming each other for lapses and inaction in the urgent repatriation of OFWs. In the ongoing repatriation efforts for OFWs in Syria, for instance, the OWWA and the DFA offer conflicting information on the average deployment costs needed to negotiate with Syrian employers for the release of OFWs from their contracts. The OWWA said that it had set the average deployment cost at US$2,500 per OFW while the DFA pegged it at US$3,000 to US$4,000. Even the figures for total population of OFWs in Syria do not match. MI criticized discrepancies in the agencies’ official reports, saying that efforts will be futile if concerned agencies do not agree with basic facts. Poor rights and welfare service programs The Philippine government has been hailed for introducing migration policies that allegedly ensure the protection of its workers abroad and for displaying “good practices” that promote migrant workers’ protection. Its pre-departure orientation program (PDOS) has been commended as a useful model for offering protection that “begins at home”. The Aquino government has also been highly praised for its attempt to work with labor-receiving governments to formulate both formal and informal agreements meant to ensure that migrant workers conditions are within nationally and internationally-accepted standards. These, however, are more wishful thinking than reality. The truth is, OFWs are plagued with an assortment of issues and problems throughout the entire migration cycle yet the Aquino government has barely done any decisive action to support and protect its migrant workers and their families. The Aquino government’s ability to uphold Filipino migrants’ rights and promote their welfare has lagged behind its apparent success in pursuing it labor export policy. The efforts and outcomes are uneven. On one hand, efforts are systematic, sustained and deliberate on regulatory matters facilitating the departure of migrants and receipt of remittances. These have resulted in record numbers of Filipinos overseas. On the other hand, efforts are spotty, partial and erratic on matters relating to giving migrants protection and support at home or abroad. There is even a lack of accurate, comprehensive and timely information about the migrant workers themselves. All these highlight the steady rise in violations of migrant rights. Many OFWs and migrant organizations have gone so far as to characterize the government as “criminally negligent” in its repeated abdication of taking primary responsibility for protecting migrants and their families. Despite these, the Aquino government continues to promote labor export. While it is also true that the country has a sophisticated and well-developed legal framework to protect the rights and welfare of migrants and their families, this has largely been pushed by force of circumstance of the rapidly increasing numbers of OFWs that have been victimized by violations of rights and the resounding clamor of a great number of OFWs, their families and advocates who have managed to organize among themselves. Particularly significant measures such as the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act (RA 10022, amended RA 8042), Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA 9208) and the Overseas Absentee Voting Act (RA 9189) have not been implemented and fulfilled under the Aquino administration. This is mainly because the fuller realization of the potential benefits from formal laws and policies on migrant rights and welfare is hindered by the country’s underlying labor export policy. The measure of success in protecting migrants lies only partly in the system in place and more in how systematically and sincerely migrant workers are actually protected given their rising numbers, the existence of national institutional mechanisms and processes, and the actual legal and political circumstances in receiving countries. 8
Taking these factors into consideration, the recurring problems of maltreatment, insufficient social and welfare services, government failures and violence against OFWs underscore the reality of the wide gap between the labor export policy and the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers and their families. The OWWA Omnibus Policies (OOP), for instance, which was passed under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2003, continues to be in force to this day. The OOP limits the benefits and welfare services entitled to OFWs – among its provisions are the termination of OWWA membership upon expiration of employment contract; restriction of voluntary membership to two years; selective repatriation of migrant workers in times of crises, epidemics and wars; and the granting of the sole deciding authority to the OWWA Board of Trustees with regard the management of OWWA funds. Also under the OOP, only active members of OWWA could avail of the services and benefits consisting of a life insurance for natural death, insurance for accidental death, disability benefits, scholarship programs, repatriation and reintegration. Others, such as medical insurance and health benefits, have either been privatized or taxed from OFWs and/or employers. Under the current OWWA policy, only active members of OWWA could avail of the services and benefits that include a P100,000 life insurance (for natural death), and P200,000 insurance (for accidental death), disability benefits, scholarship programs, repatriation and reintegration programs. There is also a lack of comprehensive and sustainable reintegration program for returned OFWs. What the Aquino government offers are mere dole-outs and band-aid solutions that are not long-term solutions to unemployment, low wages and lack of social services. Most of the government’s reintegration programs for returned OFWs are made up of loans and one-time livelihood programs. Most recently, returned OFWs are complaining about the P2 billion OWWA reintegration program that Aquino inaugurated in 2011 because of its stringent requirements for collateral and onerous interest rates. Aquino also failed to investigate allegations of misuse and corruption of the OWWA funds. The plunder case filed against former president Arroyo for misuse and corruption of OWWA funds, for instance, was initiated by private citizens and organizations and not the Aquino administration.
Aquino’s lies At the start of his presidency, Aquino committed to create jobs at home and to uphold the policy of not pursuing overseas employment as a development strategy and instead establish concrete policies and steps towards more sustainable alternatives. He promised to prioritize the protection of OFWs and their families. Aquino also committed to improve and enhance the government’s services and resources for OFWs and their families. He said that he would audit the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to rationalize the management of its funds, in terms of benefits provided as well as how the funds are invested. Aquino also vowed to strengthen reintegration programs for returning migrants and facilitate their return by favorable terms of investment, tax incentives, access to government financial institutions and other benefits. But the facts and figures are telling.
In the past two years, the Aquino government has been aggressive in crafting programs and services aimed at facilitating and encouraging migration. While acknowledging the many social costs, these are effectively downplayed and the resoluteness of the labor export effort often creates the impression that migration is unequivocally beneficial for the migrants and their families. This is particularly done by overstating supposed development benefits for the economy and the income benefits for households. The economic compulsion for the government to keep exporting Filipinos to maintain or especially to increase remittances unfortunately overrides and precludes undertaking any measures that, directly or indirectly, constrict the flow of migration – even if such measures would immediately and in the long-run prevent the incidence of abuses and migrant rights violations.
Conclusion In the last two years, Aquino had miserably failed. Aquino is no different and, in fact, worse than Arroyo. Filipino people are being forced to migrate because of desperation. The economy’s lack of development resulting in job loss, low wages and lack of livelihood at home is the primary push factor. OFWs have borne witness to how insincere, insensitive and inept the Aquino government is in upholding and securing the protection and welfare of OFWs, while ironically also showcasing a more blatant and unapologetic labor export policy that exploits OFWs’ cheap labor and foreign remittances. To genuinely address the problem of forced migration, the government should decisively deviate from the past and present administration’s labor export policy and focus instead on developing the national economy by advancing local industries, agriculture and basic services. MI fully supports the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to the problem of forced migration and labor export program. Only through taking steps in building the domestic economy and ensuring social welfare intervention can joblessness and forced migration be truly addressed. ###