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Make overseas work a choice more than a need for Filipinos

Our hope is that one day, working and living abroad will be “a choice, more than a need” for Filipinos. Vice President Leni Robredo restated this hope in a talk before members of the University of the Philippines Association and other members of the Filipino-American community at the Philippine Center in San Francisco, California, last week.

Over 10 million of the 102 million Filipinos are living and working in all parts of the globe today. There is not one corner of this planet where one will not run into a Filipino – working as an engineer in an oil plant, an information technology professional in an office, a teacher in a school, a laborer in a factory, a seaman in an ocean vessel, a nurse or doctor in a hospital, a musician in a club, a household staffer in a hotel, or a domestic helper or caregiver in a private home.

More than a million Filipinos leave every year to work abroad and many stay on to become citizens. Strangely enough, there are more female workers (51.1 percent) than male going abroad. Most of these Filipinos today are in the United States, in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East nations, in Canada and Australia, in Europe, and in nearby Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan.

Their remittances to the Philippines via formal banking networks totaled $25.8 billion in 2015, serving as a major pillar of the Philippine economy. There were also personal remittances estimated at $28.5 billion not captured by the banking sector – for a total of $54.26 billion in that year. That translates into P2.5 trillion that supports the OFWs’ families here. No wonder, the government is taking its time in setting up programs to provide greater employment for our people.

But we cannot expect this situation to last forever. Even now, there are signs of diminishing work opportunities abroad. Some 11,000 Filipinos are now stranded in Saudi Arabia after their companies closed shop with the fall in world oil prices. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulazzi al Saud has ordered its government to help the Filipinos by providing food for them and helping them find other jobs and shouldering plane fare home for those who can no longer find work.

In her talk with Filipino-Americans in California, Vice President Robredo said, “One day, our OFWs will return home and I hope that by then, they will be welcomed back by a country where everyone is given equal opportunity and access to government services.” This will not happen, she said, “If we do not act now.”

She reiterated her proposal for the government to set up one-stop shops all over the country similar to the Naga Migrant Resource Center, opened in December last year, which offers help to OFWs with training, skills matching, and assessment of recruiting agencies; and also with legal services, information on saving, and training to help start small businesses.

But the most basic program that the government must now start planning for and implementing in the coming months and years is a job-creation program. This is needed for the day so many of our OFWs will be returning home while our population grows, and our people will need work right here in our own land.