Intro by: Rohlee de Guzman
Speaking to the Filipino community in Bahrain on 14 April, President Duterte announced to them that in a couple of months, there will be a Department on Overseas Filipinos specially for them.
At the moment there are 7 bills pending in the House of Representatives for the creation of Department of Migration and Development/ Department of OFW. Here is the overview of the pending house bills (see attached).
As reaction to President Duterte’s pronouncement Leila Rispens-Noel, Director and co-founder of WIMLER Hongkong and WIMLER Philippines posted this article in Facebook where she explained why the creation of the Department of OFW is a wrong approach in addressing the plight of Filipino migrants workers. We publish this article with permission from Ms. Rispens-Noel.
A related article on the proposals of lawmakers on the creation of a department of OFW department can be found here.
By: Leila Rispens-Noel
I support any initiatives that address the plight of our Filipino migrant workers but the recent pronouncement of Pres Duterte to create a Department of OFWs might be a wrong approach.
Secretary Bello of DOLE mentioned one key point why we should think that this move might not be the right step to help our migrant workers.
The creation of a Department to handle all issues of migrant workers indeed gives a semblance that deployment becomes a permanent program of the Philippine government and that it perpetuates people leaving the country to find jobs abroad. This contradicts what Duterte said sometime ago that he wants to see our OFWs going home for good. How can we mitigate migration when at the same time we create a system where people can easily apply for a job abroad?
In the first place, to name the new department as Department of OFWs is not accurate. If you review the names of our departments there is no such thing as Department of Farmers, Department of Workers, Department of Students, Department of Traders, etc. It is named as Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Education, Department of Trade and Industry. So why, Department of OFWs and for OFWs alone?
It is for this reason that it is more logical if Duterte seriously looks at the creation of a Department of Migration and Development which has a broader scope.
Why Department of Migration and Development?
In order for migration to work for development, the government needs to come up with an integrated, strategic and sustainable migration strategy. If our ultimate goal is to mitigate migration, we need to look at the whole aspect of migration and how it eventually impact the lives of migrants, their families and our country.
Effective migration system sees that the movement of Filipino workers are properly managed and get the best work arrangement. Deployment of non-skilled and skilled workers must be thoroughly studied so that we will not resort to brain drain and de-skilling. The Department should not only attend to the complaints, processing of travel documents, and avoid queuing in various agencies like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If this is the only reason why a department for OFWs is created, then I say it is just a waste of money and duplication of the tasks being done by existing agencies like DFA, OWWA and POLO. There must be a way to systematize applying travel documents to avoid long queues without creating a new Department.
Deployment of workers should not be the ultimate goal. It should be a choice not a desperate option.
Effective migration management does more than that. It studies which countries need Filipino workers, what kind of jobs, what kind of contracts, what is the best contract, forges bilateral agreements with labor importing countries, sees to it that the rights of migrants and their families are promoted, respected and fulfilled in addition to taking care of the migrant workers when they arrive in their host countries. Sound migration requires a strategic, sustainable and implementable return and reintegration program. Successful migration harnesses brain gain.
Sooner or later, like it or not, contract workers have to go home. There are many factors that should be considered in assessing migrant workers’ preparedness to go home or lack of it. Some of these are their capacity and capability ‘to mobilize resources, social networks of the returnees including the social capital inherent to in their networks upon their return. The families back home also play an important determinant for migrants’ decision to return. A family which manages remittances properly by saving a portion of remittances they receive, investing in productive activities, conscientiously repaying debts or spending them wisely can ease the financial burden of migrants that could be an incentive for them to go home. Conversely, a family which mismanages the money they receive can negatively impact migrant workers’ psychological and economic preparation in deciding to return.
Development on the other hand is equally important for migrant workers, their families, their communities, and the country.
Development sees to it that migrant workers and their families have the proper and right migration goals and manage their remittances effectively not only to meet immediate needs but also build and create wealth to secure their financial future.
On the national level, the government should be able to harness migration so that it works for development at home by creating favorable social, economic and political environment so that migrants are encouraged to invest a portion of their hard-earned money too productive purposes. DOLE for instance, should focus more on creating decent and well-paid jobs at home instead of looking for job orders abroad to avoid thousands of people desperately leaving the country to seek greener pastures.
Compared to other labor-sending countries, the Philippines has established an impressive set of institutions both in-country and abroad, that promote migration, return and reintegration. The Philippine reintegration program is ‘anchored on encouraging migrants and their families to venture into productive and sustainable economic undertakings that emphasize on wealth creation and make migrants stay home and keep the family integrated and, at the same time, help stimulate economic activities in local communities’ (de Vries, 2001). However, engagement in business enterprise presumes that there is an existing enabling environment to stimulate returnees to invest. Returnees would be reluctant to invest their money in areas where they perceive business is not profitable due to infrastructural constraints, breakdown of peace and order, unstable governance, corruption , long list of requirements before one could secure business permits, etc. They earn much better abroad why risk their future by going home? Failure to prepare for their return and reintegration, some migrants after their contracts end may opt to stay in the host countries illegally.
Remittances are the most widespread and important migrant economic activity and indeed offer the dual function of livelihood survival and provide possibilities of asset building. Remittances are both a combination of social protection, stock accumulation, and asset. If they are used and managed wisely, remittances can help transform lives but it is important to bear in mind that there are also limitations of remittances, i.e., as stand alone, they cannot address poverty. It is for this reason that reintegration must be given adequate attention by our governments NGOs, private sector, and other stakeholders to assist migrant workers and their families to achieve their migration goals.
To maximize the benefits of migration, migrants must be provided with social, psychological, and technical assistance prior, during, and after migration.
First, applying for jobs abroad must be affordable by getting rid of scrupulous recruitment agencies which are charging high and illegal processing fees that led to huge indebtedness to many migrant workers.
Second, financial literacy must be taught before departure and must be continued in the host countries since learning how to manage remittances is changing old values and practices. This should be complemented with financial literacy for families left behind so that they can manage remittances they receive wisely. There is an advantage of attending a financial literacy to improve the remittance management behavior of migrant domestic workers but this must be supplemented by offering appropriate remittance-based products and services depending on the needs and wants of the migrant workers.
Third, migrants must be made aware of various reintegration schemes and those who are interested to go into business must be provided with technical assistance. In many cases, returnees only start attending livelihood training, attending enterprise development courses, and preparing their business plans when they already return to the country. The preparation for the reintegration should already start while they are abroad so they do not lose precious time.
Since not all migrants are entrepreneurial, at least they are taught how to save or to invest in reliable and viable social enterprises. This means, migrants could find reliable and trusted organizations to manage their funds for them to secure their financial future. It is also advisable that they continue their membership with the Social Security System (SSS) so that if they prefer not to go into business, they will receive social pension benefits when they eventually retire.
Summing up, the government must create an enabling environment for returnees to ensure sustainability of their chosen enterprise. Training in entrepreneurship, marketing, business management and access to capital must be provided. Migrants are inclined to return if the home countries provide a stable and attractive social, economic and political environment. However, not all migrants are entrepreneurial. For others finding decent jobs at home could be the option. This can only be done through job creating activities tapping the vast remittances sent by Filipinos migrants every year to the Philippines estimated at US$27 billion in 2016.