By LEA PEREZ*
I hate how I grew up not really having a father. Don’t get me wrong, my father is alive and is still married to my mother- he is an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW).
Before you pass judgment and say that this is just a typical rant of an OFW baby, think again. Thing is, majority of us live in an illusion that every OFW goes abroad just because they want to, because they choose to without any remorse or doubt. With the absence of political stability, with double-digit unemployment levels due to sustained economic development, and low wages, it’s no wonder people are compelled to look for other jobs abroad. It is not a matter of choice, but has become a matter of survival.
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), numbering a few thousand per year in the early 1970s, has grown to hundreds of thousands. Every day there are about 4,000 Filipinos that leave the country to work abroad. There is now an estimated number of 12 million Filipinos abroad – more than 10 percent of the population – working in various countries across the globe. Imagine how many fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters leave their families because staying here would be tantamount to the death of their families?
And at the end of the day, no matter how I hate that I grew up without a father by my side and how he tells me how hard it is not being with your family, it is not surprising if I may end up like that myself. I fear of ending up as a call center agent here in the Philippines, as it is the only job that the government produces at the moment. Not that I think being a call center agent is degrading but I would like to get a job that is appropriate to my degree. Just like everyone else, I would like to have a job where I can practice the things that I learned for years like various communication theories, the media industry and producing material to inform the wider public.
The diaspora of OFWs is an offspring of the government’s inability to provide secure, stable jobs in the country. Due to an import dependent, export oriented economy that sits on a backward agricultural base and lack of national industries dominated by the landlord/bureaucrat ruling elite, the country has now millions of people unemployed. To alleviate massive protests in the country, the government created the labour export policy as a temporary solution to the economic crisis in the 1970s. Ferdinand Marcos allowed the use of the country’s unemployed for export to the oil-rich countries in the Middle East. However, this became a permanent component of the country’s labour policy with the creation of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) in 1982.
The promotion of labour export contributes fundamentally to the generation of migration culture, which in turn motivates people to work abroad. Although initiated as a stop-gap policy, the labour export policy has turned out to be a survival strategy after years of development. Philippines biggest export now is not mangoes, but people. Yet despite being dubbed as modern heroes, OFWs suffer from being overworked, underpaid, and exposed to sexual harassment, rape and human trafficking.
Who has forgotten the case of Mary Jane Veloso, wherein the government failed to provide her a competent translator and lawyer to defend herself from a drug trafficking case that often results to a death sentence in countries like Indonesia? The tragic case of Mary Jane is that after contributing to the country’s wealth by sending remittances, the government fails to look after the welfare of OFWs in terms of assistance and legal aid.
As a child far away from her father this Father’s Day and as a student bound to work after graduation, I am now greeting everyone condolence. This is not only for the fathers but for all OFWs not being with their loved ones. This is for all the students and graduates that are terrified in finding jobs after school. This is for the Filipino nation stuck in a rotting system that pushes its young people not to serve in our own country but other countries. This is for hope that one day, our loved ones will come back home without fear of poverty ruining our lives.
This is not merely a wish that the labor export policy soon ends and that the country will take the course of national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform to produce jobs locally. This is more than just a hopeful remark that we, as a country, deserve genuine development that citizens need not go abroad and suffer. This, simply, is a call to everyone to put a stop to this cycle of slavery by targeting and rooting out our economic and political problem. We can only develop as a country as we analyze our rightful capabilities as we push for collective action for genuine social change. # nordis.net