By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — “A small crack in the relationship can get bigger if not properly addressed…”
This is how broken families starts, with majority associated with those who leave the country to improve their lives said Dr. Hoover Agyao, Vice President of Organization for the Development of Families and Communities in the Cordillera.
He spoke with the media on the sidelines of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Multisectoral and Interagency Consultation for Cordillera Family Welfare on November 7.
“May mga nagconduct ng researches kaugnay sa overseas Filipino worker (OFW) families so nakita natin doon that it is really an emerging problem like nagkakaroon ng extramarital affairs yung naiwanan dito or nagpunta doon so it affects the relationship of the family,” he explained.
The social work professor from the Cordillera Career Development College (CCDC) shared a study among students whose parents working abroad. The research revealed that a majority ended with broken families.
Agyao said that while the particular study which CCDC conducted, while “done in a limited space,” remains an important gauge of how working abroad results to family breakdown.
He pointed that other studies also showed increasing number of family separation and emotionally challenge youth because of parents working abroad.
What’s causing the crack?
To consider OFWs’ decision to leave their families as personal choices, misses key reasons of the overseas employment, which are economic and social pressures.
“Sa ngayon we have been identified mainly as service providers so a lot of Filipino are taking advantage because right here we have to admit that it is really difficult to save,” Agyao said.
He added that parents are not to blame if they go abroad for gainful employment.
Sonia Bulong of Innabuyog Migrant’s Desk agrees, explaining the “correct term” is “forced migration”, since most of those seeking jobs abroad are “compelled by social and economic realities” in the country.
Citing study conducted by Innabuyog in the Cordillera, she said women in mining areas in the region opted to go abroad because of destroyed traditional livelihood like agriculture and gold panning. While in garden areas, working abroad becomes an alternative to provide the needs for production and other family needs.
But besides the economic reason, Innabuyog noted social circumstance such as militarization of communities.
“We have documented cases in Abra and Kalinga where women in the community choose to work abroad to escape from military harassment or to support their families who opted to leave the community in fear for their safety,” explained Bulong.
Migrante International, the largest Filipino migrant alliance in the globe, in their 2017 Migrant’s Situation stated: “Filipinos are being forced to migrate in desperation as a result of the economy’s lack of development resulting to job loss, low wages and lack of livelihood at home.”
The group said in the study they conducted, OFWs expressed that if the government can guarantee job security and higher wages, they will opt to stay in the country, with their families.
Risk and social cost
The impact of long-distance family relationships and broken homes does not start nor end with the couples. An important side is the impact it creates to the country’s youth – their children.
“We are not just looking at statistics here but the effect on the future and lives of the child, the emotional scars,” emphasized Agyao.
He said children from broken families have low self-esteem, are prone to bully or bullied by others, and become rebellious.
A September 2007 report by Arab News by Gloria Melencio, the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) warned that “costs of Filipino overseas migration outweigh the benefits in terms of social, economic, political and individual losses.”
In the article, CMA’s advocacy officer, Rhodora Abano said that most kids of OFWs became “materialistic”, compensating the absence of their parents with money. Others have dropped out of school, resort to promiscuity resulting to early marriage and pregnancy out of wedlock, and addiction to drugs, gambling and other vices.
GMA News, in July 2008, also published an article on the growing cases of incest among OFW families in the country.
Cordillera Women’s Education, Action and Research Center executive director Cynthia Dacanay, reminded that impacts are not only on the family, also important is the risk of abuse by those who are working overseas.
In a study she conducted in Hong Kong covering 3,000 domestic workers from February 2012 to August 2013 showed that 58% of the domestic helpers surveyed experienced verbal abuse while 18% and 6% suffered physical and sexual abuse respectively.
Dacanay is a mental health practitioner and former case counselor for migrants’ in Hong Kong.
She said many OFWs who return to the country after suffering traumatic experiences, especially in cases of sexual abuse, find it hard to relate with their partners that eventually leads to breakdown of family cohesion.
Labor export policy
Republic Act 10022 or the amended Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act says the government does not promote overseas employment “as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development.”
However, Bulong said “despite the policy statement in the magna carta, overseas employment remains to be the government’s response to the growing number of unemployed and underemployed Filipinos.”
She backed Agyao’s statement that countries needing skilled workforce see the Philippines as a “service provider” explaining this is the result of government selling the Filipino worker as a “reliable brand.”
Bulong, who, for five years, worked in the Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Hong Kong, underscored that “government’s effort is more on capturing employment contracts abroad and exacting more revenues from OFWs instead of local job creation.”
A press release of Migrante published by Bulatlat.com in 2010, the group said that RA 10022 allowed more fees, absolves employers and recruiters of accountability and government’s abandonment of its duties to OFWs.
The group claimed the DOLE-Philippine Overseas Employment Administration is the “leading recruiter” of OFWs but fails to uphold provisions of standard contracts they provide.
For Dacanay, the worse part, is the government’s failure to provide enough protection for its citizens abroad and services to their families back home.
“We lack state institutions that provide the necessary support for families, for those who have experienced abuse, some of which even suffer neglect and insults from our own consulate and embassy officials,” she said.
For his part, Agyao said the predeparture training-seminar leaves out the “how to maintain the good relationship in the family,” noting there are laws but the government lacks the proper personnel and budget share for programs strengthening families.
He said predeparture seminars should discuss the challenges of long-distance relationship and involve the entire family or at least the spouse.
“Para mai-explain sa kanila paano ihahandle ng maiiwan dito ang buhay niya as a parent or paano ihahandle din ng alis ang magiging buhay niya doon,” he said.
The professor also shared their group’s plan to work with government agencies to fill up the gap in the country’s OFW families’ development programs.
Government figure on September 2017 puts the number of OFWs at 2.3 million with 53,797 coming from the Cordillera Administrative Region.
Section 1, Article 15 of the 1986 Constitution states: “The State recognizes the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation. Accordingly, it shall strengthen its solidarity and actively promote its total development.” However, the OFW remittance’s strong role in the economy has overshadowed this.
“Economic issues impact the family. When their livelihood is a problem social issues come in,” recognized Agyao.
Bulong sees the steep inflation, rising unemployment and intensified attacks against people’s rights under the current administration aggravate forced migration, separating more and more families.
“Right now, we have every reason to be troubled because this administration is continuing a flawed economic policy that threatens the entire social structure, including the physical and emotional link of the families,” warns Dacanay.
According to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, remittance from the nation’s “Bagong Bayani” reached $16.6 billion in the first seven months of 2018.
Meanwhile, the “small crack” in the “nation’s foundation” continues to grow and widen. If not addressed properly, OFWs and their families will not be the only victims. It will not be just families that will collapse but the country’s social and economic structure. # nordis.net