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COMMENTARY: A migrant-sending country’s search for a long-term Filipino vision (First of two parts)

WHAT does the Philippines has to do with a southern Caribbean country named Trinidad and Tobago?

This former Spanish and British colony of 1.338 million people not only hosts an estimated 1,200 Filipinos (including 1,000 overseas workers), but did a bold attempt at national development that a Southeast Asian archipelago can learn from.

At the onset of its own oil boom come the new millennium, and during the time of the country’s former head of government, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Planning and Development started in 2002 the groundwork to formulate a strategic plan called Vision 2020. By the year 2020, government officials hope Trinidad and Tobago “will be a united, resilient, productive, innovative and prosperous nation with a disciplined, caring, fun-loving society, comprising health, happy and well-educated people and built on the enduring attributes of self-reliance, respect, equity, and integrity”.

The work of the planning committee to formulate Vision 2020 ended in 2005, and the country’s parliament approved Vision 2020’s draft national strategic plan in 2006. This national strategic plan then formulated its first operational plan that covered the years 2007 to 2010. Even a unit within T&T’s Ministry of Planning and Development was created to monitor the operational plan.

Vision 2020, says an informative video (www.vision2020.info.tt/video/vision2020_intro.htm), is anchored on five pillars: enabling competitive business, developing innovative people, nurturing a caring society, investing in sound infrastructure and the environment, and promoting effective government.

This republic has a two-party political system and a bicameral parliamentary system. Head of state is a President, currently George Maxwell Richards; a Prime Minister, currently Kamla Persad-Bissessar, heads the government.

Of course, political dynamics affected the country. Former Prime Minister Manning (of the People’s National Movement or PNM party) dissolved parliament in April 2010 and called for national elections, which Bissessar’s party, the People’s Partnership, won most seats.

Still, the upper-income Caribbean country’s Vision 2020 goes on.

While Vision 2020 outlined specific strategies, the migration phenomenon is integrated in it, considering that there are some 300,000-plus overseas Trinidadians and there are about 40,000 foreigners working and residing in T&T.

Overseas migration is under the population segment of Vision 2020, and two of the six population-related goals of Vision 2020 are where overseas migration operates: developing a reliable population database (that is hopefully 95 percent accurate), and minimize the negative impacts of migration on Trinidadian society.

Under the goal of developing a reliable population database, Michele Reis of The University of the West Indies observes Vision 2020 hoped to precisely determine how migration impacts on education, the work force, and the country’s elderly population. Meanwhile, Vision 2020 hoped to reduce the emigration of skilled Trinidadian labor, facilitate the integration of returning migrants, and facilitate the full integration of documented and non-documented migrants in T&T.

Such bold integration of migration in T&T’s Vision 2020 is so even if the country is not a major recipient of remittances (around US$ 87 million reached T&T in 2007, with that amount coming from more than half of overseas Trinidadians who have college degrees). T&T, Reis also notes, is a destination country of trafficked and smuggled persons, asylum-seekers and refugees.

(To be concluded)