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

Compare Trinidad and Tobago to the fourth largest remittance economy, the Philippines: a country with an elaborate migration management system that received over-US$17 billion in 2009, and where an estimated 8.5 million overseas Filipinos, scattered in 220 countries and territories, come from.

As the government of popularly-elected President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is about to finish producing the 2010-2016 Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP), something seems missing: Where does the Philippines want to go, regardless of who is this country’s president?

Six years, thus Aquino’s term, are not enough for the Philippines to generate some 13-15 million quality jobs to reduce joblessness visibly, if estimates by economists Fernando Aldaba and Reuel Hermoso are to be believed. Poverty levels remained the same (26 million living in poverty), says initial results of the 2009 Family Income and Expenditures Survey. It may take a herculean effort to bring back agriculture’s old glory, or even revitalize the stagnant industry or manufacturing sector.

A government agency, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), just revised its vision and mission in the hope that migration and development, by 2020, has been mainstreamed in the bureaucracy. In the short term, thinktanks like the Scalabrini Migration Center hope a national migration and development plan is formulated by June 2011.

But where the Filipino boat intends to sail remains a question. One remembers a vision by former President Fidel Ramos (1992-1998) during his term: “Philippines 2000” where, by the turn of the new millennium, the country would have become a Tiger economy.

While many factors did not achieve such a vision, and the Philippines continues to be a basket case in Asia, at least there was a vision to direct an entire nation’s efforts.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) may want to think about drafting a long-term strategic plan similar to T&T’s Vision 2020, one that goes beyond a current president’s regime. After launching the new MTPDP by early 2011, NEDA can convene the country’s best minds to, without partisanship, help draft such a development vision for the long haul —and have President Aquino endorse this process.

And overseas migration’s place in such a long-term Philippine vision? It is time to optimize a “Philippine diasporic dividend” —the net of net benefit from overseas migration— that supplements a long-term, not just a short-term, vision of Philippine development.

Since the overseas exodus has impacted many aspects of Filipino socio-economic and cultural life, it is time to develop a migration-and-development system that sees the country and her institutions address systemically the various impacts of migration on development. The Philippines has yet to have a system to address the economic and social impacts of migration —or even a set of goals to manage these impacts and optimize migration’s gains.

Integrating such a migration-and-development system into a long-term Philippine vision will be good first step to see the progress of this migrant-sending country beyond merely sending people abroad and receiving dollars.

But if the boat just sails and doesn’t know where to go, there goes the thrill of looking ahead to a brighter Filipino future.

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