ESSAY: Crisis pushed more Pinoys abroad — analyst

PASIG CITY—CRISIS not only brings out the best in people; in the Philippines’s case, it brought out the best people and in droves.

So claims Maruja M.B. Asis of the Scalabrini Migration Center.

At a policy conference organized by the SMC here, Asis said there’s a visible volume of OFWs across all occupational groupings, including production workers, service workers (including domestic workers) and professional and technical workers (the top three occupational groupings of OFWs in 2008).

Hence, she said the year-long increase of migrant worker deployment in 2009 “isn’t surprising”.

Last year, economists chewed on their nails as a financial fiasco in the United States housing industry in 2008 cascaded over the real sector and burned markets trading with the world’s largest economy.

Some economists like Alvin Ang of the University of Santo Tomas said remittances from overseas Filipino workers in host countries like the US would either drop or remain flat because of the crisis.

Remittances data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (see Table 1) revealed seven host countries of overseas Filipinos, including the US, Hong Kong, Italy, and Taiwan, achieved negative growth rates for remittances.

Remittance volume from the US, the epicenter of the global crisis, dropped 6.41 percent while colony Guam dipped 8.03 percent. From Kuwait, remittances plunged 16.36 percent; Hong Kong 16.39 percent; and Italy 23.17 percent. Taiwan posted a staggering 52.71-percent drop in remittance volume.

By volume of money, remittances from the US were less by US$501.946 million. Filipinos from Canada made up for the US shortfall by US$90.325 million.

Still, overall remittances from Filipinos abroad in 2009, totaling US$17.348 billion, were more than the 2008 volume (US$16.426 billion) by 5.61 percent.

That year-on-year remittance growth rate, however, was lower than the 13.68 percent achieved in 2008.

But Ang also noted the diversification of the OFW workforce has been a mitigating factor to the crisis’ impact on remittances.

Most domestic workers “are virtually shielded from the crisis,” he said in a paper on remittances and household behavior released earlier this year by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Ang and co-authors Shikha Jha of India and Guntur Sugiyarto of Indonesia said this is because most employers of domestic workers “have gotten used to a lifestyle with domestic help” and “…the pay of these workers is relatively affordable despite the crisis.”

This phenomenon was also seen during the 1997 Asian financial crisis when the demand for service workers “remained the same.”

Asis said the global economic crisis “provided an additional push” for the Philippines to intensify the deployment of contract workers for overseas job markets.

Deployment data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reveal that deployed newly-hired and re-hired OFWs reached 1,422,586 in 2009, a 15.1 percent growth rate from 2008 figures numbering to 1,236,013.

Two years after the Asian crisis, the Philippines had 831,643 land- and sea-based OFWs in 1998 and 837,020 in 1999.

Year 1998-2009 figures of the annual deployment of newly-hired and re-hired migrant workers by the POEA showed that 2009 OFW deployment flows to Saudi Arabia (291,419), UAE (196,815), Kuwait (45,900), Bahrain (15,001), and Singapore (54,421) were 12-year record highs.

And while Hong Kong’s OFWs sent less last year, POEA data reveal that the 2009 deployment of OFWs to Hong Kong (100,142) was 27.8 percent more than the 78,345 deployed in 2008.

The country also deployed more seafarers last year at 330,424, an all-time record-high.

Crisis or no crisis, whether it comes within or outside of the Philippines, it is “migration as usual” for the Philippines, Asis said.#