Mention of migration in PH growth plan gets tepid reception

MANILA—A LADYBUG walking on a green leaf may excite advocates more than the mere mention of migration in government’s new six-year growth plan.

Edwin Corros of the Philippine Catholic Bishops’ Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI) says this is due to the absence of a long-term vision for migration, and for the Philippines, in the 2010-2016 Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP), which government will begin printing in January.

Corros, who is also a Catholic priest, notes that at least there was one under Fidel V. Ramos’s presidency.

That time, Ramos, a military general elected in 1992, pinned the Philippines as Asia’s next tiger economy.

In the 2004-2010 MTPDP under former President Gloria Arroyo, overseas Filipinos are mentioned in sub-portions such as trade and investment, labor (which got the lengthiest discussion), responding to the basic needs of the poor, science and technology, culture, and responsive foreign policy.

It was during Arroyo’s time that deployment of Filipino workers abroad hit its peak of nearly a million yearly. The money these estimated 8.5 million Filipinos sent home also proportionally increased to as much as ten percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Remittances were also credited for the buffering of the Philippine economy when traditional financial institutions collapsed.

Despite his animosity towards Arroyo, successor and current President Benigno S. Aquino III appears to sing the same song.

As Socioeconomic Plan-ning chief Cayetano Paderanga said, the planned 11-chapter MTPDP will mention overseas Filipinos in sub-portions such as: the macro-economy, competitive industry and services sectors, modern agriculture, human resource development, finan-cial sector development, good governance and the rule of law, and social development.

Overseas Pinoys in Aquino’s MTPDP NEDA Director-General Cayetano Paderanga, in a Vision 2020 conference organized by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), said that the following strategies on migration and development will figure in the MTPDP:

1. Review the continued deployment of workers in medium- and high-risk areas and occupations;

2. Create an efficient one-stop shop for processing applications for overseas work;

3. Audit the Overseas Workers Welfare Adminis-tration (OWWA) to rationalize the management of its funds;

4. Work with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in creating centers of care and service for overseas Filipinos;

5.  Invest in formal and regular skills training;

6. Assist overseas Filipinos in achieving financial stability through training, investment and savings programs;

7. Improve program for seafarer’s upgrading, credit/loan and self-insurance coverage;

8. Complete a global training master plan; and

9. Facilitate the reintegration of returning overseas workers.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director-General told a conference (see Box) that various strategies related to migration and development will be “sprinkled” into the five proposed “pillars of growth” of the MTPDP: macroeconomic policy, infrastructure for development, financial sector development and capital mobilization, enhancing peace and security, and protecting the integrity of the environment and natural resources.

Economist Alvin Ang contends that the “sprinkling” does migrant workers as disservice.

He told the OFW Journalism Consortium that migration deserves a separate chapter in the MTPDP to recognize that overseas Filipinos “are the ones mobilizing the Philippine economy”.

Firm stand

REMITTANCES specialist Ildefonso F. Bagasao wishes for just a phrase to be inserted in the document.

“I hope the MTPDP declares that migration is a temporary option for the country,” says the president of the nonprofit Economic Resource Center for Overseas Filipinos (Ercof).

If President Aquino tells the bureaucracy that this is our policy, “people will have no choice but follow it,” Bagasao added.

President Aquino has repeatedly mentioned that overseas migration is not the government’s development strategy.

He has also been quoted as saying that the policy is to create jobs in the Philippines “so that working abroad will become a choice rather than a necessity”.

“And when its citizens do choose to become overseas Filipinos, their welfare and protection will be the government’s priority,” Aquino said during an awards rite for outstanding OFW families last December 6.

But migration as a “temporary option” is yet to see print or explicitly articulated by government officials.

Former Commission on Overseas Filipinos (CFO) executive Catherine Maceda, however, said mentioning migration in the MTPDP is a notable move on the part of government.

Good thing that the MTPDP “will not be empty of migration, or else it will be useless,” she said.

Nonetheless, Maceda said she’s dissatisfied that the issues and proposed actions to turn around negative impacts of the migration phenomenon remained the same after two decades.

To note, Maceda was CFO’s deputy director for most of her 18 years there.

A clearer signal comes from newly-appointed CFO chair Imelda Nicolas, who offered the agency as an advocate within the bureaucracy for migration and development.

The CFO’s first step is promoting what it calls as “Vision 2020,” launched during the agency’s December 8-9 conference.

Nicolas is banking this framework can draw together relevant government agencies and mainstream migration and development into the work of these agencies.

However, the Scalabrini Migration Center (SMC) said in a book it launched last December 18 that the Aquino government has only six months to do this.

Formulating a national migration and development plan is not too late but ideally, the government should have at least drafted a vision and strategy paper on migration and development by June 2011, the SMC said.

Government agencies involved in migration can have their own migration-and-development plans, then all these can be integrated “into a national plan,” the Catholic church-based group recommends.

Still, the excitement is lost on Fr. Corros.

“I am looking for a direction where all these things lead to,” the Scalabrinian priest said. “Six years, or even the year 2020, might not be enough for us.”#