SALAYSAY: Overseas Filipino workers bear debts as crisis hits labor-importing economies

MAKATI CITY, Philippines – RAMONES Caytiles’s stint in Taiwan is as short as the song-length of his namesake American punk rock band: two weeks.

But nearly six months now since he and 171 fellow workers got pink slips last year from their employer Hanston Display Corp., Caytiles feels life is as long as Don Maclean’s American Pie song.

It was the nineteenth of November, Caytiles recalls, when their music -the crinkle of New Taiwan dollar- died.

When we arrived in Taiwan, we borrowed money to pay fees to a broker who paid for our travel, Caytiles said adding such was the standard process for workers trying their luck outside the Philippines.

He and five other OFWs sent back after LCD manufacturer Hanston downsized are now saddled with that debt from Taiwan-based lending agencies eCash and Paylite Financing.

Caytiles said they were focused on working and earning they didn’t think the Kaohhiung, Taiwan LCD manufacturer would get hit by the economic catatonia seeping from the United States.

And if it did, he said they didn’t expect the time between working in Taiwan and getting laid-off would be that fast.

“You left the country riddled with debt, and then you came back home still saddled with debt-causing an even bigger problem,” said Caytiles, a single parent (his wife left him and his daughter some years ago).

Caytiles’s fate marks the lives of millions of OFWs in labor-importing countries whose real sectors are getting hit by the collapse of the global financial system that began in the US housing sector.

So says economists like former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno.

Diokno has become a prophet of doom since the start of the year, noting that May would be the month countries in Asia like the Philippines would feel the impact of the financial crisis that has coursed through the so-called “transmission channels.”

One of these channels, credit lines, has plugged lending to the electronics export industry, a flagship for most Asian economies like the Philippines.

Grim reaper

IN HIS presentation to journalists last March, Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Inc. (SEIPI) president Ernesto B. Santiago presented a grim outlook on worldwide industrial production as traditional lending windows shutter.

Santiago ticked off global companies announcing they were affected by the downturn in consumer electronics downturn: Sony (to shed 8,000 jobs); Philips (6,000); NEC (20,000); Panasonic (15,000); Pioneer (10,000); IBM (2,800); TDK (8,000); Nokia (2,500); Motorola (13,000); Sprint Nextel (8,000); and AT&T (12,000).

Closer to home, the closure of Intel Corp.’s Cavite manufacturing by May would see thousands of Filipinos losing a steady source of income.

“Countries that are heavily dependent on electronics have been the worst affected (notably the NIEs, Philippines, and Malaysia, but also China), followed by commodity exporters (notably Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Mongolia, PNG and Vietnam), exporters of capital equipment (all NIEs) and the garment manufacturers,” a recent World Bank report said.

“There will be higher unemployment abroad and here at home,” Diokno said, “and this means less jobs, less jobs, and less jobs.”

Caytiles said he was imagining kicking himself in the back while listening to Diokno.

“I think before workers should go overseas, they should know the situation that is happening -or if their employer is still steady,” Caytiles’s colleague Elwood Yambao said.

The father of two based in Olongapo City, which hosted an American air base a century ago, said that knowledge he could’ve gotten by reading newspapers.

But the overseas labor market is tough enough, and when potential OFWs like Yambao do access news sources, it’s for securing work.

That is still in their minds right now, according to Yambao, because they are hounded by their lenders of their debts amounting to between P60,000 (US$1,250) and P80,000 ($1,667) each.

He said they filed a case against their agency to at least get back the placement fees they paid for work contracts in Taiwan.

(To be continued)