Daily Archives: September 14, 2008

Remittances: Our Nation’s Lifeblood

by Cynthia de Castro/AJPress
The past three decades have seen the most dramatic number of Filipinos migrating to other countries to work as overseas contract workers. There are now more than 11 million overseas Filipinos worldwide, equivalent to about 11% of the total population of the Philippines. These overseas Filipinos often work as doctors, nurses, accountants, IT professionals, engineers, architects, entertainers, technicians, teachers, military servicemen, students, caregivers, and domestic helpers. Many of them eventually become permanent residents of other countries.

Money sent by the overseas Filipinos back to the Philippines thru remittances has made a significant and considerable contribution to the Philippine economy. By providing a steady stream of dollars in the market, remittances have helped stabilize the peso and boost the economy through consumption and investments. Last year in 2007, the OFWs remitted around US $14.45 billion, up from $13 Billion in 2006 and more than $10 billion in 2005.

Because of the role that they play in propping up the economy through the money they send home, the migrant Filipino workers abroad have been referred to as the Philippines’ modern-day heroes.

The Philippine Central Bank announced a few days ago that remittances from Filipino workers overseas grew 24.6 percent in July to US$1.366 billion — the fourth month in a row that money sent home from abroad posted double-digit growth. The July inflows brought remittances for January to July 08 to US$9.608 billion, up 18.2 percent from the same period last year. The strong inflows boost the likelihood that remittances for 2008 will hit US$15.7 billion as projected.

The bulk of remittances from January to July 2008 came from the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

In a study by Stella P. Go (2002) who studies the behavior of the remittances of migratory workers, it shows that there is no direct relation between the quantity of remittances and the geographical concentration of these workers. For example, Saudi Arabia, which is the major destination of overseas workers, only represents 5.4 % of total remittances; the United States, to the contrary, which has less than 1% of the migrant Philippine workers is the origin of 42.5 % of total remittances to the Philippines.

Perhaps, Filipinos who immigrate to the US earn more or have more income left over to send abroad than those OFWs from Middle East and Asian countries.

Karamihan kasi ng mga immigrants dito sa US, nasa health care industry, at kumikita ng mas malaki kaysa sa mga OFWs sa ibang bansa. And the health care industry is not much affected by economic recession,” said John, a resident intern in an LA hospital.

How do the families of OFWs spend the remittances? According to a study by the United Nations (INSTRAW study 2008), remittances are used to cover first the households’ basic consumption (food, clothes, electricity, etc.), education and health. When remittances are sent regularly, they can also serve to pay a domestic worker or a person who will be in charge of dependent persons. For migrant parents, it is a priority to provide education to the children who remain in Philippines, while for migrant sons and daughters, to provide care for elderly parents is a priority in a context where public services are very poor.

When remittances are more than enough to pay the bills, the families invest for the future. In the same UN study, it was reported that after women succeed to cover basic consumption needs, education and health, they invest in a house or in land for agriculture. Men are inclined to invest in consumption goods, assets, or property. 

Without a doubt, the economic gains are the most tangible positive effect of labor migration for both the family and Philippine society. Foreign remittances have improved the quality of life for the average Filipino family. Within a short period of time, families and household have been able to buy appliances, improve their houses or buy new ones, finance the education of their children or siblings and for some, start a small business. Because of these economic gains of labor migration, thousands of Filipinos continue to leave the country everyday to work overseas.

The Central Bank sees the trend rising even higher in the coming months and years. For example, from January to July 2008, nearly 762,000 Filipinos left the country to work abroad, up by 28.2 percent than in the same period of 2007. “This reflected foreign employers’ preference for Filipino workers who remain competitive due to their skills and proficiency in the English language,” said the Central Bank.

Central Bank Governor Tetangco said workers’ deployment abroad may rise further as a result of the recently concluded arrangement among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including the Philippines, to standardize and regulate professional standards for accountants, dentists and medical workers. The arrangement will facilitate professionals’ mobility in the region, he added. Discussions continue between the Philippines and prospective employers in France, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Norway and Finland for possible deployment of more professionals from the nursing, information technology, and engineering fields, he said.

The remittance boom is partly a product of a period of very rapid global growth that increased both demand for Filipino migrant labor and the earnings of the huge Filipino community in the US, the largest single source of remittances. However, there are some fears that this rise in remittances from the US might not continue for long, specially with the looming US recession.

This was belied, however, by a Western Union agent interviewed by Asian Journal. “Our regular customers have not decreased their remittances to the Philippines,” said Fae, who works in a Western Union remittance agent store in Eagle Rock. “Many of the Filipinos who come here send money weekly or bi-monthly to their families. Even when the gas prices went up, the remittances were not affected,” she reported.

This is certainly good news for the Philippines. First, spurred by remittances, the peso’s increased value has raised people’s confidence in the currency and overseas Filipinos have begun to remit their earnings and savings, not just for basic necessities, but for investments as well. Secondly, the higher the peso, the more dollars have to be remitted to meet the school, food and other peso bills of families back in the Philippines. Thirdly, remittances are expected to continue to increase from the oil-rich states of the Gulf, the second largest source of money from abroad.  And fourthly, East Asian demand for Filipino labor remains high; so the exodus of OFWs, and with it, foreign remittances are expected to continue to grow even more considerably in the near future.  (www.asianjournal.com)

 

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The Anatomy of A Balikbayan Box

by Cynthia de Castro/AJPress
The “ber” months have started and with September comes that special holiday feeling. In the Philippines, which is known to have the longest celebration of Christmas, malls and department stores have already started playing Christmas songs and selling holiday decors and gifts. In the countries where millions of Filipinos have immigrated or are working, the demand for balikbayan boxes has started to increase as families begin shopping for their holiday gifts to be sent back to relatives and friends in the homeland.

For Filipinos in the US, sending balikbayan boxes to families back in the Philippines has become a major part of our lifestyle. Those who have children, parents or siblings left in the Philippines send boxes regularly, either on a monthly or quarterly basis. But, at Christmas time, many FilAms double their usual padala, adding special gifts and holiday treats to the usual staple items.

One Filipina nurse, Nany, who sends boxes to her parents and siblings in Quezon City at least every 2 months, said she’s always on the look-out for special sale items when she goes malling. “I always have a balikbayan box in the house where I store things to send back home. I love going to malls and stores when it’s sale season to look for things I can send to my family in Manila. Whether it’s just in the regular supermarket nearby, in Costco or in the outlet stores in Camarillo or Ontario, I enjoy hunting for clothes, shoes, bags or food items that are on sale. I then keep them in the box until it’s full. Once I send it home, I have a new box to fill up. Ang sarap ng feeling pag nakapagpadala ka ng box,” Nany said.

So, what’s in those balikbayan boxes? What are the most popular items that get sent back home to excited family members? What are the most requested items?

“We usually send the basic items which our children need such as canned goods and bath items,” admitted Yoly, a caregiver in Orange County. “Kasi, ang mamahal na din ng mga grocery items sa Pinas kaya I make sure I send them these things monthly. Para yung padala kong pera, sa mgahousehold bills na lang,” she added.

After asking quite a number of Pinoys who regularly send boxes, we discovered that the anatomy of a balikbayan box is very similar in content. The top 15 items that Pinoys usually send back home are: 1) Spam, 2) Hereford Corned Beef, 3) Centrum Multi-vitamins, 4) Chocolates (top on everyone’s list: Hershey’s, Kisses, Ferrero Rocher, M&Ms, Nestle Crunch, Cadbury & Toblerone), 5. Bath soaps (Dove, Ivory, & Irish Spring are the preferred brands), 6. Shampoo & Conditioner (Pantene, followed by Head & Shoulders, Neutrogena, & Kirkland ), 7) Colgate toothpaste, 8) Coffee (Folgers,Taster’s Choice and Maxwell are favorite brands) and hot chocolate drinks (Swiss Miss and Nestle), 9) Quaker Oatmeal and Breakfast Cereals (Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes and Choco Puffs), 10. Cookies (Famous Amos, Oreos, and Chips Ahoy), and Chips (Pringles, Doritos and Nachos), 11) T-shirts (Old Navy and Gap are favorites), 12) Towels, 13) Bath and Body Works and Victoria Secret products, 14) Rubber Shoes (Nike is the preferred brand), and 15) Sugar substitutes such as Splenda and Sweet N’ Low.

Other items that didn’t make it to the top 15 items but are still in a lot of balikbayan boxes are colognes, pants, sandals, flip-flops, shoes, bags, wallets, and magazines. Favorite shopping places for balikbayan box items are Wal-Mart, Target, 99 Cents, Ross and Costco.

For the holiday seasons, our kababayans usually add another box to complement the usual regular items. Inside the holiday gift boxes are clothes, shoes and accessories bought from outlet stores and malls such as Forever 21, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, Old Navy, Nike, Adidas, Gap and Hollister.

“I make sure I get a gift for everyone in the family –sa lahat ng pamangkin, pinsan, katulong etc.,” said Rita who works in the garment district in downtown. “I know that it’s not really just the gift that they treasure, it’s the thought that you remembered them and took the time to shop and send Christmas gifts to them. That’s what really counts,” she said.

Yes, balikbayan boxes are not just filled with goods, they’re filled with love, affection and devotion. And for Filipinos abroad, they can’t seem to send too much of those back home.  (www.asianjournal.com)

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Metrolink Crash updates

by Cynthia de Castro/AJPress
The Sept. 12 deadly Metrolink crash that has killed at least 25 people and left 135 more injured was the worst Southern California train wreck in more than 50 years. Last Monday, Sept. 15, the first workday after the train collision in Chatsworth, there was understandably less people who took the Metrolink.

Lillian Ford, a supervisor for Los Angeles County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said “People are probably still in shock, staying home from work. We were expecting more people, but there isn’t. It’s very calm.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined commuters early Monday morning at the Chatsworth train station to try to reassure people about taking the train and that safety is Metrolink’s first priority. The LA Mayor said, “I want to dispel any fears about taking the train. Safety has to be our No. 1 concern. Taking the train is still the safest option for commuters.”

To help Metrolink passengers, MTA buses began shuttling commuters from the Moorpark Metrolink station to Simi Valley and Chatsworth while clean-up continues at the site of the Metrolink commuter train crash in Chatsworth. The MTA southbound service leaving from Moorpark begins at 5:07 am, and the last northbound MTA bus leaving Chatsworth is at 7:44 pm. The MTA provided eight buses for commuters, and had four more standing by. They will operate this bus bridge until full rail service is restored to the Metrolink line.

Some of the buses were half-full, but the commuters who did take the Metrolink to work last Sept. 15 said they wanted to overcome their fears after the crash. Those who boarded the temporary shuttle buses said they were shaken up, but still felt riding the train was a safer alternative to taking the freeways.

Volunteers from American Red Cross of Ventura County handed out leaflets to passengers boarding the bus, offering phone numbers that people could call for mental health counseling to help deal with the crash.

Last Saturday, Sept. 13, Villaraigosa ordered all city flags lowered to half-staff in honor of the victims of the Metrolink commuter train and freight train crash. He also asked local clergy to observe a moment of silence in Sunday prayer services to honor the victims and to pray for their families and for healing for all injured.

In a related development, Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell resigned after she was criticized that she spoke prematurely in saying the crash was caused by an engineer’s mistake. Tyrrell said Metrolink’s chief executive, David Solow, gave her the authority to make statements to the media Saturday about the cause of the crash. Thus, the statement that Metrolink board Chairman Ron Roberts made to The Times on Sunday––that her statement Saturday was premature––and that he made to the Wall Street Journal that she was not authorized to make a statement blaming the engineer, upset Tyrrell. “I felt the damage to my reputation is so great, I could not work for these people anymore,” she said.

Meanwhile, Villaraigosa called on Angelenos to donate blood in a special City Hall blood drive set up by the American Red Cross on Wednesday, September 17, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm at the City Hall, 200 N. Spring St. Los Angeles, CA 90012. For more information, readers may call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE and 1-800-448-3543.  (www.asianjournal.com)

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