Tag Archives: migrant workers

Overseas Filipinos Come Home

by Momar Visaya/Asianjournal.com

MAKATI CITY – Overseas Filipinos from around the world gathered at the First Global Filipino Nation International Conference, which opened at the University of Makati on Thursday, May 8. The three-day event was touted as the biggest gathering of overseas Filipinos.

Convenors said that one of their goals is to get migrants to join the campaign for effective governance in the Philippines. They also hope that the conference participants would be able to review, refine and adopt detailed action agenda called logical frameworks (logframes) which can be implemented and actualized.

“We have been working on this for the past six years and in my travels here and abroad, I have found out that there is a convergence of thought among Filipinos wherever they are. We are hoping that through this conference, we will be able to come up with ideas on how to empower the global Filipino,” Victor Barrios, lead convenor of the conference said, as he welcomed the participants.

Barrios also explained that the theme, “Building the Global Filipino Nation for Effective Governance,” is anchored on three aspirations: grassroots economic empowerment, resolution of issues facing migrant workers and their families, and raised consciousness of a nation ready to march as one.

Makati City 2nd District Rep. Marlen Abigail Binay led the ribbon-cutting ceremony that opened the art exhibit which featured works of upcoming Filipino artists.  The first day of activities also included a job and trade fair.

Different sessions and workshops that tackled issues concerning the global Filipino were held on the second and third day of the conference.

The three main modules focused on the economic, social and political aspects of migrant life, and the media as a tool to empower global Filipinos.

The social module focused on the most urgent problems encountered by migrant workers and their families and what the Global Filipino Nation as a group can do about them.

The economic module highlighted the possibility of converting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to become world-class players and encouraging entrepreneurship on a nation-wide scale, while the political module focused on the goal of empowering global Filipinos, their families and onshore Filipinos with a global mindset as a force for governance change.

Greg Macabenta, publisher of Filipinas Magazine led the discussion on “Media as a Change Agent” as he presented those who joined the group with copies of various Filipino publications from the US to Europe to Asia and the Middle East.

The group agreed that there should be a Global Filipino Media Organization, and as such, a framework was prepared to establish a Philippine-based coordinative body to pursue this objective.

On a much larger scale, Barrios said that the convenors are in the process of coordinating with the University of Makati for the creation of a Global Filipino Institute for Policy Research.

If this comes to fruition, the almost 10 million global Filipinos will be more empowered as they will have an infrastructure which can document the situation of migrants from all over the world, specially Overseas Filipino workers who are abused by their employers, and create policies that will help the migrant workers.

Another way is through the internet and the convenors believe that they can leverage Information Technology and Communications (ITC) as a tool through the creation of a dynamic web portal.

The portal dubbed “The Filipino Global Village” will help organize, educate and connect Filipinos in all parts of the world was introduced during one of the workshops.

The aim is to leverage the efficient use of technology to connect overseas Filipinos. The portal will encourage members to facilitate communication and interaction among members and increase computer literacy to those who are not too tech-savvy. It will include social networking services to interact with fellow members. It will also provide a platform to unify and present a single voice and raised awareness of various social, political and economic issues across the world.


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FilAms Call for Immigration Reform

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES – FilAm Mike Pedro waved a Philippine flag as he marched down Broadway Street in Downtown, Los Angeles.

Wearing a white MIWON (Multi-ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network) shirt that read “Filipinos for Genuine Immigration Reform,” the outreach specialist for Search to Involve Pilipino Americans wanted it to be known that Filipinos are just as involved with the immigration issue as their more highly publicized Latino counterparts.

“I don’t think a lot of people know that undocumented Filipinos are also under attack,” said Pedro standing behind a group of FilAm activists holding a “No Immigrants = No Economy” banner. “They need workers’ rights as well. Most people think that this is just a Chicano, Latino or Mexican American thing, but all different ethnicities [like] Filipinos, Asians, Chinese should be included.”

Pedro was part of a large contingent of FilAms that were part of the estimated 30,000 demonstrators that filled the streets of Downtown Los Angeles calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

The protest was part of a nationwide effort to condemn the increase of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) work-site raids, to demand a path to citizenship for more than 12 million illegal immigrants in the US and to stop the deportations of those swept in the raids. Across the country from San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Washington DC., protestors joined in solidarity.

Filipino groups Filipino-American For Immigration Reform (FAIR), Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) and Gabriela-Network-LA were among the many immigrant groups that joined together for this one common cause.

Strella Cervas of PWC said she’s marching for undocumented Filipinos. As a case manager for PWC, she said there is a rise in the number of Filipinos being swept up by these ICE raids and being deported.

“It’s a very serious issue in our community,” she said. “We’ve seen ICE go into their business and their homes. We had one case where a Filipino was taken as she took the Greyhound bus. She was later deported.”

In 2007, ICE arrested more than 4,077 undocumented workers through nationwide raids, according to its website. It is believed that the number of undocumented Filipinos continue to increase dramatically.

Jollene Levid of Gabriela Network said she was also marching to make people aware of the plight of Filipino immigrant women in the US.

“It makes me feel real good to be part of this,” said Levid. “As the daughter of immigrants, I understand that in order for us to make any change, we not only have to fight in a legal forum but [also] here on the streets.”

Despite the low turnout of protesters compared to last year’s, the groups spirits were high. Three large groups of protestors met in different areas of Downtown LA before converging on Broadway and 7th Street. From there, the groups marched together towards City Hall where a stage was set up.

The mood of the marchers was festive. Like Pedro, many immigrant activists waved flags from their home country. Some had US and Mexican flags, others held up banners that read, “Stop the Raids,” and a majority carried pickets with other immigrant slogans like “My Dream, The American Dream.” The FilAm groups chanted, “Makibaka! Huwag Matakot! (Join the Struggle! Don’t be afraid!).

The smell of bacon-wrapped hot dogs and the sound of party poppers were in the air. Street vendors lined the curb of Broadway and 1st Street anticipating the arrival of the immigrant groups. Children sat on the curb similar to a parade route.

Police officers also made their presence felt. A number of officers marched along with the activists. Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said that more than 500 LAPD officers were deployed to oversee this event.

Last year, a melee erupted when officers and demonstrators clashed at MacArthur Park, the site of the rally. Because of the disastrous incident, the LAPD had been training for months to prepare for this year’s immigration rally.

“We had a really tough time [last year] and made quite a few mistakes,” said Paysinger. “Since that time there’s been an enormous amount of training…and based upon that we’re going to see a different result.”

As the first batch of immigrant groups marched their way past Spring Street on Broadway toward City Hall, Neil Diamond’s fitting song, “America” blared from the speakers.

Far, we’ve been traveling far… only want to be free. We huddle close. Hang on to a dream. On the boats and on the planes, they’re coming to America. Never looking back again. They’re coming to America.

“The march over here was long,” admits Pedro, who marched for two miles with a group of protestors starting from MacArthur Park. “It was long and hot but it’s well worth it. We have to fight for our brothers and sisters out there.”

Police Chief William J. Bratton told the Asian Journal as the last groups of marchers settled in, that to his knowledge no one had been arrested this year.

“As you could see, the crowd is very orderly, very enthusiastic,” said Bratton. “There have been no problems at all. And there [have been] no arrests made up to this point.”


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Efforts to Protect RP’s Migrant Workers Highlighted in New Report

By Momar G. Visaya

NEW YORK – The home countries of international labor migrants can play a major role in protecting temporary workers, a new report from the Washington DC-based Migration Policy Institute revealed recently.
The report, by Dovelyn Agunias of MPI and Neil Ruiz of the Brookings Institution, detailed how a welfare fund financed by migrants has placed a safety net under overseas workers from the Philippines, home to the largest organized labor-export program in the world.

Entitled “Protecting Overseas Workers: Lessons and Cautions from the Philippines,” the report evaluated the management of the world’s largest worker welfare fund, the Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

With OWWA as a template, the report said that protection of migrant workers can be institutionalized through three elements: a mechanism for repatriation, provision of insurance and loans and education and training.

As of December 2006, nearly a quarter of the Philippines’ labor force — almost 9 percent of the population — lived in more than 190 countries. Remittances sent from Filipino migrants in 2006 reached US$12.8 billion and are projected to approach the US$15 billion mark in 2007.

“Temporary migrant workers’ protection is an important issue. Before we should even talk about migrations’ potential as a development tool, it is important to ensure that first and foremost, migrants’ rights and welfare can and will be protected while working abroad,” Agunias, MPI Associate Policy Analyst, told the Asian Journal in an interview.

The Philippines, according to her, is a good case study to understand the challenges in protecting temporary migrants while working abroad.

The report’s authors believe that it is important for the Filipino community, both in the Philippines and abroad, to understand how the Philippine government’s premier welfare agency, OWWA, protects overseas Filipinos.

“We hear all the time that the OFWs are our “bagong bayani”, we read about the billions of dollars of remittances they send year after year, but there rarely have been serious, fact-based and multi-stakeholder discussions about the real challenges the Philippine government faces when in comes to protecting our OFWs.  Through the OWWA paper, we hope to open up more of these types of discussions, critical yet constructive and based on what we know as a fact and what we don’t,” Agunias shared.

OWWA, a quasi-governmental organization funded by $25 membership fees from workers or, more rarely, their employers, is designed to protect and provide services for migrant workers. As of May 2007, OWWA had over 1 million members, representing 28 percent of the estimated 3.8 million Filipinos who worked abroad legally on temporary contracts.

The “backbone” of the services that OWWA provides, according to the current administrator, is repatriation in case of maltreatment, illness, or war; repatriation includes returning to the Philippines the bodies of workers who die while abroad. OWWA repatriated 10,834 Filipinos in 2006, most of them escaping the crisis in Lebanon. Other core services include the provision of health and life insurance and legal assistance for work-related disputes. Secondary services include scholarships and training, as well as loans for migrants and their families — although the loans have been plagued by low repayment rates.

Agunias is hopeful that other countries that are benefiting from the remittances of their overseas migrants will learn a lot by looking at the Philippine experience.

“The report shows that countries of origin can protect their migrants while working abroad. Even cash-strapped governments can raise the funds needed to finance the protection of their migrant workers. As we concluded in the paper, once OWWA’s limitations are addressed, it can be a useful template for many developing countries as they face the mounting challenges of protecting workers abroad,” she added.

HSBC economist Frederic Neumann in earlier reports was quoted saying, “The economic growth fueled by money remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will likely last for five to 10 more years, given favorable global demographics, but a more solid industrial backbone has to be built to sustain growth of over seven percent over the long haul.”

“Despite this tremendous economic achievement in the first half, to some degree, it’s a bit of a mirage because it was fueled by a tremendous amount of remittances coming from abroad,” Neumann added.  “But over the long term, that model of economic development is not sustainable.”

Agunias, to a certain degree, agrees.

“Remittances per se will not bring about the sustained growth the Philippine needs to catch up with its neighbors. As the World Bank puts it, remittances are not manna from heaven. Remittances, like any other forms of financial inflows such as foreign direct investments and official development assistance (ODA), can positively contribute to the development of the country,” Agunias explained, “However, this contribution will not go so far unless the fundamentals are right—what Neumann is basically alluding to. Like him, I do agree in the importance of a solid industrial backbone to support and sustain a growing economy.”

Looking at the other side of the coin, Agunias thinks that the potential of remittances as a tool for development, especially in alleviating poverty, must not be underestimated.

“Although remittances’ impact on economic growth is questionable as Neumann highlighted, studies after studies have shown that remittances have a positive impact on poverty alleviation and other indicators of well-being such as child schooling rate and maternal and child health.  Clearly, remittances may not bring about marked and sustained economic growth; however, these financial inflows have made their way into the homes of the poor and have alleviated their situations in non-negligible manner,” she said.

The report’s authors note that the need for transparency and accountability, particularly in funding decisions, becomes even more critical when questions of mismanagement arise. For example, from 1999 to 2005, the Philippine Commission on Audit’s reports found millions of pesos in unrecoverable or “doubtful” accounts, including a 479 million peso (US$9.6 million) investment in a housing project that defaulted, making recovery of the funds “uncertain.”

To strengthen accountability, the authors recommend increasing the number of migrant representatives appointed to the OWWA board, holding periodic consultation of migrant workers on pressing needs, and establishing a system for evaluating program performance.

Finally, the authors highlight the successes OWWA has achieved through partnerships with other organizations and the need for destination countries to establish complementary protection mechanisms for migrant workers.

The entire process – from conceptualization to the final report took a total of 10 months, according to Agunias. The report is a product of The Migration Policy Institute’s Program on Migrants, Migration, and Development. MPI is a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide.
“OWWA has shown that welfare funds can raise the revenue needed to meet the inherently expensive needs of workers overseas and provide critical on-site emergency services. With effective oversight, it has the potential to promote entrepreneurship of returning migrants,” Agunias said, adding “OWWA needs to overcome some management and transparency challenges, as is perhaps to be expected of an organization serving almost 4 million people in over 190 countries.”

The authors find that OWWA’s operations are instructive for other developing countries working to establish worker protection and assistance programs. The number of temporary migrants in East and West Asia, including the Middle East, has grown by 2.5 percent a year since 1985; in countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development by 9 percent since 1997; and in the United States an average of 10.4 percent a year from 1997 to 2004.

“As temporary migration around the world continues to increase, governments from Mexico to India need models of what has and has not worked in structuring programs to protect workers abroad,” said Neil Ruiz, a research fellow at Brookings. “At the same time, it is equally critical for destination countries to establish legal norms that protect migrant workers and help build capacity for welfare funds and countries of origin.” (AJ)

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