“OFW Bank” further institutionalizes bankrupt labor export program

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International objects to the creation of an “overseas Filipino worker bank” (OFB), saying that it is geared towards “managing OFW remittances for the perpetuation of a long-bankrupt labor export program”.

President Duterte recently authorized the transfer of shares of the Philippine Postal Savings Bank (PPSB) to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) for its subsequent conversion into the OFB through Executive Order 44.

The creation of the OFB is in tune with the Duterte government’s economic thrust of “managing migration” as a “tool for development”, a neoliberal prescription that does not in any way address the root causes of forced migration nor even attempt to curb it in the policy-level. Its main objective is to “manage OFW remittances” to enable a more fast-tracked, sufficient and concentrated system of profiting from overseas Filipino workers’ (OFWs’) hard-earned incomes.

This in itself further institutionalizes the decades-long labor export program that continues to exploit OFWs’ cheap labor and remittances in accordance to neoliberal policies and dictates.

Previous administrations have been aggressive in crafting programs and services aimed at facilitating and encouraging forced migration. While acknowledging the many social costs and human rights violations, these are effectively downplayed by the hailing of OFW remittances. Instead, past administrations have unfailingly and resolutely promoted the labor export program as unequivocally beneficial to OFWs and their families. This is particularly done by overstating supposed development benefits for the economy and the income benefits of households.

Precisely, this is what the Duterte regime hopes to achieve anew through the creation of the OFB, to the detriment of our OFWs.

Instead of providing a comprehensive and genuine economic program that decisively deviates from a policy of labor export and focuses on creating domestic jobs to end the cycle of forced migration, Duterte’s economic compulsion is to keep exporting Filipinos to maintain or, especially, to increase, concentrate and manage remittances.

Further, the EO’s supposed vision to “provide OFWs with priority support for their growing financial needs” is plain braggadocio. Encouraging OFWs to embark on “microfinancing” will only bury them in greater debt to big banks and financial institutions, this time facilitated by the state itself. Meanwhile, enticing investments for so-called “microinsurance” may only be deemed as yet another state exaction scheme in which OFWs are encouraged to allot their earnings to premiums and contributions that will ultimately be useless to them. This has long been the case with the controversy-laden and corrupt-ridden OWWA funds.

Migrante International firmly stands on the position that, should there be “OFW banks”, these should ensure that OFWs’ hard-earned money are invested towards genuine rural development and national industrialization that will create jobs at home and end the vicious cycle of forced migration. Unfortunately, this thrust is hardly the case under the Duterte regime’s present economic agenda.

To address the problem of forced migration, the government’s economic policies should focus on developing national economy by advancing local industries, agriculture and basic services. It should depart from neoliberal policies which focus on increasing dependence on OFW remittances. Only then can OFWs look forward to a future in which they will not have to leave their families behind just to survive. ###

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