Group slams Aquino gov’t for hailing “OFW remittance bonanza”

Migrante Partylist criticized the Philippine government’s yet again hailing of the “remittance bonanza” after OFW remittances reached an all-time high in 2012 despite the ongoing global economic crisis.

According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), remittances for the whole of 2012 increased by 6.3 percent from USD$20.12 billion last 2011. Last December 2012, remittances reached the highest monthly record, increasing by 9.7 percent from 2011’s USD$1.8 billion to USD$1.98 billion. Remittances came mostly from Filipinos in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, United Arab Emirates and Singapore, according to the BSP.

For Connie Bragas-Regalado, Chairperson and 1st Nominee of Migrante Partylist, the recent highest record of OFW remittances cannot be good for the migrant sector and the Filipino labor force as it is tantamount to the government’s implementation of a more aggressive labor export policy.

“By 2010, on the first year of Aquino’s term, remittances had already made up 8.7 percent of the Gross National Product (GNP) despite the global economic crisis, surpassing the share of traditional exports of agricultural products,” she said.

The continuous growth in remittances, Bragas-Regalado said, can be attributed to the following factors: (a) OFWs compensate the dwindling dollar by sending more amounts to their families back home; (b) OFWs get double or triple jobs to offset effects of the crisis in host countries; (c) OFWs resort to more borrowing/loaning to be able to send money home; (d) OFWs are now sending savings they had acquired over the years, if any; and, (e) the number of undocumented OFWs sending remittances back home has increased.

Further, in a study made by the International Labor Organization (ILO), more and more OFWs have been looking for additional sources of income on top of their regular jobs in order to survive the global economic crisis.

“No matter, what is obscured from these figures is the fact that increasing remittances means millions of Filipinos have to slave it out even harder in foreign shores just to up or continue sending money to their families. And the government cannot only but rejoice,” she said.

However, although annual remittances increased amid the global economic crisis, its growth rate has been decreasing in recent years. From a 25 percent record growth in 2005, it dropped to a lowest 5.6 percent in 2009, a year after the global crisis erupted.

In the US where 50 percent of remittances originate, the growth rate had decreased from 7.8 percent in 2008 to 7.3 percent in 2009. It had a slight increase to 7.9 percent in 2010 but has been suffering a steady decline since the country’s debt crisis ensued. “The continuing decrease in growth rate is a constant worry for the Philippine government. If the trend continues, the government will be in big trouble because it relies mainly on remittances for its foreign exchange revenues.”

Bragas-Regalado said, “This explains the Aquino administration’s desperation to further seek job markets abroad and intensify its labor export program. Through remittances, the government earns exponentially without having to shell out much capital investment. Even funds for labor outmigration management through agencies such as the POEA or the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) are directly sourced from OFWs or recruitment agencies and employers through various fees.”

“The Aquino administration, while mouthing local job generation as its core program to eliminate forced migration, continues to hail the ‘remittance bonanza’ to further promote labor export in the attempt to offset the downtrend in growth rate. To do this, it has become more aggressive in implementing labor export, hence, the Aquino administration’s active lobbying for job markets and signing of bilateral agreements with host countries in the past two years.”

Aside from overseas remittances, labor export provides a tempting alternative to the unemployed and underemployed. Because of this, the government is not obligated to create jobs that offer decent wages and instead it becomes convenient to evade responsibility of implementing policy reforms to turn the economy around, she said.

“The Aquino administration’s labor export policy is disproportionately focused on maximizing the overall inflow of remittances as a development goal in itself without weighing this against the welfare of migrant workers and their families,” Bragas-Regalado said. ###