Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, all signs have already been pointing to a global economic downturn. With most part of the world’s activities on a standstill, the International Monetary Fund declared a global recession which is expected to cause long-lasting damage as waves of bankruptcies and retrenchments leave multitudes in desperation. Poverty-stricken countries like the Philippines are among the hardest-hit by economic paralysis. Over 420,000 OFWs are likely to return back to the Philippines within the next several months and about US$5 Billion worth of remittances per year are expected to be extinguished in its wake.
To make matters worse, no comprehensive plan has been laid out by the Duterte regime to address the immediate and long-term effects of the crisis on OFWs. The promised US$200 cash aid announced by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III last month is already marred by tensions after POLO and OWWA officials in Riyadh drove out distressed OFWs while numerous others were made to cast lots on food items distributed chaotically by embassy personnel. Meanwhile, OFW families back home are troubled by delayed government relief, police brutality and Duterte’s shoot-to-kill order.
President Duterte’s late night ramblings against critics offer no reassurance to OFWs. He is only wasting TV air time on idle talk at the expense of taxpayers’ money. As the crisis aggravates further, the Duterte regime’s Labour Export Programme (LEP) can no longer salvage an economy that has systematically cemented its vulnerability to external shocks. Duterte’s LEP is bound to fail since it relinquishes economic advancement at the homefront through national industrialization and genuine agrarian development. It has made the economy heavily reliant on dollar remittances to buoy consumption since local workers are plagued by slavish wages and depressed purchasing power.
Unemployment in the Philippines is set to worsen with the expected return of 420,000 OFWs. Without welfare assistance, mass starvation awaits displaced OFWs who will bear the full weight of Duterte’s crippling lockdown. Merely telling people to STAY HOME without free mass testing and treatment will never arrest the pandemic. Even more so with food shortages. From confining themselves indoors to doing physical distancing, the people have already mastered all forms of precautionary measures, but these are only meant to give the Duterte government enough time to break off social unrest. Feeling the pressure but almost too late, the government is already eyeing mass testing in the latter half of April.
OFWs are among the most vulnerable sectors hit by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. So instead of enforcing crackdown on legitimate dissent and silencing his critics, the Duterte regime better treat this crisis seriously as a concrete public health issue that is gravely impacting OFWs. Overseas retrenchments have left thousands of OFWs stranded. Duterte’s profanity on national television will in no way contribute to the welfare and safety of Filipino migrant workers. Displaced OFWs deserve mass testing, decent quarantine facilities, free medical and welfare assistance. Government aid and relief must be delivered to OFWs and their families upon their arrival, post-quarantine and consistently all throughout the entire duration of the lockdown.
As in previous presidencies, the Duterte regime has been relentless in squeezing OFW pockets dry through state exactions. Now is the finest period in time when the government should step in and give back the hard-earned OFW money contributed to various national agencies which promised them support and security. If Duterte’s emergency NAP remains inutile in alleviating the people’s hardships, he may as well spare the Filipino people from further misery by resigning from his post. The anger of the Filipino people is past its boiling point, and it’s only a matter of time before it detonates on Duterte’s face.