Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs): New Heroes

OFW: New Heroes

by Juan “Jed” E.  Dayang, Jr.

The Australian National University

 

 

As of 2010, there is an estimated 8,579,378 Filipinos overseas.[1]   The number of temporary migrant workers or Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) is estimated at 4,522,438.[2]  With its decades long of experience in labour migration, the Philippines has become the leading labor sending country in East Asia.  The country has also become the principal source of seafarers in the international maritime business.

The economic contribution of overseas Filipinos is substantial. Their remittances sustain their families and contribute to poverty reduction. Although, the remittances may not have a wider contribution to national economic growth, it has definitely improved the lives of many families who benefit from the money flows from their family members who are working overseas. In 2010 their remittance flow was US$18.8M which grew by 8% compared to the previous year. It represented close to 10% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.[3] For their contribution to the economy, they have been lauded as “modern-day heroes” by the government and by the Philippine media.

Waves of Migration

Migration of Filipino workers has been recorded as early as the Spanish colonization.[4] Early accounts of emigration from the Philippines points to a native who worked in the ship of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan when he first circumnavigated the world and discovered the Philippines for Spain in the 16th century.  However, the first group of Filipino workers who were recorded to work overseas were those who were forced by Spanish colonizers to man ships during the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade between 1565 to 1815 that brought goods from the Orient to the “new world” and vice versa.[5]  During the Spanish colonial period that ended in 1898, there were Filipinos who went to Spain as students, including national hero Jose Rizal.

First Wave

The 20th century saw more Filipinos leaving for the US as a result of the colonial linkage between the Philippines and the United States which started in after the Philippine-American war (1899-1902) until the Philippine declaration of independence in 1946.   The first wave[6] of emigration of Filipinos was between 1900 to early 1940s to the United States. The first two decades after the US annexation of the Philippines in 1898, many of the Filipinos who went to the US were college and university students who were trained in US universities to spread democracy and take leadership roles in the Philippines.[7]

Second Wave

The second wave to the US began after World War II till the end of the war in Vietnam. It was also during the same period when   the Philippines gained its independence from the US on July 4, 1946.  The number of Filipinos in the US grew because of the naturalization quota of 100 per year which was approved by the US Congress and announced by President Harry Truman on July 4. The quota, which lasted for two decades was not based on ethnic considerations but based on the occupational needs of the US and if the Filipino had relatives in the United States.[8]  At that time, there were many Filipino WWII veterans who were given special US citizenship privileges. The US also accepted skilled workers– doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers and other professions. When the US Congress passed the new Immigration Reform Act in 1965, it allowed family members to reunite with their American based relatives. This again led to the surge of American immigration of Filipinos.

In the 1950s and the 1960s, there were Filipinos in non-professional labour contracts that went to East Asia as barbers, artists, and musicians. There were also Filipinos who went as loggers to Indochina. The Korean and Vietnam War also created overseas jobs for Filipinos particularly in civilian and military operations in Japan, Guam, Thailand, Wake Island and Vietnam. There were also nurses who went to Canada and Australia. The third wave, which is more widely known and most persistent, was during the mid-1970s to 1990s.

Third Wave

It was in the 1970s when the government started sending migrant workers to curb unemployment and to shore up the country’s foreign currency reserves of the government. It was during this period that the labour migration program by the Philippine government was institutionalized.[9] The economic decline due to the higher world prices of crude oil created massive unemployment in the country. In the Middle East, however, the members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) were making so much profit. As a result of the oil-export boom, there was a  high demand for labour to support its fresh enterprise.  Former President Ferdinand Marcos  was quick to tap this opportunity to  promote Filipino contract workers to alleviate unemployment that created a huge labour surplus.   The foreign policy that Marcos adopted was called  “Development Diplomacy,” which  was aimed at exporting excess labour supply. By 1980, the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) deployment of overseas contract workers has jumped by 75% compared to previous year.[10] This time, the Department of Foreign Affairs has made protection of migrant workers as a third pillar of the country’s foreign policy which is of equal significance to the promotion of the political and economic interests of the Philippines overseas.

Conclusion

The Philippines has become the leading labor sending country in East Asia with 10% of its population living and working  in more than 190 countries overseas.  The emigration flows can be summed up in three waves of migration: the first wave from 1900s-1940,  the second from 1940s-1960s  and the most pervasive was during the third wave from 1970s to 1990s. The economic contribution of Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs have reduced poverty incidence and increased the welfare of their families in the Philippines. The remittance flow also shore up the foreign currency reserves of the country. For the country and their family members, OFWs are real-life heroes.  The Philippine government has made protection of OFWs as a key pillar of its foreign policy agenda.


[1] “Stock Estimate of Overseas Filipinos,” ed. Commission on Filipinos Overseas (Manila: Office of the President, 2010).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “2010 OF Remittances Surpass 8% Growth Projection; Full-Year Level Reaches US$18.8 Billion,”  http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=2515.

[4] read Filomeno V. Aguilar Jr., ed. At Home in the World: Filipinos in Global Migrations (Quezon City: Philippine Migration Research Network and Philippine Social Science Council, 2002).and Joaquin L. Gonzales, Philippine Labour Migration  (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), 1998).

[5] ———, Philippine Labour Migration.

[6]Ibid.

[7] For an earlier work on Filipino migrants to the Unites States see H. Brett Melendy, “Filipinos in the United States,” Pacific Historical Review University of California Press 43, no. 4 (1974).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Gonzales, Philippine Labour Migration.

[10] Graziano Battistella, Philippine labor migration : impact and policy (Quezon City Scalabrini Migration Center, 1992).

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  1. August 4, 2011 at 3:07 am

    It seems to me that the government of the Phillipines is one of the few countries world wide trying to set up an organised body to help these people when they are exploited. They need more help since so many things can go wrong for these people and they are extremely vulnerable.

    WideHorseSky.wordpress.com

    • August 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks for your message. The Philippines has a law called the “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995″ (Republic Act 8042), which is a framework to promote the welfare of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). The furor created by the hanging of Filipino domestic helper Flor Contemplacion in 1995, which made Filipinos aware of the sufferings of OFWs, triggered the enactment of the Magna Carta for Migrant Workers. Since then, Foreign Service Posts (Philippine Embassies in 63 countries and Consulates) are mandated to protect citizens under a “country-team approach” regardless of workers’ immigration status. Some Embassies have a Philippine Overseas Labor Office headed by a Labour Attache together with a Welfare Officer to assist migrant labourers. Filipino consuls and diplomats take care of undocumented workers and other Filipinos overseas facing hardships abroad. In some Posts, the Department of Social Welfare and Development appoints a Social Welfare Officer to a POLO. You are right in saying that they migrant workers are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and the state has the responsibility to protect them. I’ve read your blog and found out that both of us worked in Korea. Good luck on the launching of your book.

  2. August 4, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    From FB:

    Myrna Montera Lopez: So Tito and I were in that third wave….Question: maybe I missed it but when did the name ‘OFW’ come into being?
    10 hours ago · Like
    Jed Dayang: That’s a trivia question. The term Overseas Filipino Workers was adopted during President Ramos’ term of office when the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 (Republic Act 8042) was enacted in 1996. Prior to the use of OFW, Filipino contract workers were called Overseas Contract Workers (OCW). With the RA 8042, all Philippine foreign service posts are required to aid Filipinos regardless of their immigration status. Thanks for asking. I had to do some data mining to answer your query T. Myrna.

  1. September 24, 2011 at 11:06 am

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