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Philippine Dreamin’…Far From Home

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Angelo Nuestro, 16, right, packed to return to Italy with his aunt, Jocelyn Santia, who works in Milan (photo by Jes Aznar). Click on photo for Migrante International, a migrant rights organization.

While the Philippine government hails overseas workers as “Heros of the Nation” President Noynoy Aquino is planning to slash the budget, which supports overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), by half.

The government, while intentionally keeping the economy underdeveloped to make it an export oriented economy (tilted toward Western consumption), has been purposefully steering the middle class population toward working abroad: by forcing schools to change its curriculum to suite the world economy and by colluding with companies that profit in overseas contracts (by sending Filipino workers to companies overseas).  This has created an intentional brain drain (while, under then dictator Marcos, there was an unintentional brain drain) where economic policies and conditions at home squeeze an unstable middle class that is then forced to migrate overseas.  Also, by channeling undergraduate level education to serve the health and service sector industries the Philippine government is purposefully keeping the country underdeveloped by restricting education too a small minority of the population and by then further restricting that education toward making sure the student population takes their skills overseas instead of applying their skills toward building up the country.

In a recent New York Times article reporter Norimitsu Onishi writes:

Remittances, which the government says have been rising sharply — from $7.6 billion in 2003 to $17.3 billion in 2009 — now account for more than 10 percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product. The payments are also the main factor driving the country’s recent economic growth, which would have otherwise remained stagnant.

But critics, including many overseas workers, say the government has developed an unhealthy dependence on the remittances, turning a blind eye to their social costs, especially divided families and the reliance on them to pay for services while failing to build a sound economy that produces good jobs at home.

“After the sweat and tears of working in Europe for many years, they build a big house to show the fruits of their labor.”

“But it’s weird,” she added. “How can you enjoy your house if you can only see it in photos? The houses have huge beds, even though they may use them only a few weeks a year. They’re fully furnished with plasma televisions and ovens, but there’s no one to bake a cake.”

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