With more than 70 percent of Filipinos working abroad belonging to the female gender, it has become obvious that overseas migration has taken on a woman’s face. This has been the situation in the last four years.
When the Philippines adopted its labor export policy in the 1970s, female workers going overseas comprised only 12 percent of the migration pie. The share steadily became bigger, going up to 48.2 percent in 1987, to 55 percent in 1993, and even bigger to 64 percent seven years ago.
Filipino women workers are scattered in 197 countries as domestic helpers, caregivers, entertainers, nurses, clerical and sales workers, and professional and technical employees.
However, the Center for Migrants Advocacy noted that while women comprise more than 70 percent of OFWs, their remittances in 2005 only took up 57 percent of what the men remit.
“This strongly suggests that women migrants work in unskilled, low-paid and unprotected jobs," the CMA said in its “2006 Working Paper on Overseas Migration."
“Migrant women, because of the nature of their work and lowered status, usually end up victims to the more serious problems of migration: physical and sexual abuse, drug dependence, prostitution, mysterious or violent deaths, and trafficking in women. Other migrant women end up on the missing persons list," the CMA said.
“They are the disadvantaged sector," said Rep. Edcel Lagman, senior vice chairman of the special committee on OFWs at the House of Representatives.
Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reveal that female new hires totaling 205, 206 comprised 72 percent of the deployment in 2005, and most of them are household workers.
The deployment of males totaled 79, 079 or roughly 18 percent of the total, compared to 26 percent in 2004.
In its 2005 report, the POEA attributed the increase in the female OFW deployment to the sizeable increase in the number of household workers which offset the decline in the number of deployed female overseas performing artists (OPAs).
In 2006, POEA reported a ground breaking record in the number of OFWs deployed in 197 destination countries at 1, 062, 567, or 7.5 percent more than the 988, 615 deployed in 2005. The POEA the 2006 deployment record was the highest in 30 years, with corresponding record-breaking remittances of $12.76 billion from $10.69 billion in 2005.
On the average, the POEA facilitated the daily deployment of about 3,000 Filipino workers for overseas jobs. About 60% of those newly deployed are women.
In 2004, the National Statistics Office said the number of female OFWs increased by 13.5 percent while the number of male OFWs increased by 3.1 percent compared to the previous year.
Of the estimated 1.06 million OFWs in 2004, 49.3 percent (524,000) were men while 50.7 percent (539,000) were women.
The increase in the number of female OFWs was observed in all age groups. The bulk of female OFWs (24.3 percent) belonged to the 25-29 age group, while 23.9 percent of male OFWs were 45 years old or older in 2004.
Data from the Center for Migrants and Advocacy (CMA) in 2004 indicated that there are about 2,755 Filipinos who are either in detention centers, under house arrest, or with pending cases in court, in top seven countries of OFW destination – Malaysia, Israel, Japan Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuwait.
Of the 2,755, 470 of them are women. In Israel, 1,028 OFWs are facing legal problems. “Considering that 98 percent of OFWs in Israel are women, it can be assumed that most of those detained are women," a CMA study revealed.
The CMA said female overseas workers are exposed to the “3D jobs" (dirty, dangerous and demeaning), such as domestic work, jobs that are shunned by nationals of receiving countries.
“With cheaper salaries and lesser benefits, most of these jobs are not covered by labor laws and unregulated by the host government," a CMA report said.
Noriel Devanadera, deputy administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, said female OFWs, particularly those working as domestic helpers, are considered part of the “vulnerable" sector.
The OWWA has discouraged the posting of OFWs classified under the vulnerable sector, but there is no ban on their deployment. “We ask them handa ka ba not just physically but also emotionally. Once he or she said yes, it’s a go," Devanadera said.
Devanadera assured that the number of abuses is very few. “If you look in terms of number, it’s exceptionally few. However, in terms of seriousness, it is alarming, disappointing and frustrating," he said.
OWWA records revealed that about 80 percent of welfare cases filed involve women OFWs working as domestic helpers.
Labor Secretary Arturo Brion, however, said domestic helpers comprised only 90,000, or less than 10 percent of the 1.083 million OFWs in 2006.
Migrante International, however, said most Filipina migrant workers in the Middle East and Asia are household service workers.
The Philippine government’s found a way to reduce the number of female OFWs, particularly domestic helpers: Change the name to “household service worker" and set a new guideline in their deployment.
The guideline, which was crafted by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, was implemented in March 2007. It increased the entry level or minimum salary of household workers to $400 from $200, prescribed a minimum age of 25 years old, and added a requirement to undergo skills training from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
Five months after the new policy was implemented, Brion announced that deployment of domestic helpers in the Middle East dropped by 9 to 10 percent. He did not say if the decline was due to the new policy.
Also, Labor attaché Romeo Young in Oman reported that job requests for household workers decreased to 15 percent of the total job orders during the first quarter of the year. He said job orders in Oman for Filipino workers have shifted from domestic helpers to services and technical workers.
The new policy on household workers has been the subject of several hearings at the House of Representatives, especially under the committee for of OFWs chaired Lagman. After three meetings, the committee failed to come up of with recommendations.
Lagman said the new policy is effective.
In November, Brion announced that the policy has removed the “slave-like" classification of domestic work in Saudi Arabia. He said Filipino domestic workers are now recognized as household service workers who are equipped with a set of skills, training and high school education.
Long history of deployment
In 1975, there were only about 36,000 Filipinos “deployed" in other countries. Two years before the 1986 “People Power" uprising, the number increased to 350,982.
In 1987, the number of OFWs increased by almost 18 percent from 378,214 OFWs in 1986 to 449,271 in 1987.
The biggest increase in the number of Filipinos who decided to work abroad was recorded during the last year in office of President Corazon Aquino in 1991. From 446,095 OFWs in 1990, the number shoots up to 615,019, or by 37.87 percent.
In 1994, the deployment of OFWs doubled to 718,407 compared to 378,214 when Marcos was ousted in 1986.
In 1998, the number of OFWs reached 831,643, then 867,599 in 2001.
In 2002, a year after Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power, there were 891,908 OFWs. After four years, in 2006, the number rose to 1.221 million documented workers.
The Commission on Filipinos Overseas estimate Filipinos abroad at 8.233 million, composed of 3.556 million permanent residents, 3.802 million temporary residents, and 874,792 irregular.
Temporary measure becomes permanent
Lagman said the deployment of OFWs was initiated by Marcos in 1974 to serve as a “stop gap" measure to give employment to the people and, at the same time, for the government to earn additional dollars.
“We should remind the government that this (OFW deployment) is not a permanent policy. What is started as stop gap measure during the time of Marcos has become more or less a permanent policy already," Lagman said.
In 2005, POEA Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz said “the exodus of Filipino workers will continue." She said OFW deployment has ceased to be a temporary stop-gap measure. “It has become a permanent fixture of Philippine labor, economic and foreign policy," Baldoz said.
The cost of going abroad
Migrante deplored the “policy" and accused the government of exploiting OFWs to generate revenue. (The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas expects that OFW remittances in 2007 through the banking sector will reach $14.6 billion.)
The group said that aside from remittances, the government earns from migrant workers through charges “every step of the way in the whole migration process."
Migrante said that the government collects about P10,000 from each of first time OFWs.
Expenses for a new OFW includes $100 or its peso equivalent (P4,200 at an exchange rate of P42:$1) as POEA fee; the peso equivalent of $25 OWWA membership fee; and P900 for Medicare.
An OFW has also to spend P2,500 for medical examination; P3,000 for trade test; P500 for passport; P120 for clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation; and P110 for a copy of his or her birth certificate from the National Statistics Office.
“If everyday, 3,000 Filipinos leave to work abroad, this is a whooping P30 million per day. This does not even count the taxes that the government collects from businesses related to migration such as recruitment agencies and finance companies," Migrante said in a statement.
“When the government is in need, they turn to OFWs. However, whenever OFWs are in need, the government turns its back from OFWs," Migrante opined.
Going abroad a necessity
OWWA Administrator Marianito Roque said it is the government’s dream to make overseas employment an option, instead of a necessity.
Roque said sending OFWs abroad is still a stop-gap measure to help those who could not find employment in the country. The temptation, however, of a better pay abroad is a difficult to resist.
Devanadera said Filipinos opt to work abroad not anymore for money.
“Before, working abroad is an economic issue, pero ngayon, it seems that it already became a cultural issue." He said some OFWs are accepting a P10,000 or P7,000 monthly salary for the sake of being called nakapag-abroad. - Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV