A story last July 18 where the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration said it is forming an OFW Children’s Circle for 200,000 children left behind by migrant workers is a noble one, albeit long- overdue.
We have been deploying OFWs to different parts of the world with such intensity since the seventies or during the reign of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos Sr. but it is only now that we are cooking up a Children’s Circle so those orphaned by one or both parents can have a forum to interact with each other and share experiences that will help them grow healthy mentally and socially despite the absence of their real parents.
All this while OWWA and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has been collecting all sorts of fees from the travelling worker abroad and yet forgot to come up with programs designed to uplift the lot and welfare of those left behind.
No wonder that through the years, the social cost of diaspora had been so high and we see countless homes broken because one or both of the couple have found partners other than their spouses to live with.
History of migration
As Vicky Garchitorena, then president of Ayala Foundation wrote in May 2007, said the Philippine government actively encouraged migration. In 1974, then President Marcos made the facilitation of overseas employment a stated government policy, embodied in Presidential Decree 422 of the Labor Code that created the Overseas Employment Development Board and the National Seamen Board to ease domestic unemployment and to stabilize dollar reserves.
It also responded to the need of Arab countries for professionals in the petrochemical and infrastructure industries at a time when oil prices were skyrocketing. Historical data from the Bureau of Employment Services show that, from 36,035 2 Filipino workers deployed in 1975, the number ballooned to 282,506 in 1981 (Institute of Labor and Manpower Studies 1984).
At the same time, large numbers of businessmen, professionals, and activists sought to flee the country in the two decades of the Marcos regime (1965-1986). Many businessmen felt they were not competing on a level playing field under the so-called “crony capitalism” that characterized the period.
Activists feared for their lives as the military cracked down on dissent. Others left the country out of sheer frustration, feeling hopeless and disenchanted with the promise of a “New Society.” The movement of workers to other countries continued and even accelerated during the administrations of “People Power” icon Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Joseph Estrada.
POEA data revealed that the country sent out an average of 30,000 migrant workers a month from 1984 to 1990. This grew to more than 50,000 a month from 1991 to 1995 and to 60,000 a month from 1996 to 2001.
Since 2001 the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration has made it a major policy not only to facilitate but also to actually encourage Filipinos to go abroad for work. For example, the government has invited recruiters to the country and actively attempts to match global labor needs with local talent. The Filipino people are considered the country’s most valuable export. An estimated 1 million Filipinos now leave the country annually to seek employment abroad (POEA).
Filipinos can be found in 193 countries and in major ocean-plying vessels as merchant marine crew. Government statistics show that there are an estimated 8.1 million Filipinos abroad (in 2020 this hit 12 million) as temporary contract workers, permanent residents, and undocumented migrants.
The countries with the largest numbers of Filipino permanent residents are the United States, Canada, and Australia. In the United States alone, there are reportedly 2 to 2.5 million Filipinos with a median family income of about $60,000. The five states with the largest populations of foreign-born Filipinos are California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. Combined, these five states constitute 71 percent of total foreign-born Filipino population in the United States (Commission on Filipinos Overseas).
In addition, it is estimated that there are approximately 1.5 million undocumented Filipino migrants living primarily in the United States, Malaysia and Singapore. Temporary workers number about 3.4 million and are found primarily in Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Hong Kong.
OWWA Resolution 7
OWWA chief Hans Cacdac said the OWWA Board of Trustees, chaired by Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma, together with Migrant Workers Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople approved OWWA Resolution No. 7 last July 15 for the formation of OFW Children’s Circle.
“Several studies and reports disclosed that separation from a parent has shown to have a negative effect on the well-being of the children, particularly their mental health,” the resolution reads.
As the country transitions to a new normal, children left behind by their parents need psychological intervention. The OWWA board approved the proposal to conduct a series of activities such as arts and culture, sports and recreation, civic involvement, values reorientation, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and health and wellness.
These programs will be initially implemented by the OWWA Regional Welfare Office in Metro Manila, Ilocos, Calabarzon, Central Visayas and Northern Mindanao regions.
The board has approved the allocation of P15 million for the initial implementation of the program, to be sourced from the existing budget of the Family Development Support Program.
OWWA is a national government agency vested with the special function of developing and implementing welfare programs and services that respond to the needs of its member-OFWs and their families. It is endowed with powers to administer a trust fund to be called the OWWA Fund.