One Nation, Overseas

94555285_2680cc7931.jpg
Need (hired) help? Try the Philippines, the forerunner of tomorrow’s distributed economy, supplying nurses, teachers, techies, and sailors to the global village.

They’re known as bagong bayani, a Tagalog expression meaning “new heroes.” That may sound a bit inflated, but at a succession of December celebrations in Manila, Filipinos who work on contract in foreign countries get treated something like the Series-winning Yankees coming home to New York. One day is Health Awareness Day, when thousands of overseas Filipino workers, also called OFWs, are treated to free medical care, and another is Family Day, when at malls all around the nation, the government throws a mass party. Bright welcome banners stretch from rafters. Christmas music spills from loud speakers. Returned workers, along with their spouses and kids, walk around in costume from the Auntie Anne pretzel emporium to Ace Hardware to the Gameworx bowling arcade. They also make pit stops at the booth for free dental checkups and the booth for psychological counseling. Two years is a long time away.

December’s bizarre climax comes when President Gloria Arroyo travels to Manila’s Ninoy Aquino Airport to personally greet returning workers, who zoom through specially designated express lines for immigration and customs. After a welcome speech, Arroyo turns a big drum filled with tickets bearing the names of returnees and picks one from the batch to win a $2,000 grand prize.

It may look like a TV game show, but the Philippines has discovered the future of work. At any given time, about 10 percent of the country’s 76.5 million population is hard at work – outside the country. During 2001, more than 800,000 people headed out on a commute that makes Rye-Grand Central seem like a milk run to the corner store. They went to Italy, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Singapore, and Uzbekistan. They went to Mongolia and Equatorial Guinea.

Unlike Mexicans, who flock primarily to the United States, Filipinos traveled to 162 nations in all. Unlike Indians, who fill mostly tech and medical positions, Filipinos toil as domestic helpers, engineers, nurses, bricklayers, teachers, farmers, seafarers, stenographers, hairdressers, crane operators, cooks, and entertainers.

Having discovered its prowess as an outsourcer of labor, the Philippines is now pursuing the opportunity with fervor. Whereas the US has spent decades bemoaning the export of its jobs (to Mexico, to China), the Philippine government revels in the export of its people. Using technology to stay involved in family life back home, Filipino global commuters constitute one of the biggest sources of stability for the economy of a country perennially known as the Sick Man of Asia. Remittances, the money they electronically send back to their families, account for 8.2 percent of the nation’s gross national product, stabilizing its peso, improving foreign currency reserves, shoring up consumption, and making more than a dent in the unemployment rate (now 11.1 percent). Last year, overseas Filipino workers sent home $6.2 billion. Indians sent home twice the amount – with 13 times the general population.

In short, this archipelago nation has succeeded at creating the world’s most distributed economy, where the sources of production are so far-flung it boggles the mind. The machinery has gears in Andorra and the Seychelles and even Diego Garcia, wherever the heck that is. (Answer: a 17-square-mile atoll of coral and sand in the middle of the Indian Ocean, mostly a joint US-UK military base that’s become a temporary work location for more than 1,000 Filipinos.) With advances in transportation and telecommunications barreling ahead, it’s only a matter of time before the Philippine miracle becomes a standard for the new mobile global order, with skilled and unskilled workers commuting over multiple time zones to fill in labor gaps, zapping their wages homeward through space, reentering for a new assignment. Welcome to virtual nationhood.

In fact, this thriving “trade” has already made the Philippines the envy of the developing world. Officials from such poverty-plagued countries as Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, and Vietnam have come to Manila to find out how they too can be prime producers of labor.

The market for contract migrant work, they know, is growing: According to the International Monetary Fund, worldwide remittances totaled $2 billion in 1970; by 2000, the International Labor Organization set that figure at $73 billion. After a visit to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Indonesia’s labor minister, Jacob Nuwa Wea, said, “We learned some things we can adopt at home – like mechanisms to protect overseas workers, how to prepare candidates to meet skill requirements, and how to license private employment agencies.” Pakistan has patterned its overseas workers welfare fund after the one established by the Philippine government.

Flexible, industrious, and frequently skilled, Filipinos are finding their way into unexpected niche markets. Nurses trained in the Philippines, for instance, are more likely to end up working elsewhere. Hospital recruiters from Norway and the UK travel to Manila to hire them.

Likewise, American school districts having trouble attracting new teachers are discovering ample supply in the Philippines. Recruiters hop on a plane to Manila, where, in crowded hotel conference rooms, they handpick certified teachers, who are given crash courses in Georgia history or California politics before they arrive on US soil.

By David Diamond

Photo by eliremolona via flickr

Find more like this: Features

Comments

  1. jorj says:

    yeah..yaeahh yeahh..10 billion huhh..mga bagong bayani…and what we got..try visiting the POEA itself and see how the OFW was treated there..yung mga personnel nangangatog sa lakas ng aircon…kaming mga OFW ni walang maupuan sa pag proprocess ng mga dokumento…what a shame…namumura pa kami dun..we putting a lot of money ang bagal pa rin ng serbisyo…sorry but f*** them…

  2. ec says:

    bagong bayani? no we are not…. more like intrepid survivors or maybe victims of circumstances…f*** owwa and poea ….they haven’t done anything for the welfare OFWs…

  3. generic viagra lowest prices…

    generic viagra lowest prices…

  • U.N. Rights Council to Investigate Killings in Philippine Drug War
  • Philippines declares national alert after 456 die from dengue fever
  • Trying to save the stories of a Philippine culture, one scan at a time
  • Pinoy archaeologist brings new human species discovery to Australia
  • Philippines a slowly ageing society – PIDS study
  • Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

    Entertainment

  • Nickelodeon releases first look at rebooted classic kids program Blue’s Clues with Filipino-American host Joshua Dela Cruz
  • How Marvel’s first featured Pinoy superhero can save society
  • This play tells the urgent story of a Filipino comfort woman
  • Will ‘Sahaya’ be the first Pinoy series on Netflix?
  • Z-GIRLS, Z-BOYS with Pinoy members to debut in Korea
  • MORE...

    Features

  • My story, and the new story of Filipino immigration
  • An appreciation of Moro food can bring Pinoy Muslims and Christians closer, says this Muslim chef
  • Showcase of PH culture, heritage
  • US and Philippines: Friends, Partners, and Allies
  • A Transgender Paradox, and Platform, in the Philippines
  • MORE...

    Tourism

  • Northern Blossom Flower Farm: Atok’s floral carpet
  • Philippines records ‘all-time high’ 7.1M tourist arrivals in 2018
  • Philippines island Boracay reopens for test run following huge cleanup
  • Philippines closes ‘cesspool’ tourist island of Boracay
  • Boracay Set to Ban Tourists for Six Months During Island ‘Rehabilitation’
  • MORE...

    Sports

  • Filipino speed skater bags spot in 2020 Winter Youth Olympics
  • Pinoy gymnast Carlo Yulo earns historic qualification in worlds
  • Finding a way to bring the NBA to the Philippines
  • First Filipino table tennis Olympian Ian “Yanyan” Lariba dies at 23
  • Skateboarder Margielyn Didal wins 4th gold for Philippines
  • MORE...

    OFW News

  • Filipino maids’ dragon boat team makes splash in Hong Kong
  • DOLE suspends OFW deployment to Kuwait
  • Some OFWs turn to vlogging to beat loneliness, share life abroad
  • Overseas Filipino Bank to serve immigrants, workers
  • The ‘bagong bayani’ of the Philippines
  • MORE...

    Environment

  • ‘Sordid Chapter’ Ends As Philippines Sends Back Canada’s Trash
  • Southeast Asia became dumping ground for plastic waste – study
  • Boracay Set to Ban Tourists for Six Months During Island ‘Rehabilitation’
  • Boracay: the good, bad and ugly sides to Philippine island for tourists
  • Luzon has greatest concentration of unique mammals
  • MORE...

    Pinoy Places
    and Faces