Life in remittances

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Sunday, February 23, 2014


The few early Filipinos who lived in the US were those who were part of the crew of the Spanish trading ship, the Manila Galleon, which in the late 1500s regularly crossed the Pacific Ocean between Manila and Acapulco (Mexico) for trading.

When the ship hit the ports out there, one or two of those who manned it would run away and stay to live in the strange countries of the harbor they arrived at.

Then more Filipinos went to the US, or to Mexico, in migration. Settlements were formed, including in California where Filipino migrants worked as fruit pickers.
Then Filipino students and skilled professionals came to America, all earning to live a better life in the US.

But there were no remittances sent to loved ones in the home country for there were no bank systems connecting the world in one touch, no private finance companies, no returning migrants at a time when it wasn’t easy to make quick trips home and back. For 250 years, the Manila galleons traveled the route that established the early connection of people in the world between the East and the West.

Still, remittances could have helped the home country much earlier.

Today, the good news is that remittances of Filipinos working abroad in the US, Europe and the Middle East hit a record level of $2.2 billion, as the headline of a news item came out some few days ago.

Up to December 2013, the remittances have grown tremendously month by month. The increase has been 9.1 percent higher than last year’s record. On the whole, the cash remittances in total for the year accounted for 8.4 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.

We can see this clearly in the picture of families back home waiting for money from abroad sent by loved ones from where they work hard to earn enough to send children to school.

Most of the cases of foreign jobs you read about in the news are the Domestic Helper's experiences in work outside the country. The skilled workers in companies move quietly.

On the other hand, the rise of jobs available for seafarers is another good news. Although the land-based migrant workers are still the biggest in number, the hiring for sea-based jobs is catching up.

And it's said that majority of the seafarers working out of the home country come from the Visayas.

Barangay Tungkop in the town of Minglanilla, Cebu is where almost every family has someone out to sea in international ships for months or years.

One family has almost every male member sailing out to the far seas in a job that pays and drives the country’s economic situation fairly well. A cousin of a friend has five male siblings out to sea while the younger boys are in school to learn maritime skills.

In 1987, the Philippines was leading as supplier of sea-based workers.

And so the remittances grow. Another good news for sea-based Filipino migrants, according to the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, is that some European and Asian shipping firms are disbanding crews coming from other countries for the intent to hire all-Filipino workers who learn faster and can speak English to connect.

How does overseas earnings look in world view?

Way back in the 19th century, foreign workers in Spain, Italy and Ireland sent in remittances to their home countries.

In 1946, remittances received by Spain from their migrant workers amounted to 21 percent of its account. But it has been Italy which enacted a law in 1901 protecting remittances.

Asian countries who got the biggest remittances in 2011 from the US were India, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In 2012, imagine how Chinese and Indian workers out in foreign countries sent a total of $139 billion to their home base.

But this month the Labor Secretary said the government will accept foreign workers to meet our need of the use of skills in worker shortage in at least 15 occupations. Aren’t we looking into strategies on what to do when we run out of our own skilled workers?

(ecuizon@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 23, 2014.

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