“THE Pope stood next to us when we sang at Pedro Calungsod’s beatification,” wrote our former maid from Alegria. This Cebuana stayed in Rome to become an overseas Filipino worker after UN reassigned us to Bangkok.

Eleuteria is now a permanent resident of Italy. She helps her family in Alegria, bought land and saves. Today, 10.2 million Filipinos are scattered in 190 countries. Yearly, they remit a hefty $17 billion plus.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

But “there’s not much evidence” OFW funds “contributed to real development,” noted speakers at the Scalabrini Migration Center and Commission on Filipinos Overseas conference here. Why?

Their new book “Transnational Bridges: Migration, Development and Solidarity in the Philippines” probes for causes. With European Union support, this first of three studies sums up research into 30 provinces plus Filipino migrants in Spain and Italy.

An average of 3,752 migrates daily. That’s 28 times the first clutch of timid migrants who waved ayo-ayo five decades back.

This floodtide of departures is unprecedented. Our fathers never imagined a 10 percent-of-population exodus. Swept up in a continuing diaspora, our children don’t recall a different past.

“By the 1990s, (we) acquired the savvy to meet what is required by the global labor market,” notes the Migrants’ Associations and Philippine Institutions for Development (Mapid) project. But it is “still wedded to labor deployment… There are no signs of a policy shift that will link migration policies to development processes.”

“Are we content being a one-stop-mall for surgeons, pilots, even super maids?” UP’s Ernesto Pernia wrote. “If we are, how do we stretch the limits of our human capital industry? If not, what’s the alternative?”

Migration won’t ebb. Surveys show that 4 out of 10 kids, aged 10 to 12, dream of working abroad. This is a “hemorrhage.”

It is altering beyond recognition this nation’s economy and soul. In three out of 10 homes, kids grow up where paychecks substitute for parents. “I hear confessions of children whose parents work aboard,” a Jesuit friend said. “I’m stunned by their confusion and pain.”

Migrants form a “black hole” in local government plans. “At regional and local levels (here)…migration data are not available,” the Mapid report says. Offices or personnel dedicated to migration issues are virtually nonexistent. This disconnect… must be narrowed.

Migration surfaced only in the last two national Mid-Term Development Plans. It is seen as nothing more than a job generator. This is “policy lockjaw.”

South Korea, Taiwan, India and China view migration not merely as a “jobs fair.” They’ve attracted back scientists, artists, doctors, etc. Others have invested. They’ve notched up a “brain gain.”

These countries tapped into the “strong potential for migrant giving and investing back home.” Mexico innovated the tres por uno plan. Local governments pony up counterparts for every peso migrant groups remit for mutually-agreed development projects.

Where is the tipping point for an unstaunched drain of the nation’s best and brightest? Can we create a country beyond national borders? What are other emerging features of this diaspora?

Don’t ask the locals. They’re scrambling for Internal Revenue Allotment slabs and preventing their names, on public projects, from being painted-over.

Under Aquino III, there seems broader citizen support for new initiatives. One would be to seal migration policy “black holes.” Mapid studies may help by infusing a broader vision.

(juanlmercado@gmail.com)