WITH Christmas approaching, the mind turns once again to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families.
In a country that celebrates the longest season of Christmas, families kept apart by economic necessity must view the end of the year with mixed feelings.
Many OFWs send boxes of gifts or cash to families when they cannot be around to spend the holidays with them.
Yet those who envy the material affluence enjoyed by OFW families are blind to their dilemma: the livelihood granting these comforts also subjects the worker and his family to prolonged separation, broken relationships, hazardous work and political strife in a foreign land, financial dependence and debts, and other troubles.
On Oct. 16, 2011, Emmanuel Ponce shot his wife, three of their children and a helper before shooting himself in Tangke, Talisay City. Ponce was injured in the head during his years of working overseas. The former seaman reportedly abused his wife.
His daughter’s insistence that his presence home was more important than a box of Christmas goodies made Vernon Jaca Sr. decide not to renew his contract. He was a quality control manager in Hong Kong and China from 2000 to 2010.
Jaca worked overtime and saved. Reunited with his family in Barangay Bankal, Lapu-Lapu City, he set up a business. He also founded Pinocchio, which helps OFWs in Hong Kong and China deal with illness and loss of job.
For being model OFW families, the Jacas and the family of Capt. ReinerioTiro of Barangay Cansubing, Cordova received this year’s Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s Model OFW Family of the Year Award (Mofya), reported Sun.Star Cebu’s Razel V. Cuizon last Oct. 12.
Fidelity to family and religiosity enables Tiro and his family to face the challenge of his 32 years of working abroad. He received the BagongBayani Award in 2009 for rescuing more than 20 Chinese ship crew members and officers in Okinawa, Japan.
The Jacas and Tiros represent Central Visayas in next month’s selection of the national Mofya awardee.
While the selection of Mofya awardees promotes best practices of families dealing with overseas migration, it is a long way from bringing about the only solution to the plight of transnational Filipino families.
According to a Feb. 23, 2010 GMA News Online report, a Philippine administration has yet to address the large-scale deployment of labor abroad, which was introduced by President Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s as a stopgap measure until the local economy could generate and sustain enough jobs.
Although the International Organization for Migration (IOM) ranks the Philippines next to China and India in the volume of overseas deployment, the billions of dollars earned by OFWs have not curbed poverty in the country or in their own family.
There is a need to foster “savings consciousness” to enable OFWs to go home at the end of their contract and become entrepreneurs. Part of financial literacy is prioritizing education and entrepreneurship over consumption of consumer goods and services, as well as other non-essentials.
National leadership has to set the example in putting priorities in order. Steering away the country from the policy of exporting labor and redirecting it towards one of developing agriculture and industry to generate needed jobs will save many overseas workers and their families from the tragedies befalling many OFWs: broken families, greater debt, victimization by recruiters and employers, and death.
The global crisis’ impact on OFW earnings underscores the pitfalls of dependence on “exports, foreign capital (investments, debt and aid) and remittances,” which makes the country more vulnerable to global financial and economic turmoil, reported Bulatlat.com on Feb. 21, 2009.
Instead of pinning their hopes on overseas remittances as a way out of poverty, Filipino leaders should remember the high cost working abroad exacts on OFWs and seriously plan how to bring them home for good.