Saturday, November 08, 2008

Labor Migration: A dangerous doctrine
ISSUE ANALYSIS No. 15 Series of 2008

The more the economy is stagnant, the less its ability to create jobs, the more dependent government becomes on overseas labor deployment

By the Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA) Program Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
November 3, 2008

If the state policy making and legislative agenda do not change course, the whole nation will wake up one day to find that remittances accumulated through off-shore migration or labor exportation have become government’s No. 1 pillar of economic sustainability.

Right now, foreign trade and investment – steered by neo-liberal globalization – and reliance on overseas development assistance are the first two pillars, followed by the export of Filipino labor. The state policy of globalization as specified by privatization, liberalization, deregulation, and labor-only contracting binds the three major pillars together.

Labor migration has become the safety valve to the country’s unemployment crisis and a major source of foreign exchange: It has surged way past the domestic job market as the remaining option for many Filipinos. In 2000 alone, more than 800,000 Filipinos were deployed abroad while only less than 200,000 were effectively added to the domestic labor market.(1)

As unemployment has worsened under the Arroyo administration compared to the past 50 years, some 3,000 Filipinos leave the country every day for overseas jobs – or a total of more than 1 million every year.

With remittances growing by the year – $14.4 billion in 2007 constituting 10 per cent of the country’s GDP – the government target is to increase labor migration to 2 million by 2010.(2) And the government is determined to meet the target: From January to April this year there were 516,466 migrant workers deployed thus raising the daily departure to 4,314 from last year’s 3,000.

In fact, remittances sent by overseas Filipinos have outstripped both foreign direct investment (FDI) and overseas development assistance (ODA) which have declined in the past several years. FDI was $2.93 billion in 2007 but minus payments to loans the actual investment inflows fell by 69.3 per cent to only $341 million. Last year’s $14.4 billion remittances is equal to 25 per cent of the total ODA received by the Philippines – that is, in 20 years or from 1986-2006 ($39.9 billion).

In general, last year's global foreign remittances already totalled thrice the amount of aid given by donor countries to developing nations: $300 billion against $104 billion. No wonder labor migration is now being trumpeted by the United Nations and other multilateral organizations as a centerpiece program for developing economies.

For a government whose economic policy is subordinated to bitter policy prescriptions of the IMF and WB and adherence to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Arroyo regime’s agenda to make labor migration as a major source of government income received a boost from no less than UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Speaking before the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) on Oct. 29 in Manila, Ban Ki-moon, who is also South Korea’s former foreign minister, hailed migration as “a tool to help lift us out the (current global) economic crisis…(where) countries can draw the greatest possible development benefits.”

A model for migration

Organizers of GFMD chose Manila as the forum venue on account of the Philippines’ being a role model for labor migration among developing countries and chiefly because of the remittances accruing from foreign employment.

Of some 8.2 million Filipinos(3) living and working in more than 193 countries/territories around the world, 43 per cent are permanent immigrants while the rest or 4.7 million are temporary or contract workers. The Philippines is one of the leading sources of migrant labor in the world market. But it tops in the deployment of caregivers and domestics, 90 per cent of them women, as well as in nurses, seafarers (30 per cent of the world supply), and other medical workers and professionals.

Hypocritically since the Marcos years, the government denies the existence of a labor export policy. What it cannot hide however is the existence of a government infrastructure developed since the Marcos years that gives prime attention to the export of Filipino workers and professionals. This infrastructure promotes and processes out-migration, exacts – extorts, if you will – various exorbitant fees from outgoing OFWs, accredits recruitment agencies, provides skills training and immigration lectures, and supposedly earmarks benefits for the migrant workers and their families. This bureaucracy, which is headed by the President, includes the labor department’s Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), Technical Education and Skills Authority (TESDA), and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with its office of migrant affairs and various Philippine Labor Offices (POLOS) based in many countries.

The government also sends several high-level missions every year to market Filipino labor abroad while job fairs for overseas employment are constantly held at home. Before it hosted the GFMD, Arroyo officials joined the first annual Transatlantic Forum on Migration and Integration (TFMI) held last July in Germany. Last month, President Gloria M. Arroyo signed into law the controversial Japan Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) which increases the number of Filipino nurses and caregivers deployable to Japan in exchange for relaxing restrictions to the latter’s exports and investments in the country.

No domestic economy

The promotion of labor out-migration is driven by the fact that the country does not have a viable domestic economy to speak of – an economy that generates adequate jobs to its people. Despite government land reform, 70 per cent of agricultural land remains in the hands of landlords leaving the country’s millions of farmers unproductive and without a stable income.
Instead of basic industries, what the country has are globally-integrated assembly lines or repackaging plants that exploit labor with low wages and lack of job security because of government’s labor contracting policy.

Moreover, labor wages are frozen low in order to attract foreign investment. It is the same policy that government promotes abroad to market Filipino skills in the form of caregivers, construction workers, and other workers. Filipino seafarers are preferred by international shipping companies because the government tolerates the low wages paid them even if monthly benchmark salaries are higher.

Attribute all these to government’s adherence to neo-colonial and now neo-liberal policies which open the country’s weak economy to unrestricted foreign trade and investment threatening not only the productive livelihoods of many Filipinos but also resulting in the shutdown of small industries. Neo-liberal policies exacerbate poverty and unemployment and are generally counter-productive in terms of building a self-sustaining economy and giving jobs.

Epic proportions

With some 4 million jobless Filipinos and another 12 per cent underemployed, unemployment under Arroyo has worsened – in epic proportions since the last 50 years. Thus out-migration is a safety valve to the unemployed, including thousands of professionals – the last exit from a country that is about to implode in a social unrest.

Labor out-migration has also become a political tool of sorts used by the regime to arrest a growing restlessness – if not discontent – among the people against a corrupt and weak government for its inability to provide jobs and a better future for its people. Yet while its economic management increasingly relies on foreign remittances the government has not seriously taken steps to safeguard the rights of OFWs and improve their labor conditions. For instance, of 193 destination countries for Filipino workers the country has only a handful of bilateral labor agreements.

The more the economy is stagnant, the less its ability to create jobs, the more dependent government becomes on overseas labor deployment. What government cannot provide it sells in the world market to help sustain the economies of advanced countries – that bear constant crisis anyway – and the domestic needs of their ageing populations. But this is dangerous, and not only because even before the government would take this extreme option the whole economy would have collapsed. It will erode the urgency for drastic policy reform and new governance and it will calm the people into complacency and defeatism. Or it can be used by the government to evade comprehensive policy reform that would make the economy more responsive to the basic social and economic rights of the people.

But in the first place what can we expect from a government that persists in the doctrine established by previous regimes embedding economic policies to global, transnational business perspectives? Instructive at this point is a critique of the GFMD by the parallel International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR)(4) last week: The GFMD and the UN secretary general’s pro-migration declaration “arose in the midst of the worsening world economic crisis – where far more advanced…countries are fighting their way out of this crisis even as they retain their…control and power, while poverty, unemployment, and underdevelopment continue to aggravate the lives of peoples of Third World countries.” __________________________________________
End notes

(1) S.P. Go, “Remittances and International Labor Migration: Impact on the Philippines,” Metropolis Inter-Conference Seminar on Immigration and Homeland, May 9-12, 2002, Dubrovnik.

(2) Migrant labor remittances do not include those brought home directly by vacationing Filipinos or by door-to-door transactions, thus the total remittances could be more. In 2007, it is estimated to be as much as $18 billion.

(3) According to the government Commission on Filipino Overseas (CFO, 2008). Other estimates put the number at 10 million in nearly 197 countries.

(4) Held also in Manila on Oct. 28-30, 2008, the IAMR was organized by Migrante International together with the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), IBON Foundation, and other groups.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Norms for democracy
Friday, November 07, 2008
From The Manila Times

Once again the United States of America, our former “mother country”—in other words, the state of which were were a colony), has given us and the world an example to follow in the ways of democracy. In particular, the conduct of last Tuesday’s presidential and senatorial election is something we Filipinos should try our best to emulate.

Yes, there were mild instances of voter registration and possibly actually voting fraud. But these were immediately resolved. And the cases reported in Ohio, which seemed to be the worst, were apparently shown to have been wildly exaggerated.

Before nightfall of election day, there were already states in which the clear winner—between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen John McCain—as well as the winners of the senatorial contests were already known. By Tuesday night (Wednesday in Manila), the final winners were known so that The Manila Times Thursday issue already had the frontpage headline “MR. PRESIDENT” with the large picture of President-elect Barack Hussein Obama.

The transparency of the electoral process, the probity of election officers, the vigilance and fairness of election watchers of both the Democratic and Republican parties are things we Filipinos must resolve to have in the 2010 elections.

All the hate that anti-Americans all over the world have felt and expressed these past years for President G. W. Bush seemed to vanish with the victory of Mr. Obama.

For he has become a symbol of hope for a better America and a better world. The fact that he is the first black to become president of the United States made not only African-Americans but also all minority people of the United States weep with joy. Even Filipino Muslims—our Moros—and the Arabs are pinning their hopes for a world without war on President-elect Obama.

Once more the inspiring vision of a clean US election recalled—to those who have America in their hearts like many Filipinos as well as, for instance, many Englishmen, Japanese, Koreans, Hong Kongites and Indians—the opening words by Thomas Jefferson of the Declaration of American Independence and the peroration of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. These documents were learned by that generation of Filipinos who experienced being members of the American commonwealth. They are still studied by students of political science everywhere in the world.

Says the preamble to the US Declaration of Independence:“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . .”

And says President Abe Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

McCain’s example

The defeated Republican candidate for president, Sen. John McCain, is well recognized as an American hero who “started making sacrifices for his country since he was 17 years old.” Held as a prisoner of war and tortured by his Vietnamese captors, he refused to be freed as a special case when the North Vietnam officials, on learning that his father was an Admiral of the US Navy, wanted to release him. MrCain wanted his fellow prisoners to be freed with him.

In conceding defeat to Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain again gave an inspiring example of patriotism. As soon as it was clear that he had no more chance of winning, Mr. McCain called up Mr. Obama and congratulated him.

Then he publicly announced his concession, calling on all Americans and particularly those who fought for him against Mr. Obama to unite behind the new leader of the American nation.

“My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly . . . A little while ago, I had the honor of calling senator Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love,” he said.

“In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance.” He then paid tribute to Mr. Obama’s virtues and gave special acknowledgement of the historic importance of America’s having chosen the first black president of the United States.

Will we Filipinos ever become as patriotic in our politics as Mr. McCain? Will defeated candidates in our country ever learn to ask us, the citizenry, to unite and help the winning candidate succeed in doing a good job serving the people? Will defeated candidates ever learn not to work to undermine the elected officials?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama wins; first black U.S. president
Obama rides wind of change to historic US victory
Wed Nov 5, 2008 9:16 am EST

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

“WASHINGTON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Barack Obama rode a wave of voter discontent to an historic White House victory, promising change as the first black U.S. president but facing enormous challenges from a deep economic crisis and two lingering wars.

“Obama led Democrats to a sweeping victory that expanded their majorities in both houses of Congress as Americans emphatically rejected Republican President George W. Bush's eight years of leadership.

“Raucous street celebrations erupted across the country, but Obama will have little time to enjoy the victory. He was expected to start work on Wednesday, planning his formal takeover on Jan. 20 and assembling a team to tackle the financial crisis and other challenges.

“The son of a black father from Kenya and white mother from Kansas, Obama was born when black Americans were still battling segregationist policies in the South. His triumph over Republican rival John McCain on Tuesday is a milestone that could help the United States get beyond its long, brutal history of racism.

“It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, at this defining moment, change has come to America," Obama, 47, told some 240,000 ecstatic supporters gathered in Chicago's Grant Park.”

From Philippine Daily Inquirer
Why Obama has won
By John NeryPhilippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:57:00 10/28/2008

“…It is in the culture of politics that Obama has already won: This former community organizer has turned his campaign into one massive organizing effort unlike anything seen before—a campaign that has the potential to change the political game in the United States forever.

“Last Oct. 8, the Huffington Post published the first part of Zack Exley’s detailed report on Obama’s “ground game.” The piece begins: “Inside the Obama campaign, almost without anyone noticing, an insurgent generation of organizers has built the Progressive movement a brand new and potentially durable people’s organization, in a dozen states, rooted at the neighborhood level.”

“What follows (verified by numerous other reports, such as those that can be found in Nate Silver’s is detail after revealing, riveting detail about a political movement.

“Win or lose, ‘The New Organizers’ have already transformed thousands of communities—and revolutionized the way organizing itself will be understood and practiced for at least the next generation. Obama must continue to feed and lead the organization they have built—either as president or in opposition.”

From Philippine Daily Inquirer
There's The Rub
By Conrado de Quiros
First Posted 02:22:00 11/05/2008

“…As in Marcos’ time, murder and mayhem are running riot in this country again. Gonzales says nothing will change whether Obama or McCain becomes US president. He wishes. If Obama wins, the killings of journalists and political activists won’t be lost on the eyes of Washington. If Obama wins, the complaints of Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, and the UN Special Rapporteur about the Philippines’ “culture of impunity” won’t be lost on the ears of Washington. Certainly, Obama won’t dismiss Philip Alston as “just a ‘muchacho’ [houseboy] of the UN.” While at this, I’d be very curious to hear what Raul Gonzalez has to say about a black US president.

“With Gonzales and company now going for high-profile targets (the latest is James Balao, an outstanding alumnus of the University of the Philippines in Baguio City and founding member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance) in a bloody, archaic and senseless campaign to rid the world of communists, or people they presume to be so, an Obama presidency will be as welcome to them as an Arroyo impeachment. One case especially has the potential to become America’s symbolic gesture to restore human rights to the Philippines, and that is the case of Jonas Burgos. Jonas’ father at least, if not Jonas himself, is well known to Americans. Joe Burgos was named one of the 100 most important journalists in the world by international news organizations at the end of the last century. That his son should become a “desaparecido” [disappeared] for being just as vigilant as he is in the defense of freedom, only a George Bush or a John McCain can ignore.

“All this may not seem much in the grand scheme of geopolitics. But it sure as hell means the world to those who have lost kin and friend to a murderous regime. It sure as hell means the world to those who believe in justice and freedom and democracy and continue to fight for them. In any case, who says geopolitics is a grand scheme?

“Human life is the grandest scheme of all. Saving it is the most dramatic change there is.”

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Philippines: The collapse of peace in Mindanao

From PinoyPress
PUBLISHED ON October 25, 2008 AT 8:27 PM

Jakarta/Brussels, 23 October 2008: A new Supreme Court ruling has ended hope of a peaceful resolution in the near future to the decades-old conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippines government.

The Philippines: The Collapse of Peace in Mindanao,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, says the immediate task now is to prevent escalation of fighting and discourage the government and local officials from arming civilians. Interested governments and donors should press both sides to keep existing ceasefire mechanisms in place, while quietly urging a return to talks.

“Peace talks have broken down before but never in this way, with government institutions and the political elite fundamentally rejecting the achievements of the negotiators. It will be much harder this time, even if talks resume, to simply pick up from where they left off,” says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group Senior Adviser.

The court ruling on 14 October, preceded by an injunction on 4 August, effectively killed an extraordinary Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain that was the culmination of eleven years’ negotiation. It acknowledged the Muslims of Mindanao, the Bangsamoro, as a First Nation and gave wide powers to the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) that was to be set up as their homeland. The agreement was negotiated with little public consultation, and when the extent of the BJE’s proposed territory was revealed – even though affected communities were to be offered a chance to opt in or out in a plebiscite – local officials demanded the signing be stopped.

A few MILF “renegade” commanders then launched attacks on civilians and the military responded with “punitive actions” against them. Renewed fighting has claimed some 100 civilian lives and displaced some 390,000 but remains largely restricted to areas where these commanders operate. Several factors are militating against a return of the two sides to all-out war, but the Supreme Court ruling and the sense that the strategy of talking peace has failed could lead other commanders to join the “renegades.”

“Both sides need to learn lessons from this debacle,” says John Virgoe, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “The government needs to be more engaged with its own negotiating team, head off potential spoilers through consultation or cooptation, and be prepared to deliver what it promises. The MILF needs to show more backbone in dealing with errant commanders.”