MANILA, Philippines – A wave of revolutions in the Middle East, a tidal wave of apocalyptic dimensions in Japan.
These events thousands of miles away from the Philippines, and yet, their impact on the country is no less devastating.
The shockwaves from the so-called Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya and other Middle Eastern nations, and the great Sendai earthquake and Tsunami in Japan forced hundreds, even thousands of Filipino migrant workers to flee these danger zones and return to their homeland.
Their untimely departure was meant to ensure their physical safety. But for many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) like Lorna Catungan, it also brought them closer to economic jeopardy back home.
Catungan has been an OFW for the last 8 years, six of those as a domestic helper in Hong Kong.
Only recently, she was employed as a teacher in Libya, making use of her training as a BS Education degree holder from the Philippine Normal University.
“Kung ako lang ang masusunod, ayoko sanang umuwi hangga’t masu-sustain ko na mag stay doon. Gusto ko kasing magkaroon ng another employment. Ayaw naman akong payagan ng nanay ko kasi sobrang na-trauma siya sa nangyari, sa experience ko sa Libya,” she said.
But the rebellion against the decades-old regime of Moammar Gadhafi made it unsafe for her and many other Filipinos in Libya to remain in the
Catungan gave up her teaching job and with it, the income she needed to support her mother and married siblings as well as her niece.
If Catungan were to look for another job in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia may no longer offer any opportunities for her or for thousands of other OFWs.
Only last year, the deployment of OFWs to Saudi Arabia reached a 7-year high with over 293,000 Filipino workers hired or re-hired in the kingdom.
But the Kingdom’s labor policy of Saudization will now limit the job openings for Filipino workers and is prioritizing the hiring of Saudi Arabian citizens.
Although the process of Saudization will be gradually applied, it raises the unwelcome prospect of even more unemployed Filipinos who would otherwise have found work in Saudi Arabia.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz estimates that up to 50,000 OFWs may be affected by Saudization, and if other Arab states implement a similar labor nationalization program, the number of jobless OFWs could increase.
And yet, for some of the over 1 million OFWs already in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom may no longer be as attractive a job destination as it was
The problems of inhumane treatment by their Arab employers, unfair wages and unreasonably long working hours have made it unbearable for some OFWs to remain in the kingdom.
Rudy Salem worked as a janitor in Saudi Arabia for six months. He and 2 other Filipino co-workers escaped from their employer, unable to withstand the working conditions they found themselves in.
With hardly anything saved from his stint in Saudi Arabia, Salem returned to the Philippines to take shelter at a friend’s house in Malabon, and with no idea of where to find his next job.
The disruption in the employment of Filipinos in the Middle East and in Japan is also expected to reduce the inflow of hard currency into the Philippines.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas expected remittances to grow 8 percent this year, but it has scaled this back to 7 percent.
The loss of overseas job openings puts even greater pressure on the Aquino administration to live up to the president’s inaugural pledge.
The president said during his inaugural: “Our goal is to create jobs at home so that there will be no need to look for employment abroad. However, as we work towards that end, I am ordering the DFA, POEA, OWWA, and other relevant agencies to be even more responsive to the needs and welfare of our overseas Filipino workers.”
In the early part of this year, 3 Filipinos convicted for drug trafficking in China were executed.
Sally Villanueva, Ramon Credo and Elizabeth Batain were caught by Chinese authorities in 2008 while trying to smuggle in heroin.
Their cases highlight the desperation that in some large measure keeps Filipino workers spreading around the globe despite the hazards they face in other lands.