February 24, 2018, 10:14 pm
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Old problem

WHEN the martial-law era Department of Labor under Blas F. Ople discovered and developed the market for Filipino labor abroad, the novel idea proved to be as bright at sunshine.

Ople himself became endeared as an important adjunct of the Marcos dispensation, and was some sort of a hero for thousands of skilled workers who found it hard to get jobs locally but became prized technicians abroad, and with better pay.

The Philippine economy, in the doldrums for so long, suddenly became the beneficiary of thousands of dollars worth of remittances from the OFWs, and rural villages saw the rise of a new middle class from the ranks of poor peasants and subsistence fisherfolk.

The nation’s dependence on remittances, now totalling some $2 billion a year, resulted however in official complacency so that industrialization and agricultural modernization have not been given the priority they deserve. 

Thus, local jobs and small businesses that should rise with national industrialization and modern agriculture are still badly lacking, several decades after the government embarked on massive labor export. The social costs of family separation and the rearing of children without one or two parents have been tremendous. Filipino workers in other countries, mostly the Middle East, suffer untold sacrifices and hardship, discrimination, violence, rape, etc.

Recently, a domestic helper in Kuwait was the victim of various violence. In two months’ time, seven died in that oil-rich country -- three by suicide, two by charcoal poisoning, one caught in love triangle, one found dead inside a freezer.

President Duterte had to take the very hard decision to ban the deployment of domestic workers in Kuwait, and to repatriate those who would like to return home. Local airline Cebu Pacific was even requested to fly returning workers to Manila.

The labor group Migrante International raised a valid point when it said the government of Kuwait was not solely to blame for the alleged abuses against migrant workers. Protecting our workers is the responsibility of our government, specifically our DOLE and DFA offices in Kuwait and in the Middle East.

Repatriating these workers will pose more problems for the nation, as there is a dearth of good-paying jobs for them in the Philippines.

Presidents before Duterte all promised to develop the economy and provide enough jobs for the people, but this seems a long way off. All administrations after Marcos further developed the export of Filipino labor abroad but failed to achieve genuine industrialization for the nation.

Perhaps Duterte would be able to provide the game changer?
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