Overseas Filipinos Worldwide’s Open Letter to President-Elect of the Philippines, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III


Overseas Filipinos Worldwide’s Open Letter to President-Elect of the Philippines
Highlights Recommendations for Addressing Migration and Development Issues

KOWLOON, Hong Kong – May, 25, 2010 – A network, composed of overseas Filipinos worldwide based in many countries and in the Philippines, recently wrote an open letter to Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, president-elect of the Republic of the Philippines. The open letter highlights the perspectives unique to migrant Filipinos and offers solutions that could impact transformational, positive changes in policy making. After many years of collaboration and cooperation, the group, which represents various organizations implementing projects in the Philippines and in their host countries, offers a starting reference point for the incoming administration, led by President-Elect Aquino, to more effectively harness the Philippines’ migration gains into mechanisms for the development of the Philippines and its hometown communities.

The open letter points out several key economic points, among them:

 Migration gains are mainly remittances by overseas Filipinos to their family members, approximately USD17 billion, and are the primary source of livelihood for millions of Philippine households.

 At 10.8% of the country’s GDP, migration gains are also the third biggest source of the country’s foreign currency reserves, acting as the primary driver of the Philippine economy, thus shielding the country from bankruptcy during the current economic meltdown and the 1997 financial crisis.

 The Filipino diaspora, estimated currently at about 10 million Filipinos working or residing in 239 countries and territories worldwide, have sent donations to the Philippines for various humanitarian causes, such as disaster relief, medical missions, school houses, and other infrastructure. These contributions have supplemented local and national Philippine government deficits and, as of 2003, have already amounted to USD218 million, per central bank figures in that year. Not included are other investments made by OFWs in real estate, education, and health care for their family members, and consumer goods and services.

The group emphasizes the urgent need to push for genuine poverty alleviation after 30-plus years of heavy reliance on labor export, and as thousands of Filipinos continue to leave every day for overseas jobs or contracts. Although the “Philippine model of overseas migration” is considered an ideal model for other migrant-origin countries to emulate and copy, the group believes that social costs that migration has incurred have not been successfully addressed by past administrations. They cite examples of countries such as South Korea, Ireland, and Italy, once considered labor-exporting countries, that evolved from their “migration hump” by taking advantage of their workers’ remittances, investing them to develop local infrastructure, shipyards, factories, and other industries. As a result, a “brain gain” occurred. Many of these expatriates left their high-paying jobs abroad, convinced that their home countries’ governments were effective and that they could trust their country’s inspired leadership.

The open letter frankly addresses Senator Aquino: “Shall we continue to send out our people and rely on remittances and without any development objectives in sight? Conversely, don’t we have the talent to formulate a road map toward self-sufficiency over a period of time, in order that the hemorrhage of talents could be stopped, that a crisis in our dysfunctional families and society at large could be averted, and so that our people do not have to take migration as a forced option? If long-term migration goals are set now, the government could, in the meantime, work on some basic but urgent deployment and migration issues in order to clear the way toward having a genuine and serious program on translating migration gains for use in human development.”

The authors of the letter suggest that the new president consider the following:

 The government must send clear and strong signals that migration and remittances are only temporary measures to help the government prepare for a longer-term goal of self-sufficiency, in which Filipinos no longer look at migration as a forced option. A suggestion is for these signals to be integrated in the NEDA-formulated Medium-Term Development Plans, highlighting gender sensitivity.

 Create a position for a Special Presidential Adviser on Migration and Development, who will work with a consultative technical working group (TWG) composed of qualified individuals who have a background in migration and development, including knowledgeable and committed migrant leaders. The TWG’s work, which does not supplant the work of government migration agencies, could evolve into a draft legislation for study by Congress’s standing committee on OFWs or form the basis for an Executive or Administrative Order, whichever is appropriate or achievable.

 Conduct a comprehensive review and monitoring of the performance of government agencies in charge of migrant workers, such as the POEA, OWWA, CFO, and Department of Foreign Affairs. The goal is to strengthen these vital institutions toward efficiency and effectiveness.

 Reforms within OWWA are necessary to promote transparency and accountability regarding departing OFWs’ contributions of USD25 each, a requirement for departure and membership in OWWA and entitlement of welfare benefits. The group suggests possible solutions on how to address mismanagement and audits.

 The work of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) and the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NCRO) needs to be addressed so they are given the appropriate level of funding, resources, and support. These two agencies are doing important work in mobilizing diaspora contributions for development and assistance to OFWs who are reintegrating to Philippine society after working abroad.

 An institutionalized nationwide program on financial literacy for OFWs and their families is necessary to encourage a savings or investment mind-set and to deter excessive spending on non-essentials. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) , the lead government agency that has been conducting financial literacy programs for migrant workers and their families since 2006 in more than 30 Philippine cities and 10 cities overseas, could be improved and expanded. A recommendation for the involvement of the Department of Education, Culture, & Sports (DECS) to include financial literacy and migration as part of the school curriculum is also proposed.

Although the open letter focuses on recommendations for specific OFW issues, the network of overseas Filipinos is hopeful of the president-elect’s electoral campaign promises, which includes good governance, better access to health, education, employment and livelihood, and business opportunities for everyone. The group closes the open letter with apparent goodwill and optimism: “The (proposed government) programs are all in the right track, constitute the basic elements for self-sufficiency, and provide viable options to our citizens to remain in the country and to devote their talents and resources to developing the homeland.”

The copy of the Open Letter is also available at http://bit.ly/cG1Scs.

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Open Letter to Sen Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, President-Elect of the Philippines – May 25, 2010


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