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Where have Filipinos gone?
With an area of only about 300,000 km2 and a population of more than 98 million to date, the Philippines could be likened to a huge can of sardines which could only allot around 3 square meters of individual space per person. That is, if all of us are actually inhabiting the country.
However, ask a young Filipino what he or she plans to do in the future are and chances are, one of them is to go abroad. You can look in the most remote of barrios in the Philippines and you would find huge houses. With no apparent source of income because of lack of employment opportunities in the area, how would these people afford to build houses like that? The answer is simple. At least one of its family members is working abroad.
The Philippines is a very beautiful country. This is evident enough in the fact that one of the major income generators of our country is tourism. So why do more and more Filipinos want to work abroad?
There are many factors, actually. The first one involves three words: FOREIGN EXCHANGE RATE.
For example, a “kasambahay” or a household helper would normally earn around Php 2,000.00 to Php 3,500.00 per month here in the Philippines. If they go abroad, the value would be much higher because the Philippine Peso’s value in foreign exchange is low. So even if Filipino domestic helpers would only go to Thailand, the same value in Thai Baht which is at a ratio of 1.00 Baht : Php 3.00 would go a long way. A domestic helper earning Php 3,500.00 per month here in the Philippines would be able to send home Php 10,500.00 – a wage rate that is comparable to a salary rate for jobs that require a university degree.
So imagine if the Pinay domestic helper would go to Italy – 1 Euro is equivalent to Php 60.79. And this is the reason why even if people would only go abroad to do blue-collared jobs, they mostly end up getting rich and being successful upon return to the Philippines.
This is also the reason why there occurs a “brain drain” in our country. If blue-collar job workers are lured in the promise of a bigger value for their salaries, more so are the professionals and other executives. The average office-based worker who earns around Php 15,000.00 per month would be able to send home at least double that amount.
The second factor would be high price of commodities.
Everything in the Philippines is being taxed - as a result, the prices of commodities are being inflated. The salary that a worker receives is automatically deducted of income tax. When you go to work, whether you need to take the public transport or drive your own car, petroleum products are being taxed. If you need to take the expressway to go to work, the toll rates are also being taxed. In effect, only a fraction of one’s actual income is being used by the family. The value-added tax is equivalent to 12.5 percent. With one’s income-tax deductions plus the VAT in each and every commodity that one has to pay for, the average wage earners salary usually gets spent within the first week upon receipt.
It also does not help that as mentioned a while ago, petroleum products are being taxed. Petroleum products are imported. Remember that we also said that the peso vs foreign currency exchange rate is low so petroleum products are very expensive. Because transportation affects everything, it also does not help that not only are petroleum products imported and expensive, these are also tax-laden.
It is said that the Philippines is a country with one of the highest tax rates in the world. This is also one of the factors why Filipinos would rather go abroad to work. Not only will they receive a greater value for their efforts, they would also be able to buy things abroad at a lower price than their equivalent here in the Philippines.
The third factor would be poor benefits.
These benefits are not only those being offered by companies but also benefits or services from the government.
Filipino workers are poorly compensated. Most companies nowadays and even government agencies prefer contractualization. A no fuss-no worry arrangement wherein services are rendered with no strings attached. Comtractual employees are only given 6-month contracts that do not entitle them to employer-employee relationship that entails benefits in order to lessen the operational expenses of the company or organization.
On the other hand, because of rampant corruption and bureaucracy, even if the taxes are high, the services being rendered by the government are poor in quality because of mismanagement of funds. Lucky these days because the public schools are slowly gaining good reputation but 10 years ago, when you say that a child is studying in a public elementary school, there is a great chance that he or she may graduate from elementary without even being able to construct a decent sentence. Public hospitals are so poorly funded that most of the hospital buildings are war era buildings. This is not the case when you go abroad.
There is also that sort of mentality that anything foreign is superior of quality. “Pasalubongs” from relatives and friends abroad are regarded with high esteem. The prevailing mentality is that “stateside” goods are far better in quality than those of locally produced items. This is also one reason why most Filipinos aspire to go abroad to work. In order to be able to afford and provide imported quality goods for their loved ones.
One other factor is the birth of social media.
Because now, it is not so lonely to go abroad anymore since the birth of facebook, twitter and other forms of social media, more and more Filipinos are encouraged to go abroad since the major hindrance of being homesick is diminished. Now, even if a loved one is abroad, there is no reason why you cannot talk to your loved ones and even see their faces while doing so because live chats are now possible.
Another thing, the concern about Philippine disasters.
The reason why the Philippines is such a beautiful country - its archipelagic structure also makes it prone to a lot of disasters and calamities. Being part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, volcano eruptions and earthquakes are to be expected. Just recently, a series of calamities that shook the whole world devastated portions of the country.
This is also one more reason why Filipinos would rather go abroad, not only temporarily, they sometimes strive to petition their families abroad so that they would no longer have to worry about perennial typhoons, floods and earthquakes that are just waiting to happen.
Many of these workers have experienced having strived so hard to build their houses or their businesses only to be torn down by calamities which one cannot blame to anyone but nature. So, they would rather find “greener pastures” and look for other places where they believe that their families and investments could be safer.
High salaries, low priced commodities, great services and benefits minus the calamities and homesick factor. The question would no longer be, Why Filipinos go abroad but rather, Why would they stay?
And why would they not entertain the idea of going abroad and living and working with foreigners when we have been used to them practically all our lives?
The Philippines is laden with a rich history of foreign occupants. In fact, Filipinos are a mix of Spanish, American, Chinese and Malay origins. Foreign is not so foreign in the Philippines.
Lastly, the Philippines is in debt.
As it is now, even our children’s grandchildren has debts that they would have to pay for even before they were born. Even with the high amount of tax that we pay, it is not enough. The country has been through a lot of tumultuous times. Each time we go down and rise up again, we need to borrow from other countries. And I do not need to repeat myself that peso-foreign exchange rate is very, very low.
It also does not help either that the Philippine unemployment rate is high. So even if a Filipino wants to stay here to work, if he or she does not find employment, there is no choice but to go someplace else. College graduates are competing for few positions, what is in store for undergraduates?
One concrete example is the case of Filipino nurses. Here in the Philippines, the nurses’ salaries are low. But abroad, they are sometimes one of the highest paid professionals. However, with the decline of the demand for nurses abroad, few opportunities for nurses in the local hospitals and more students graduating from nursing schools, nurses are forced to take other employment opportunities abroad like being domestic helpers, caregivers and babysitters.
The Philippine government is also riddled with a history of corruption. Many enlightened Filipinos now feel that every peso that they pay to the government is only being wasted on corrupt practices. There is lack of credibility in most Philippine public officials. Corruption and Bribery is the norm. Filipinos feel as if their hard-earned money is only being wasted on ghost projects, ghost employees and most recently, ghost corporations and NGOs that only serve as dummies for government officials to funnel government funds into their own pockets.
Strictly speaking, if given a choice, the Philippines is a very beautiful country to reside in. This is the reason why many foreigners choose to live here. However, due to the reasons enumerated earlier, even if it meant being far from loved ones, more Filipinos are choosing to go abroad to work because they think that they could support their families more if they work abroad.
Believe me, I know what I am talking about. My husband spends part of his time abroad as a ship official and this is the reason why our family is living quite comfortably.
I think this situation should come to an end soon. I hope there comes a time when local opportunities are equal or even superior compared to the opportunities abroad so that Filipinos need not leave their homeland in search of greener pastures because the grass is greener in the Philippines.