New Labor-Export Policy Commodifies Filipinos


Apart from adding to the burden of those who seek job abroad, the Labor Export Policy bill now pending in Congress could mean that the government will no longer generate local jobs because it would be easier to deploy them to foreign countries.

MANILA - The Philippines is one of the biggest sources of migrant labor, with about 10 percent of its population spread in countries around the world. Their billions and billions of dollars in remittances every year have helped prop up the economy and serve as a lifeline to their families back home.

These workers have become so profitable and indispensable for the government that now, a new Labor Export Policy pending in the House of Representative promises to squeeze more out of them. Under House Bill 287, migrant workers are now close to being a commodity, like those native delicacies that the country exports.

Critics of the bill say that apart from adding to the burden of those who seek job abroad, the Labor Export Policy could mean that the government will no longer generate local jobs because it would be easier to deploy them to foreign countries.

The labor-export policy in the Philippines started during the administration of former president Ferdinand Marcos to cope with the financial crisis. The lack of local job opportunities prompted the Philippine government then to supply the increasing demand for male engineers and skilled workers in the Middle East.

"The government said at the time that it would only be a temporary arrangement," said Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan in an interview with Bulatlat.

Three decades since the Marcos regime, labor export is still the number one factor that props up the Philippine economy through the remittances that overseas Filipino workers send to their families. Ilagan said that aside from the remittances, the government also earns from the payments for the necessary documents that OFWs should secure, like passport and clearances.

The UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Families (UN MWC) has cited the Philippines as one of the biggest sources of migrant workers in the world.


Last week, the House Committee on Overseas Filipino Worker Affairs approved HB 387 that aims to liberalize and accelerate the processing of the papers and deployment of OFWs.

One of the provisions of HB 387 stipulates that the fees charged on OFWs would be reduced by 50 percent. But Ilagan, the only member of the committee who did not sign the bill, said the reduction "can be misleading."

Ilagan believes that recruitment agencies are one of the most lucrative businesses in the Philippines and that it would be impossible for the government to regulate the payments that they would charge on OFWs.

"If they will liberalize and hasten the process, there is a possibility that they will charge more," Ilagan said. She added that recruitment agencies would only implement this on official fees charged to OFWs.

"Lowering the fees? That is absurd," said Garry Martinez, chairman of the migrant-aid group Migrante International. "They said the POEA does not charge a placement fee but look at how much an outgoing OFW pays," he told Bulatlat, referring to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

While the last paragraph of HB 387 guarantees that the government will increase the number of local medical clinics accredited by the receiving foreign employers for the OFWs' health clearances, Ilagan said it is easier said than done.

"Large medical clinics have become so powerful that they are able to establish working relations with receiving countries so that they would be the only ones accredited," Ilagan added.

Number one pimp

Ilagan said that there is a possibility that the number of abuses experienced by Filipino migrant workers in their receiving country will increase. "Of course, because it is being rushed," she said.

Ilagan added that this would eventually relax the regulatory laws that protect the rights of migrant workers. For example, it might make it easier for employers to change the terms and conditions contained in the signed contracts making it disadvantageous to the OFW.

"With the passage of the bill, we should expect more cases of rape, various forms of abuses, and beheadings," said Martinez of Migrante. "We are being bargained. Rush the process, so that we could send people out faster."

Ilagan, meanwhile, believes that the Philippine government is now the leading exporter of labor. "Even Gloria herself goes out of the country to sell our labor resources."

"For the longest time, we've been saying that the Philippine government is the number one illegal recruiter because they have the machineries such as OWWA and POEA. If we are to select a champion, it is the government that is the number one pimp selling our countrymen," Martinez said.

Ilagan said the implication of this new policy is that the government will no longer generate local jobs because it would be easier to deploy them to foreign countries.

"This has become a definite, permanent and proactive practice of the government, to deploy migrants despite all the violations in their contracts, and the continuous victimization being done by illegal recruiters, and despite the fact that some OFWs have been imprisoned, some are in death row," Ilagan added.

The Philippine government might not be able to accommodate the needs of the OFWs if they suddenly increase in number. "There are over eight million OFWs spread out across 193 countries in six continents. Yet there are only 81 government institutions abroad to respond the OFWs' needs," the Philippine Migrant Groups and Advocates (PMGA) stated in a press statement.

PMGA also stated that there is an obvious lack of human and logistical resources to support the welfare of OFWs. They also find the obvious lack of empathy and the bad attitude of some government personnel posted abroad toward the OFWs.

"Stories abound of OFWs in distress, especially victims of gender-based violence, who seek assistance from these posts and receive cold or rude treatment by assigned government personnel or labor attaches," PMGA said.

More women workers

A lot of women, who comprise 70 percent of the newly deployed land-based migrants, work in jobs that are vulnerable to various forms of abuses and exploitative working conditions, such as domestic workers and entertainers. Making matters worse, in some countries, migrant workers are not covered by the local labor and social laws.

Migrante International also noted a growing preference to women migrant workers. Martinez said the Technical Education Skills Development Authority (Tesda) is offering training courses to women to develop their skills to take on jobs that were formerly given to men such as welders, drivers, and mechanics.

"They prefer women since their labor is cheap. They are considered as second-class citizens in some countries. They have lower salaries compared to men," Martinez said.

In dire need of action

Migrante International said because of the government's dependence on labor export, it has neglected the real solution to the problem of unemployment in the Philippines. "Let's go back to national industrialization and to generating jobs within the country," Martinez said.

The president, he said. "should accept the fact that this Labor Export Program will not result in the development of the country. Only local jobs and genuine land reform can solve the crisis."(

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