Human Side Of Economics


(Part 3)

At least for the duration of the current Administration, the Philippine economy will continue to be highly dependent for its growth in income, employment, and foreign exchange earnings on the 10 million or more OFWs spread out in close to 100 countries all over the world.

Taking a pragmatic view, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., in his message on National Migrants Workers Day on June 7, vowed to boost the Philippines’ ties with nations that host Filipino migrant workers. That is a clear signal that he does not expect that under his watch, the Philippines will be less reliant on the earnings of OFWs. He is just being realistic. This does not mean that he is oblivious to the high social costs of sending Filipinos to earn their living abroad. As we have seen in the previous articles in this series, children of OFWs pay high educational, social, and mental costs that can be directly attributed to the absence of one or both parents. A very dramatic presentation of these social, mental, and psychological costs to children can be viewed in the Tagalog movie starring Vilma Santos called Anak. Vilma plays the role of Josie, an OFW working in Hong Kong as a domestic helper, and Claudine Barretto as Carla, her daughter. If these costs are not minimized as much as possible, there will be adverse effects on future generations of workers whose quality may deteriorate because of mental and psychological stresses that they suffered in their youth from parental absenteeism.

Since the dependence of the Philippine economy on OFWs is sure to continue at least for the next decade or so, one obvious policy that the Government must implement is to reduce these social costs as much as possible. One example is the recent House Bill (HB) No. 8560 filed by OFW Rep. Marissa del Magsino called the Overseas Filipino Workers’ Left Behind Children Protection Act. In the bill’s explanatory note, Ms. Magsino cited the case of children who were killed by the partners of the remaining parents while the OFWs were working abroad. There must be a law that would regulate the behavior of those who are supposed to take care of the children left behind by OFW parents. HB 8560 proposes that OFWs leaving their minor children behind be required to designate in writing a temporary guardian who will exercise parental responsibility over the children.

Among of the provisions of HB 8560, any of the following persons may be designated as temporary guardians: surviving grandparents, older siblings more than 21 years old, relatives of the minor child within the third degree of consanguinity, the minor child’s actual custodian who must be more than 21 years old, and any person known to possess a good moral character as certified by the barangay unit having jurisdiction over the residence of the minor child and with no known criminal record or history. To ensure the effectiveness of the system, the bill mandates close monitoring by barangay officials and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Individual schools, working closely with the Department of Education, can also provide for the welfare of these left-behind children through appropriate individual and group mentoring and counselling. In a study done by Klent Rodni Delima entitled “Challenge of the Left-Behind Adolescent Children of the Overseas Filipino Worker,” it is recommended that counsellors and educators help the left-behind children who are having a difficult time adjusting to the family situation by assisting them in developing emotional resilience and better understanding of what is happening in their lives. Educators, the guidance center, school administrators, and officials from the Department of Education can establish programs through which left-behind children can benefit in establishing better connection with their OFW parents, learning from other left-behind children’s experiences. They should be given the assurance that they are not alone in this critical stage of their development.

There have also been important initiatives of both religious and secular NGOs to address the problem of the left-behind children. For example, the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has a formation program for left-behind children that has contributed to sharply decreasing emotional concerns reported by schools attended by the children. One of the more successful programs of the CBCP was the Migration Quiz Bee whose goal is to raise awareness of migration issues and concerns among the children. The program also provides scholarships and livelihood activities. Such lay organizations as Couples for Christ and Marriage Encounter can also organize activities for families of OFWs for their members to find practical ways of strengthening the marriage bond and family spirit, despite the temporary physical separation. Private initiatives among parents, such as the Education for the Upbringing of Children, could offer specialized courses for the left-behind spouses and guardians on how to deal with the upbringing in the homes of children who have at least one parent working abroad. Specific “cases” (like the business cases in an MBA program) can be written to serve as bases for discussing different approaches to situations and problems faced by both the children and parents in the OFW setting. For example, the movie Anak can be shown to the participating parents and then a discussion can ensue on how the different difficult situations portrayed in the film can be addressed as intelligently and prudently as possible.

World Remit, a remittance outfit, came out with some ways OFW parents themselves can support their children’s human development while they are abroad. Among them — together with my own suggestions — are:

1. Schedule regular family bonding activities with the help of such readily available technology as Zoom, Facebook Messenger, and others. For example, there can be weekly movie sessions (especially with the many very entertaining TV series available on Netflix). Parents and children can work on a vlog together; or take a fitness class together. The OFW parent can teach the left-behind child how to cook or to do simple household chores. Time spent together, even if online, is very precious to the child.

2. Encourage deep conversations. Choose serious topics although light banter is also very important. Deep conversation can be about some topics from subjects that are being currently covered in the child’s school curriculum, political and economic events, life goals, or learnings from life’s experiences. The parents should not hesitate to entertain difficult questions. At the right age, there should be education on sexuality, mother to daughter and father to son. Sex education is the prerogative of parents and should not be handled casually in school.

3. Promote safety protocols: reiterate how important it is to follow safety protocols such as staying at home as much as possible, avoiding dangerous districts of the city, wearing masks and face shields if still mandated by the appropriate authority.

4. Provide the necessary equipment with the advent of new educational technology, especially in the post-pandemic era. Be sure the children are ready for a mixture of blended learning: face to face, online, distance, and home schooling. Children should be provided with funds for additional resources, whether it be a laptop, a tablet, or a new phone.

The children have also some responsibilities to assume. In an article by Irene Pajarillo-Aquino on the internet entitled “Children of Overseas Filipino Workers and their Academic Performance,” it was stressed that the left-behind children must also share part of the responsibility of forming themselves despite the absence of one or both parents. They should strive to study hard despite the absence of their parents. The sacrifices their parents are making should inspire them to take their studies seriously and to perform as well as possible in school. The educational institution should provide the students with the necessary guidance and assistance in the form of counselling or mentoring, lessening to the extent possible the feeling of longing and loneliness on the part of the left-behind children.

If properly guided, the children of OFWs may actually be sufficiently encouraged to repay their OFW parents for the sacrifices they are making by being among the top students academically in their respective courses. They may be recipients of additional resources from scholarship programs established by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). In this regard, the President and Secretary Susan Ople may want to do something about the report of the Commission on Audit that OWWA is not doing a good job in implementing the Project Educational Assistance through Scholarship Emergencies (EASE), a scholarship program for the children of OFWs. For 2022, the implementation rate was only 10.26%. Every possible benefit we can confer on the OFWs is richly deserved.

(To be continued.)


Bernardo M. Villegas has a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, is professor emeritus at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting professor at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.