MANILA, Philippines - Proving resiliency, money sent home by Filipinos abroad hit a record in December to grow faster than target last year amid concerns of potential lay-offs in the Middle East because of low oil prices.
Cash remittances coursed through banks totaled $2.47 billion in December, up 4.9 percent from the previous year's $2.354 billion, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported on Friday.
This brought last year's total tally to $25.767 billion, an increase of 4.6 percent that was faster than the central bank's revised forecast of 4 percent.
"The continued deployment of skilled overseas Filipino workers remained a key factor to the growth in remittance inflows," BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. said in a statement.
A total of 1.8 million overseas Filipino workers were deployed last year, the central bank said, citing data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
Additionally, there were 835,247 job orders which POEA approved last year, 45 percent of which were already processed and are steps away for deployment.
Interestingly, three of the five countries with most job orders were from the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait. Taiwan and Hong Kong were the other two.
The Aquino administration is readying mitigation and response measures to potential labor retrenchments in the oil-rich Middle East amid plunging prices of the commodity.
"So far because of the Middle East governments have very deep pockets they've been able to put off layoffs," said Emilio Neri Jr., lead economist at the Bank of the Philippine Islands.
"But our concern is whether this can be sustained in the long-term basis and if it will persist, how the cash flows of these governments can be negatively affected," he said in a phone interview.
To an extent, Neri said the "protracted" decline in oil prices is "somewhat unique" when compared with previous threats to OFWs such as the global financial crisis and geopolitical concerns.
Around 2 million Filipinos are living and working in the Middle East, according to data from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.
But Neri said bulk of remittances come from the US. Detailed BSP data on remittances per territory were unavailable as of press time.
"It's hard to name a particular month or semester that we will see the deficits of the Middle East economies to widen excessively. It can happen anytime," he said.
"The important thing is we should be prepared," he added.
The BSP still expects remittances to grow 4 percent this year.