Digital inclusion for modern Filipino heroes

Z-FACTOR - Joe Zaldarriaga - The Philippine Star

“Bagong bayani” or “new heroes” is a phrase most often associated with Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs. Aptly so- heroes they are as they epitomize dedication and sacrifices to causes larger than their own. These OFWs leave their home countries to labor abroad, striving to provide better lives for their loved ones.

Businessman and philanthropist Manuel V. Pangilinan, who once was once an OFW himself in Hong Kong, recently shared that “OFWs work hard because that’s the only way to cope with homesickness”. This leads me to reflect on the pivotal role our migrant workers play not only in driving economic growth but also in fostering national development.

Filipino migrant workers have indeed become a cornerstone of the economy, serving as a crucial lifeline for the nation. Despite facing the hardships of homesickness, enduring significant personal sacrifices, and navigating through challenging work environments, OFWs persist in their efforts to secure the well-being of their families back home.

On a broader scale, the impact of their contributions extends far beyond individual households, significantly bolstering the country’s economy. Particularly noteworthy is the pivotal role played by the remittances sent by OFWs, which have served as a vital lifeline, sustaining the Philippines during the pandemic and serving as a driving force behind its ongoing economic recovery and expansion.

According to HSBC, remittances have represented around 20 percent of the economy’s current account receipts and around nine percent of gross domestic product (GDP) since 2006. In 2022 alone, the total inflow from OFWs reached an unprecedented USD 36.14 billion, with cash remittances surging by 5.8 percent to USD 3.16 billion compared to the previous year, as reported by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). World Bank reports say that by year-end 2023, Philippines’s cash remittances were projected to rise by 5 percent year-on-year to $40 billion, before growing further to $42 billion in 2024.

Beyond supporting their families back home, OFWs also bring forward significant influence on the development and progress of societies around the world, bringing honor to Filipinos globally.

The contributions of OFWs to our nation’s growth are immeasurable, warranting concerted efforts to safeguard their welfare. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has pledged to uphold this commitment by strengthening diplomatic relations with host countries to ensure the safety and well-being of Filipino migrants.

With approximately 2.5 million Filipinos working abroad, it is incumbent upon our government and citizens to enhance the protection and social services available to OFWs. While the establishment of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) marks a significant stride in this direction, challenges persist in safeguarding their rights and promoting their well-being.

In addition to these social and safety measures, empowering OFWs amid today’s rapid digitalization is important. It is crucial to prioritize inclusive digitalization efforts in the Philippines, ensuring that the advantages are felt even across countries or borders to benefit OFWs globally. Inclusive digitalization facilitates holistic family and work life, ensure holistic interconnectivity not just in terms of communications.

In the modern global landscape, digitalization is indispensable for maintaining economic competitiveness and facilitating access to essential services and information. As digitalization ranks among the top socio-economic priorities of the Marcos administration, collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors are vital to realize this vision effectively, for the benefit of Filipinos here and abroad.

Through strategic partnerships, our nation can deliver enhanced social and digital services to OFWs. Initiatives such as the collaboration between the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and PLDT Global Corp. exemplify this approach, providing OFWs with improved access to essential services. Similarly, partnerships like the one between the DMW and the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center serve to mitigate cyber-related risks and bolster the digital defense of our migrant workers.

These initiatives not only foster a safer digital environment for OFWs but also underscore the government’s unwavering support for them, irrespective of their physical location.

As we navigate the complexities of an increasingly digital world, let us ensure that we all have equitable access to opportunities for progress and prosperity. Let us ensure that no Filipino – whether at home or abroad – gets left behind.

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