The lonely life of OFWs
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - January 26, 2017 - 12:00am

United Nations figures show that in 2015, 104 million of  244 million  international migrants were born in Asia. And the Philippines is the leading source of labor migration in the region. This is confirmed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) report that the number of contracts processed for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the same year totaled more than 2.3 million, 78 percent of whom were for land-based occupations.

OFWs can be found in practically all  nations of the world.  Many are between the ages of 25-34, but more than 15 percent are over the age of 45. There were more  women among  land-based workers in 2010, but considerably fewer among sea-based workers.  Women  make up only three percent of the more than current  400,000 Filipino sea-based workers.

A colloquium recently organized by the Philippine Migration Research Network, under the auspices of the Philippine Social Studies Council, tackled the question of whether it is possible to establish “an integrated rights-based framework” for  workers in the region. Migration specialists spoke about the issues and challenges faced by  ageing Filipino migrants in Europe, the Filipina seafarers working in the male-dominated seafaring industry, and the impact of migration to children of OFWs.

The colloquium, themed “On the Move in a World Without Borders,”  had for speakers authors of research papers, Jorge V. Tigno, who spoke on “Integration or Ritualism? A Rights-Based Framework for Migrant Workers in ASEAN”;  Lucia Tangi, “Globalization and Filipina Women Seafarers on Board Cruise and Merchant Vessels”;  Jonnabell Asis, “Ties that Bind: the Role of Social Networks  on Labour Trajectories and Post-Work Prospects of Filipino Ageing Migrants in Brescia, Italy,” and Mark Abenir, “In Their Voices: The Rights and Capabilities of ‘Anak ng OFW.’”

Jonnabelle Asis, Ph.D., said as of 2013, there were  271,946 Filipino workers, of which 89,742 were permanent workers, and  127,814 temporary workers in Italy. They made up the fifth largest migrant community after Morocco, Albania, China and Ukraine. The ageing migrants are age 50.

Concentrating on workers in Brescia, Lombardy, which produces 3.5 percent of Italian GDP, with a predominance of family-owned small and medium enterprises,  Jonnabelle’s respondents  were engaged in domestic work. Average age was 55.77 for males; majority were married, almost all knew someone before migrating to Italy, and stay in  Italy was 17.7 years. Respondents spoke of better pay if they had studied Italian. Elsa, 63, lived in Italy for 17 years. “I have no children, so for me it doesn’t matter if I will not get a better job. The important thing is to earn money.” Other respondents said ties with Italians and contacts with good jobs “help improve job score,” but opportunities are “mediated by social ties.”

Prof. Lucia P. Tangi of the University of the Philippines  said, “Globalization has shifted the supply of seafarers from traditional maritime nations such as Britain, Greece, Germany and Norway to developing countries like the Philippines.

Tangi said Filipino women seafarers started to work on board cruise ships in the 1980s. The most common types of jobs are cabin girls, waitresses, utility, and massage therapists. The number of women seafarers deployed in 2006 was 6,436 (while the males deployed were 230,586), and the number rose, up to 12,435 in 2014 (as against 401,826 men).

To qualify, applicants must not be more than 29 years old, must have pleasing personality, stand 5 ft. 2 inches, have fair skin, youthful looks and a smiling face. Their basic pay is $50;  $150 is for cabin girls and massage therapists. They work for 16 hours per day,  have no days off, and entitled to limited port leave, no maternity benefits, and being on board with a crew of men, are vulnerable to sexual harassment by male colleagues.

The social costs of seafaring: being away from home for four to six months, women seafarers confess their relationship with their family members is  affected. They experience identity shift when they return home. On board they are officers and their male colleagues follow their orders. But back home, they are “humble servants” of their husbands or partners.

“Life on board can be lonely, some battle homesickness by joining their male colleagues in their drinking sessions, and start smoking  to relieve stress and battle loneliness.

*   *   *

The children of OFWs have become a deep concern for Mark Anthony D. Abenir, assistant professor and a research associate with the Department of Social Sciences, University of Santo Tomas. His dissertation, presented at the colloquium, argued  that “it is necessary to identify specific rights and capabilities that are reflective of the voices of the Anak ng OFW so this can serve as a basis on what rights should be secured by organized interest groups in order to  safeguard the capabilities that are crucial for the social development of individuals and families, especially of children belonging in the OFW sector.”

“Through the  mass diaspora of parents, for which the Philippine government is directly responsible, the right  of children not to be separated from  their parents is being violated. These are the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.” Local laws are also silent in safeguarding the best interest of the Anak ng OFW (RA 8042, The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act), and RA 1022 of 2010 (An Act amending RA 8042).

Abenir lists the rights of the OFWs children: the right to padala establish transnational communication with migrant parents, right to universal access to ICT, especially the Internet, right to live with responsible primary caregivers and guardians and the  right to be guaranteed family reunification,

While the padala enables the children to acquire a good education and enjoy the comforts of life and being free from the bondage of debt, it  can also cause tensions within the family, especially when the money sent is insufficient, or none.

Problems faced: abuse in the home, negatively influenced by peers, difficulties with studies, money/allowance shortage, feeling of lack of parental support, feeling of loneliness, and yearning for the migrant parents.

Abner recommends strengthening of LINKAPIL (Lingkod sa Kapwa Pilipino or Link for Philippine Development Program) to create specific  programs  for members of OFW families, especially to promote the advancement of the Anak ng OFW, and  chart  a true Magna Carta for Overseas Filipino Workers and Their Families.

*   *   *

Now to the question, can a rights-based regional migration architecture work for ASEAN be achieved,  as asked by migration specialist Jorge Tigno. At the colloquium, he   proposed that the ASEAN Migrant Worker Declaration should  “acknowledge the need to strengthen  measures on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers; recognize the contributions of migrant workers to the society and economy of both receiving and receiving states, and affirm the preeminent position of the sovereignty  of states in determining their own migration policy.”  The declaration should promote “the full potential and dignity of migrant workers in a climate of freedom, equity, and stability in accordance with the  laws,  regulations, and policies of respective ASEAN member countries.”

*   *   *

Dr. Amaryllis Torres, executive director of the Philippine Social Science Center, announces the  holding of a forum pertinent to the government’s policy on the extermination of people engaged in the drug trade. Topic  of the forum  to be held March 15-16 at the PSSC on Commonwealth Ave., Quezon City,  is “Beyond Politics and Spectacle: Crime, Drugs, and Punishment, an International Conference.

Experts in the field from Australia, HongKong and Great Britain, as well as local scholars will present their ideas. Also invited are representatives  of the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Justice, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes and the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders.


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