Even in harm’s way

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

Working in a foreign country with a culture that’s different from ours is always risky. This is laced with the possibility that the children, whom our overseas Filipino workers basically work hard for, might grow up with incomplete parental supervision and guidance.

Sad stories of virtually broken homes of OFWs abound. Even in areas that are threatened by imminent hostilities and conflicts have hundreds, even thousands, of our countrymen almost desperately plunging to an uncertain fate as long as they will have the chance to support their loved ones and sustain their families, and quietly hope that the future can be better.

The ongoing military conflict between Israel and Hamas has again showcased the danger in the lives of Filipinos who have chosen to live and work abroad despite the challenges that they would encounter. The welfare of their families is paramount and given more importance than their own safety. Surely, our more than 23,000 OFWs in Israel will not be deterred by this violence. Most of them will definitely hang on and continue to work there even long after this war has subsided.

Modern day diaspora of Filipinos is witnessed by the whole world. Almost two million documented workers are across all continents. Their jobs range from the most crude and difficult to the most coveted c-suites. Since the 1970s, we have sent our kababayans as domestic helpers, farm hands, factory workers, musicians, entertainers, caregivers, nurses, doctors, IT experts, teachers, marine seafarers, managers and many other positions. But one thing, truly, has described the Filipino brand – dedicated workers who would never fail to remit their earnings back to the Philippines.

At least $36 billion annually is being sent by our OFWs to their families. This has propelled our economy, especially during the most difficult moments in our country such as the Asian financial crisis in 1997. The dollar remittances of our OFWs are considered the main shield during downturns in our unstable financial situations.  In business terms, these remittances kept us basically up-float.

Filipinos are almost everywhere. We’re in Europe, the Americas, Canada, Australia, China, Middle East, Africa, everywhere and anywhere, even in the coldest parts of Alaska. OFWs go where they are allowed to work and take a new chance in life for themselves and their families. They adapt, work hard and even excel and are fully recognized as hardworking immigrants who would seldom cause trouble nor problems, both in the workplace and the communities.

Our OFWs are assets in our total national equation. Their value is almost priceless, particularly the bail-out role that their financial contributions do for everyone. Not all recognize this. But the truth is, their steady and substantial remittances have saved us beyond the layman’s understanding on how the economy works.

We must reciprocate the sacrifices and hard work of our OFWs. At the very least, our government must streamline the processes in granting the permits that they need to legally leave and stay outside the country for work. Part of this is to impose heavy sanctions and punishments against the scrupulous illegal recruiters who still lurk in the recruitment industry.

I’m confident that the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) under the team left orphaned by the respected and much-loved Secretary Toots Ople, who recently passed away, will continue protecting the rights and welfare of our workers.

Atty. Bernard Olalia and OIC Secretary Hans Leo Cacdac, formerly the heads of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administrations (OWWA), respectively, are both dedicated officers who can competently manage and lead DMW.  Along with the veteran Undersecretary Ma. Anthonette Velasco-Allones, who served in government for more than 30 years, they indeed form the dream team who can address the needs of our OFWs. Any of them can be a good successor to handle the agency.

I hope that they can consider other programs that can show our appreciation for the difficult role that the OFWs undertake for the country. For example, a possible scholarship or meaningful discount privileges for the children of OFWs. Such will relieve our workers of the mental stress of worrying for the education of their children.

This can be coupled with health assistance programs for their parents. After all, their parents deserve some amelioration for the fact that their children leave for far flung areas just to work and also directly help the country.

Their spouses can also be included in the TUPAD program of DOLE. They, too, participate in the sacrifices of their partners.

Many Filipinos who opted to stay away from the country and their families to tirelessly serve foreign masters in a country that usually, understandably, treat them as second-class citizens are definitely in harm’s way. Let’s do our best to protect them by way of protective policies and actual programs that would lessen the burden that they selflessly undertake.

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