7.3% of Filipinos are unemployed. Of those who are working, 10% of our population — 8.7 million — are registered overseas contract workers. And half of those OFWs are women. According to the world bank, OFWs sent in $17 billion dollars last year alone. That’s around 5.6% of our GDP; not a light number. And with a global recession looming — or already here if we’re honest about it — jobs have been lost and checks have shrunk. (Corollary to this, outsourcing is also under threat. Both don’t bode well for our economy.) Though the Philippine government cannot actively promote emigration, government policies show otherwise. The Department of Labor continues to enhance bilateral state-to-state contacts to ensure that our workers have somewhere to go.
My general stance on emigration is that it should be a choice. It shouldn’t be something that people do because they have to. When our citizens feel that they have no other choice but to go abroad, then that is not good public policy. The government claims to have created 10 million new jobs between 2004 and 2008. But with most of them either part-time or low-earning, there really isn’t much incentive to stay. Every day, I work with our country’s potential innovators and change artists. Yet the tragedy is that their best hopes lie beyond our borders.
I have long discredited the nationalist argument against emigration. It is so easy to say that people put themselves first before their country. Then we respond with the socialist argument — what is the government doing for the people anyway? Can we blame them? I think not. Krista Mahr writes a very impassioned yet sober piece in TIME, The Motherless Generation.
Therein she describes the dire social costs of migration — children left to grow without parents, most especially the mother — and the disconnection OFWs feel with their children upon returning home. This makes me wonder whether the Church is focusing too much on the RH Bill as the anti-thesis of family values. Instead of squabbling on when the third person in the room appears, I suggest they refocus their social justice message on these families forced to live apart because society (with all its politics and economics) is inadequate to keep them together. Mahr writes,
The Hospicio De San Jose is a hushed haven from central Manila’s crushing heat and traffic. Inside the orphanage’s dormitory, Sister Socorro G. Evidente points through a window to Pauline, a 2-year-old napping in the dark, thumb in mouth. When she was a week old, Pauline was left by her mother, who said she was going to work in Dubai. She never came back. Some mothers, Evidente says, “do not even bother to send any money for their kids … The children grow up feeling like they’re really abandoned.”
I began thinking of all this after reading a more high-minded piece on the new liberalism unleashed by Obama’s victory. Also in the latest issue of TIME, Peter Beinart writes in The New Liberal Order that the contest between conservatism and liberalism has always been that between freedom and order. He briefly describes its history by saying,
A century ago, in the Progressive Era, modern American liberalism was born, in historian Robert Wiebe’s words, as a “search for order.” America’s giant industrial monopolies, the progressives believed, were turning capitalism into a jungle, a wild and lawless place where only the strong and savage survived. By the time Roosevelt took office during the Great Depression, the entire ecosystem appeared to be in a death spiral, with Americans crying out for government to take control.
I see this in our current policies regarding emigration. That there was a shift from calling overseas workers as mere contractual (OCW) to genuine Filipinos too (OFW) attests to the runaway attitude government has had with regards to emigration. ‘That the heroism of these workers bolsters our economy’ is a thinking endemic in our current discourse — which needs serious revisioning. They are martyrs. These fathers, mothers and children needlessly bear the heavy social costs. Surely, there is a better way. But to find it requires economic policies that reinforce local talents, markets and industries capable of innovation, and a politics capable of making all that change happen.
This next stray thought was originally a thesis for another blog entry. I may not get to follow up on this as much as I hope since I’ll be following a different intellectual tract very soon — what’s coming next for China given that 67,000 factories have shut down and social unrest is now rampant. So here’s one more comment on the RH Bill, which I manage to tangentially connect to the broader issues above.
The socio-economic argument for the RH Bill must be reframed in the context of population management, not control. This may come across as lipstick on a pig but it’s not. (An example of population control is the one-child policy.) One primary contestation the opponents of the bill have is that having a healthy population growth rate is good for us and preferable over the possibility of a population winter as seen in Europe, Japan and Singapore. The argument can be had that we will lose our manpower.
But then I raise the question of how we are managing that manpower in the first place. As our population swells, will we be able to provide the education, services, and jobs necessary to keep our growth sustainable? For as our population grows and the government fails to keep up, then we are setting ourselves up for failure. As it stands, opportunity here is rife. The Motherless Generation presents the reality of families splintered across the globe and the social costs that come with it. Rounding up the piece is the notion that government could do much more to keep these families intact. Indeed, much has to be said about cleaning up government in order to push for better economic policies. But part of the present is investing for the future. I am not advocating that we cease growing our population; I only say that we must do so intelligently.
What I find most tragic about the pro-life movement is how their focus on conception and pregnancy overlooks the right of every child to a quality and dignified life. Their beliefs work on the assumption that all children will have their parents, but that is not always the case. And as our population swells and government shrinks, that may soon be the norm rather than the exception. Isn’t it reasonable that couples who plan to pursue careers abroad are given the knowledge and tools to plan their family so that they may spare their possible children of the dire social costs?
Because of this and many other reasons, I am an advocate of planned parenthood. Making that a reality will require us to deploy as many tools as we can, and a lot of that is embodied in the RH Bill. Opponents of the bill are short-sighted when they say that it promotes a culture of death; the goal is to promote a culture of dignified life.