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More remittances do not mean better life for the people

HONG KONG (Mabuhay) : Not everything that looks fantastic is fantastic, migrant community organisations in Hong Kong are saying in response to the announcement by the Central Bank of The Philippines revealing that last year’s remittances stand at an all time high.

Migrante Hong Kong noted on February 19 that this does not necessarily mean that things are getting better.

Migrante believes that rather than reflecting an up in the income of overseas workers, the increase in remittances is symptomatic of a greater sacrifice being made by overseas workers to send more money home to help their families meet the ever rising cost of living in The Philippines 

The announcement from the bank notes that remittances sent back to The Philippines by the millions of its citizens labouring in almost every country in the world hit an all time high of US$21.39 billion ($165.67 billion) during the 12 months from January to December 2012.

The bank and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) credited expanding markets for skilled labour and a percentage growth in professionals among the throngs of Filipinos leaving the country every day for the up in foreign currency flowing into the country.

Eman Villanueva, from United Filipinos Hong Kong, noted that what the bank and the POEA are not saying is that the economic crisis in The Philippines and the decrease in foreign exchange rates have a lot to do with producing this all time record figure.

“While the PNoy (president of The Philippines, Noynoy Aquino) administration is eager to use these numbers to boost its claims on the country’s supposed economic growth, what this figure really demonstrates is not only our economic dependency on migrant workers’ remittances, but also, and more disturbingly, the migrant worker families’ ever-increasing need for financial support to face the escalating costs of living back home,” Villanueva states.

He notes that increasing costs in the domestic economy belie the interpretation of the figures as coming from an increase in gross national product and decrease in the unemployment rate that the government is touting.

The so-called economic improvement is felt only by a few of the elite in the country, while more people are becoming impoverished, as shown by the additional 48,000 unemployed and 349,000 underemployed in 2012, which was revealed in a study done by the think tank, the IBON foundation.

Villanueva claims that rather than reflecting expanding markets overseas for Filipino labour, the figures reflect the practice of the government to push as many people as possible off the coastline in order to find work, rather than creating sustainable jobs at home.

The community leader calls it trading jobs at home for forced migration. “People are actually being earmarked for migration,” Villanueva says.

He calls this nothing more than perpetuating the cycle of debt, as in their efforts to provide for their families, overseas workers are going into debt in their host countries to find adequate funds.

He says that the lesson to be learned is just how dependent the economy of The Philippines is on migrant worker remittances. However, he adds that this is playing with fire, as the balance is extremely delicate and the policy can only herald in an even more bleak future.

He points out that if the government fails to strengthen policies and create programmes that will protect the welfare of overseas workers, who are facing a myriad unjust and inhumane working conditions abroad, it could all come undone.

“But they would rather craft labour policies and fees that will extract profit from the overseas workers,” Villanueva concludes.