AN OPEN LETTER FOR THE DEBATE
Overseas Filipinos' legitimate aspirations glaringly absent in electoral debates
First of all, congratulations! This letter comes with our deepest anticipation for the forthcoming debate billed as "2007 Senatorial Debate — Moving the Economy Forward," in the forum organized by Philippines Inc. together with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, the Philippine Exporters Confederation, and the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry this coming March 14, 2007.
We are elated at the prospect of our future senators tackling the issues crucial to our survival as a nation and hopefully an opportunity to have a glimpse of their platform in moving our economy forward. We understand that the topics for the debate will include social issues such as management-labor relations, taxes, power and energy, peace and order, small and medium enterprise promotion, and foreign investments.
The topics of the debate are understandably geared towards the interest of the business sector as it undoubtedly affects the whole nation for better or worse. Unfortunately, legitimate aspirations and issues that matter most to Overseas Filipinos are not covered in the coming debate.
TODAY, as in EVERY SINGLE DAY, 3,000 Filipino families will be broken up so that their parents or older siblings can work abroad and bring food to the table. Overseas Filipinos now numbering close to 10 million comprise 10% of the nation’s population, scattered in at least 192 countries toiling under the scorching desert sun or bitterly cold winter. Some of them work in different levels of position and in various sectors: from domestic helpers in Hong Kong to high technology experts in Silicon Valley, California. Overseas Filipinos suffer family separation with dire social consequences, leaving communities that are mired in poverty, continually sliding into the abyss of desperation with no hope in sight. In some countries, they live in constant fear of being kidnapped or hit by bullets like in the case of Nigeria, Iraq, and Lebanon while women are subject of physical and sexual abuse.
In 2006 alone, the Central Bank of the Philippines officially recorded remittances at S$12.8 billion; that is, equivalent to almost 15% of our gross domestic product (GDP). This figure excludes substantive remittances made through informal channels as well as goods and services sent by Overseas Filipinos throughout the year. Assuming an average family size of 4 to 5, and that 4 million of the 7.3 overseas Filipinos are able to remit regularly, it might be said that about 16 to 20 million Filipinos are able to benefit directly from overseas labor migration. In general, remittances are often described as "the new form of development aid" and they are "the biggest source of foreign inflows" surpassing foreign direct investments (US$ 2 billion in 2006) and official development aid.
In addition, there has been a trend towards the repatriation of remittances, resources, as well as skills and technology, beyond what directly benefits Overseas Filipinos and migrant families in the form of diaspora philanthropy. It is an indication of an individual’s or group’s economic achievement or an expression of a sincere desire to contribute to uplift economic conditions of the Philippines to which Overseas Filipinos and migrants may wish to return to and retire in the future. These resources have gone into various community projects of needy and depressed areas in the country.
The Overseas Filipinos’/migrants’ achievements in terms of fueling the Philippine economy in the concrete form of remittances and diaspora philanthropy translate into a substantive political clout as a group or sector. At the same time, this sector represents the big consumers of products – communications, travels, nostalgic products (patronizing Made in the Philippines products), housing, insurance, food, luxury products, etc. - of the various business enterprises which are organizers of this debate. The Overseas Filipinos are de facto the biggest investors in our country and while direct and portfolio investments fell dramatically in time of financial crisis or when conflict arises, remittances generally increase. However, behind these billions of dollars are hard-working men and women who left their homes to earn a living whose regular remittances have become a lifeline for millions of poor people. Perhaps, it is not reasonable to request that our legitimate aspirations and our voices be heard, in the context of advocating for the necessary reforms and influencing public policy that directly affect the lives of millions of Overseas Filipinos, their families, and the country as a whole.
As we specifically challenge the candidates to include and articulate issues directly affecting the migrant sector:
1. We want to hear how our senatorial aspirants will tackle the issue of lost opportunities and wasted resources that could have been channeled towards development measures to spur economic growth with job-generating industries for the blighted communities we left behind.
2. We want to know how our senatorial candidates can help in formulating relevant enabling legislation for transparent and cohesive policies capturing a share of remittances for development in recognition and appreciation of the positive contributions of migrants to the development of our dear Philippines whilst also addressing the rights, interests and welfare of migrants before, during and after migration.
3. We reiterate what is described in the attached Migrants' Manifesto for Issue-based Electoral Contest: “We challenge those who want to become legitimate servants and leaders to articulate a concrete and doable developmental plan aimed at the Filipino migrant workers around the world. We pledge to support legitimate servants of the people running for any public position who aggressively promote the interest of our sector. We pledge to support legitimate servants of the people running for any public position that aggressively promote the interest of our sector on the issues we have previously enumerated in the manifesto.
It is sad to note that our policy makers are more focused on deploying greater number of expatriates to toil in foreign lands while big business conglomerates keep us in awe with bigger malls and extravagant media blitzes that only perpetuate a consumer society but lacking the positive trickle down effects on large scale job generation. Thus, missing out on the opportunities for the Philippines to be propelled out of the bottom ranks of the thriving Asian economy.
Lastly, while we see the issue of the opposition candidates on the need to debate the Garci scandal, vote tampering, impeachment, and other hot issues of the day, we want to hear a cohesive electoral reform on how we can have a clean, honest, and highly transparent electoral contest, and clear workable commitments to which we could hold parties and candidates accountable should they be elected to public office. Scandals used for grandstanding and garnering votes that will only be sidelined only to resurface next time around with different personalities involved is not solving the problem but only exacerbate a flawed electoral system that needs to be revamped in the first place.
We thank you in advance for your consideration on the above points in relation to the format and substance of the forthcoming debate.
Overseas Filipinos Worldwide (OFW)
Contact address: Leila Rispens-Noel
Tel.: +31 (0182 514475
Online Petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/OFWMan/petition-sign.html