The COVID 19 pandemic starkly exposed the insecurity of the overseas Filipino workers’ status and work abroad, and the weaknesses of the still backward Philippine economy. No matter how the Duterte government drumbeats its so-called “strong fundamentals,” it takes a beating with every minute slip in OFW remittances and with the record joblessness that’s as worse and undeniable as it can get the past few months.
Job generation under the Duterte regime is dismal (81,000 jobs from 2017-2018), worse than the previous administrations (even when compared to Joseph Estrada’s short-lived presidency 842,000 from 1999-2001).
During the pandemic we heard news about OFWs stranded jobless in other countries. Some who can’t or chose not to come home were forced to scavenge for food. They work longer hours for lesser pay. The responsibility for the health care of migrants during the pandemic is like a hot potato being tossed at each other by host and sending countries’ governments. Migrant workers such as the OFWs are easily disposable in their host countries; they get less to none of benefits and rights than their local counterparts.
Hundreds of thousands of OFWs are now forced to come home, having lost their jobs abroad due to containment measures against the pandemic. Hundred thousands more are likely trying to salvage possibilities of finding other jobs while living poorly abroad. In their home country, they are pushed against the wall by joblessness and/or low wages; in other countries, by discrimination and insecurity, and sometimes lack of support from the concerned government agencies.
But in the Philippines, there is only the record joblessness and collapse in family incomes aggravated by the government’s poor COVID response. Jobs under the neocolonial economy’s export-oriented import-dependent strategy have become even lower paid and more insecure under Duterte’s militarized approach to the pandemic. Under one of the strictest lockdowns in the region, only regular workers were called back when production restarted in “modified lockdown”. The bigger number made up of contractuals were left out. The fewer workers on the job were forced to bear the workload meant to be performed by more workers. They worked longer hours within compressed workweek schemes. They are forced to take care of their own transportation and health. In Metro Manila, workers were forced to try to hide if they had colds or fever or any known symptoms of COVID-19, for fear they will be denied work.
The dire straits of OFWs mean less remittances contributing in turn to the worst economic collapse in Philippine history. (Actual remittances have already been decreasing since the 2008-2009 global crisis). The Philippine economy is already heading to this collapse, but it has been hastened by Duterte’s poor responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. This collapse is chronic and inevitable as long as the government foolishly maintains a neocolonial economy, working in cahoots with big landlords and compradors to profit from foreign investments and loans at the cost of stunting the country’s development.
Without real development, in agriculture and manufacturing, to generate stable jobs for the working people, the country will continue to rely on exporting labor in the same way our raw materials are extracted and exported.
The foreign investments had only taken advantage of the country’s resources and cheap labor. The “fundamentally strong economy” under Duterte and the presidents before him is just a myth, the sorry state of the Filipino workers and OFW is one of the glaring proofs. ###