The gruesome killing of Joanna Daniela Demafelis whose tortured body was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait can be revolting, knowing she’s one of many OFWs who’ve been victims of modern-day slavery – those maltreated, raped, butchered, and deprived of basic necessities including wages.
Her death would not be in vain if it could ultimately compel our government to really come up with other viable options that would replace the pursuit of wholesale export of labor as a major policy to keep the economy afloat with remittances of Overseas Filipino Workers.
Various calls to end the longtime labor export policy – which resurges when OFWs are murdered or put to death for crimes committed abroad – have largely gone unheeded even as many Filipinos are currently facing the death penalty in several countries.
The apparent failure of government and the private sector to provide local opportunities for people to make a decent living has compelled some 12 million Filipinos to seek their fortunes elsewhere, even in war-torn countries and in areas where they face discrimination, outright abuse, or inhumane treatment.
For decades, Filipinos have lived like modern-day gypsies. Go to the ends of the earth and chances are there’s a Filipino. Every administration after the Marcos era has hoped foreign employment would only be temporary or a stop-gap measure to boost our economy and enable people to survive financially.
But the exodus continues unabated with about 5,000 Filipinos leaving daily. A look at the massive and persistent demand for new or renewed passports overwhelming the DFA’s consular offices shows a trend that seems irreversible.
The exodus comes at a heavy price. Physical separation of parents from children and of husbands from wives has led to rampant drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, infidelity and marital breakups. Although family members can be virtually in touch with each other thru the webcam, sociologists and psychologists say there can be no substitute for constant physical presence of parents in exercising parental authority to strengthen the moral fiber binding families.
Aside from the “social costs” is the reality that our country is forfeiting its chances of competing globally in many fields—from sciences and medicine to master carpentry—with the loss of our best minds and skilled workers to other countries.
Turning the tide of labor export has become more imperative. But cutting the flow of OFWs to countries where rape, suicides, and killings of our compatriots are common might not be a good option if such a ban would do more harm than good when desperate Filipinos in dire need of jobs are forced to take greater risks to seek employment overseas.
The best option would be to create decent local jobs and livelihood opportunities all over the country especially in the poorest provinces. Agricultural modernization and rapid industrialization to provide local jobs must be a top priority. So is the strengthening of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and improving credit access for small entrepreneurs.
Another measure to create local jobs is the full implementation of the strengthened Public Employment Service Office (PESO) Act, RA 10691, to pave the way for a more efficient system of facilitating employment at grassroots level.
The law enacted in 2015 calls for establishing PESOs in all provinces, cities, and municipalities, to be operated and funded by local government units and linked to the central and regional offices of the Department of Labor and Employment for coordination and technical support. It amended RA 8759 that set up PESOs only in provincial capitals, key cities, and strategic areas.
Indeed, it is most vital to make overseas employment merely an option, not the only choice, of struggling and desperate Filipinos.