OFW Bagong Bayani

There are approximately eight million Filipinos working in the Middle East, Europe, Australia and the Americas. It is estimated that their monthly remittances total between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, including the dollars from Filipinos in the US.

With trouble brewing in the Middle East, workers are being sent home by the hundreds, including those from the Marianas, a US protectorate. The case of the latter is due to an overflow of workers who are purportedly becoming a burden to local welfare services agencies.

Quite a few overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are in the service industry. These include domestic help in Europe and the Middle East and cruise ship workers, but Filipinos in the US are a mixture of professionals such as medical doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers and IT experts who all remit hard cash to their families back home.

The Philippine government, in its effort to quantify the OFWs’ contributions to the wellbeing of the country, has issued press releases that described the OFWs as “Bagong Bayani.”

It is a recognition that is long overdue for without those remittances the country may as well be destitute and in need of a “stimulus” program similar to the one here in the US.

It is imperative that we are able to document the contributions of OFWs with respect to humanitarian concerns. These include medical, surgical, dental and eye missions, and educational concerns such as donations of computers, books  and other educational materials, professional and scientific missions in terms of costs to the participants and in terms of the value of the free medical,  health, educational and other  contributions made to the general public.

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Instead of the government making it difficult for the overseas Filipinos to go and work overseas, it should find means to facilitate their deployment.

Maybe there is need for a clearing house to document the monetary values of the contributions, both from the US and Philippine sides.

We need to document disaster-relief efforts done for the country by organizations and individuals and compute the costs in dollars and the percentage and extent that the donations have, compared with the  contribu`tions from international and other foreign groups.

Also, there should be an accounting of where the money went and who got them.

What about the cost benefit of the “balikbayan boxes”?  Has anyone tried to find out what it means if the balikbayan box shipments are discontinued?

There are efforts by NaFFAA/FALDEF (Filipino American Legal Defense Fund) and other Filipino organizations in the US and in other countries to advocate for the cause of the Philippines and the Filipino people, as we have done with the Veterans’ Equity, The DREAM Act, the Save our Industries Act and Medicaid Portability, and currently the cause of the Maryland teachers.

These activities need to be recognized and quantified.

Likewise, there is a need to coordinate with a government agency that would alert NaFFAA (National Federation of Filipino-American Associations headed by this writer) of contracts and work conditions that Filipino workers in  diaspora are about to experience.

For example, many Filipino contract workers coming to the US could have avoided the heartaches of finding out that their contracts were spurious and signed by non-existent companies had the concerned Philippines agencies  contacted NaFFAA-FALDEF.

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There ought to be a way to educate the OFWs when they arrive in each city or state. This would avoid a situation in which they cry out for help only when they are already in trouble. Also, there ought to be a system of raising funds to be given to OFWs in trouble. This would stop the practice of “passing the hat” each time the need arises.