President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced last August 3 the upgrading of skills and knowledge of Filipino domestic helpers who want to work abroad so that they can become what she described as “supermaids.�� The move is said to address the economic dislocation brought about by the evacuation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) deployed to war-torn Lebanon. This only shows that the deployment of OFWs is now a permanent arrangement due to the government’s failure to generate much-needed jobs in the Philippines, as well as the need to keep the economy afloat through OFW remittances.
BY DANILO ARAÑA ARAO
When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo expressed last August 4 her “dismay over the deaths of (two) Filipino women workers while escaping from their employers” in war-torn Lebanon, she also stressed the need for the forced evacuation of all Filipinos there given the volatility of the situation.
“We shall not take any chances with the lives of Filipinos in threat of danger,” she said. The government’s target of “zero casualty” for OFWs in Lebanon, however, is hard to achieve for the simple reason that there is no clear accounting of the actual number of Filipinos in Lebanon. Even the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) acknowledged that two of every three OFWs repatriated from Lebanon are undocumented.
This situation explains the discrepancy in the figures. The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) pegs the OFWs deployed to Lebanon at only 14,970 while the recruiters’ group Philippine Association of Mediterranean Agencies Deploying Labours, Inc. (PAMADEL) has a higher count of 26,146. Newspaper reports, on the other hand, have higher estimates of Filipinos working in Lebanon ranging from 30,000 to 34,000.
The ban on deployment of Filipino workers to “dangerous countries such as Iraq and Lebanon” is understandable at this point. But instead of encouraging workers to find gainful employment in the Philippines, the president said that she wants “selective deployment” of workers to ensure that “they would land jobs with good working conditions abroad.”
In fact, the president’s decision to upgrade the skills and knowledge of domestic helpers so that they can become not just ordinary maids but “supermaids” is meant for them to command higher salaries more than anything else, based on her statement last August 3.
The government’s decision to continue OFW deployment, even if on a selective basis, and to deploy “supermaids” in the future reinforces the institutionalization of labor migration which runs contrary to the claim of the late President Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s. At that time, Marcos stressed that labor migration is just a temporary arrangement until such time that the domestic economy can generate the necessary jobs for Filipinos.