Last October 29-30, the second Global Forum on Migration and Development was held in the Philippines. This yearly informal gathering was attended by UN member-states to discuss migration as an instigator of development. However, the event was also attended by giant financing institutions such as the World Bank and Citibank, big corporations that benefit from remittances such as Western Union, private organizations as well as labor-export recruitment agencies.

A girl looks into the camera as she listens at the program during
the civic society action held by progressive groups in Manila

(Photo taken by Mikas Matsuzawa)

Labor Export Policy in the Course of Philippine History

The Philippines, according to Hau (2004) has become an “apparatus for labor capture.” The term which she partly borrowed from French Philosopher Gilles Deleuze means that the country has become an apparatus to insert, create, channel and manage labor flows from within its territory to other nation-states.

The Philippines has indeed become a major exporter of labor, manifesting even in the term Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs signifying the phenomenon as a national trend.

Before the World War II, migrants were predominantly male and working class. Now however, feminization of labor-export has been apparent with Filipinas leaving to do work abroad for 3D jobs, dirty, dangerous and demeaning. Feminized labor increased.

The Marcos regime promoted and regulated the export of labor. The oil price hike during that period created a huge demand for blue-collar labor in the Middle East. It was also during this period that Filipinas were heading to Japan to work as “entertainers.”

The IMF-WB pressured a deeply indebted Philippines to undergo an economic “structural adjustment” which aimed to

consolidate light-manufacturing exports, keeping
down wages, eliminating “economic nationalist”
resistance among technocrats, weeding out
“inefficient firms,” and expanding foreign invest
in the domestic economy (Hau, 2004, p. 229).

When the economy failed to take-off, IMF-WB washed their hands and blamed the political instability, corruption and cronyism in the country. Though, these factors added to the failure the IMF-WB failed to note that their suggested adjustment didn’t work precisely because light-manufacturing was losing popularity in the world market.The dictatorship was toppled though the Philippines continue to promote migration policies. The Aquino administration was the first to capitalize and recognize the remittances of OFWs by calling them the Bagong Bayani or the Modern Day Heroes.

Announcing the migrant workers as heroes helped the Aquino administration to cover up the reeking situation faced by our fellows abroad. Migrants are forced to work abroad and get separated from their families only to face physical and sexual abuse.

Ramos, in his term passed the RA 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995. The law was passed as a reaction to the hanging of Flor Contemplacion in Singapore in 1995.  The policy was then given another name from exporting labor into “managing” labor.

The law however, gave contradicting views on labor-export. On one side it states that it doesn’t promote labor-export to sustain economic growth as well as national development. On the other side, it has provisions that institutionalizes overseas employment policies. What it did in the end is to follow the dictate of global capitalism and deregulate the flow of labor and lessen the intervention of the state. Migration then has become a matter between the worker and the employers, exempting the state from accountability.

The Estrada and Arroyo administrations made the export of labor as a cornerstone policy. Estrada called out to the OFWs to help in reviving the heavily battered economy and to pray for his political critics.

GMA however went as far as naming OFWs as Overseas Filipino Investors, adding that the economy will be greatly dependent on the remittances. Currently, the Philippines rank second to Mexico in terms of migrant workers. There are about 10 Million Filipinos working in 197 countries.

Filipino Migrants the world over have sent remittance that reached a total of $17 Billion just in 2007. Migration has not spurred development for the Philippines, what it did is to slow down the ticking of a looming political and social crisis.

Instead of concentrating on the real needs of the people such as social services, genuine agrarian reform and jobs for the people, the Arroyo administration opted to promote labor-export.

Governments exporting labor, financing institutions, foreign countries in need of cheap labor, as well as corporations earning from OFW remittances are the only ones who benefit in such labor-export policies. The Philippine government continue to promote the sale of its citizens abroad, ranging from contractual work to undocumented labor abroad, at the expense of exploitation and abusive work practices.

The Emergence of Inter-racial Children such as JFCs

"Amidst the chronic and
worsening economic and 
political crisis in our homeland, it is

inevitable that the
number of Filipinos forced
to work overseas
will increase.
At the same time,

Japan and other
countries are implementing

increasingly repressive
and anti-migrant laws

that heighten our
oppression and exploitation.”

– Migrante International

Slogans voice out the concerns of migrants.
(Photo by Mikas Matsuzawa)

Labor feminization has been increasing since the 1970s. Just in the year 2001, 72 percent of migrant workers are women. Their work destinations are as domestic helpers in Hong Kong, nurses in Dubai, Mail Order Brides in Europe or Entertainers in Japan. Due to this phenomenon there have been as a result inter-racial marriages.

In the Philippines the largest number of inter-racial children are the Japanese-Filipinos. Their numbers are said to reach up to 200, 000 in estimates. Their mothers were migrant workers and it seems they too will be migrants. This is the stark reality that these youth face.

As Japan opened its economy to inter-racial children with Japanese ancestry, a lot of Japanese-Filipino youth have been lured by recruitment agencies.  The primary reasons of these youth is the lack of opportunities in the country as well as their want to search for their fathers. Poverty and skewed policies of the state forced them to take the dark route taken by their mothers before.

At present there are reports of factories in Japan with their workers composed mainly of Japanese-Filipinos.

Sentiments of a JFC

It is sad that fellow Japanese-Filipinos I have known since childhood have to go abroad away from their mothers, who raised them and served as their fathers also. It is sad that they have to take a familiar path their mothers walked before.

I am part of an organization that caters to the needs of Japanese-Filipino children or JFCs. A few months ago, a legal battle for the right to acquire Japanese nationality has been won. Now, JFCs can secure the right to choose their nationality regardless if their parents were not married as enshrined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. A door was opened for us, however what lies on the other side is still proves to be a difficult terrain.

Slowly each one of my friends are being recruited by agencies to go to Japan. One by one they disappear each leaving letters behind. Recently a close friend *Tako left college to work in one of those factories in Japan. He is nearly finished with college and yet he chose to leave. It may be out of desperation, it may be for reconciliation with something he deems missing in him, it may be a search for his cultural heritage. The possible reasons are countless.

He left a letter behind, he said he wants to help his mother and find where his father is. He said it is a hard choice for him however, he knows how hard it is for her mom to pay for his education and he knows that there will be  no oppotunities for him here. He named the reasons like the other letters I read and the many stories I heard.

Some of my friends happen to have Japanese nationality but grew up in the Philippines like *Riyo.  He was raised by his grandmother in one of the urban poor communities in Manila. He couldn’t afford the costs of a college degree so he decided to venture in Japan.

He works now in a factory, recruited by one of the many agencies with a lot of promises. He said he have to lift kilos and kilos of chickens to a machine. That same machine has caused him a chunk of his finger. He paid for the medical expense from his own savings. He says his pay is not the same with his Japanese co-workers. He doesn’t enjoy similar rights that a Japanese citizen enjoy.

I want to imagine that such stories exists only on television drama series. I want to, but I know it doesn’t in real life. *Tako and *Riyo provided a face to all the stories I’ve heard and the many letters I’ve read.

The truth is that none of us want to be departed from our families. We want to be home with them however, the reality of globalization and the economic crisis prevents us. We are a sector amidst a sector. We are the inter-racial youth part of the comprehensive sector of the youth.

If you identify the root cause of our migration it is the same with our fellows. Yes, we have special issues such as the recognition of our fathers, our cultural heritage and discerning our identities and place in the society. However, we have also general concerns. Concerns that are similar to the youth the world over.

We are said to be the future. However, our future is being taken from us. Our rights to education, to participation and to security among others are slowly stripped from us. Like many Filipinos we must survive each day.

The youth sector participating at the GFMD
along with other sectors of society.(Photo by Mikas Matsu

However, we are no longer going to be quiet. We want our voices to be heard. For we are not just the youth. WE ARE THE YOUTH. And we shall be in solidarity with the struggles of the people for the future, for our future.

*Not their real names

*Photos were taken from Yahoo! News

Hau, Caroline. (2004). On the subject of the nation: Filipino writings from the margins 1981 t0 2004. QC: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

MIGRANTE GFMD Primer (2008)