The face of undocumented Filipinos abroad

THE PHILIPPINE government always sings loud praises to its more than 8 million citizens working or living abroad, mostly for their annual remittances, which, undeniably contributes a lot to what the PNoy (President Benigno Simeon Aquino III) administration claims as spectacular economic growth. To think that these remittances, coming from more than 128 countries worldwide, easily surpass all local investments taken together.

The big question is: Will the much-touted economic growth of more than 7 percent every year for the past two years, be able to create enough jobs to bring home even just half of the Filipinos toiling abroad? Or is it that it is never the intention of the government to create enough jobs for Filipino workers for them not to go abroad to work?

Let’s look at the situation of hundreds of thousands (maybe a couple of million!) of Filipino “illegal workers” — those undocumented by the government’s Philippine Overseas Employment and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.

First, the Saudization program of Saudi Arabia has been overextended (by the Saudi government, apparently on appeals by the Philippine government) , yet the PNoy government has nothing but “repatriation” up its sleeve to respond to the displacement of nearly 200,000 undocumented workers in that Middle Eastern country where at least 2.5 million Filipinos are working.

The eventual takeover of Saudis of jobs held by foreigners, including Filipinos, has been announced by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as early as 1984, yet the bright boys of the different administrations since the 70s (the administration of Corazon Aquino, mother of PNoy, included) have not done anything to find a solution to this eventual displacement of hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers, except bringing home more economically displaced and now-jobless Filipinos.

Also, they all aware of the existence and proliferation of undocumented workers over the years in job-rich Middle East, yet they prefer to just wait and simply react when the host government takes action against these “illegals” or claim their jobs for the locals.

Second, most of the Filipinos in Malaysia, nearing half a million, just took a boat from Jolo in Sulo or from Zamboanga to get to Sabah in North Borneo, without a passport and hardly any identification document. While most Filipino professionals working in that country went through the process of documentation, most of the Filipino workers entering through Sabah had nary a document to even prove their true identities, much less their employment. So, when the Malaysian authorities crack down on undocumented migrants (not necessarily workers), even documented Filipino workers oftentimes get the heat.

How about in other countries, like Japan, Korea and China? Surely, there are hundreds of thousands more, even millions.

At the turn of the century, Japan claims to host more than 300,000 Filipinos. Yet the number of legal residents and workers is only a little over half the number. In Korea, before the unilateral placement of workers by the government of workers there, via POEA, most Filipinos working there, nearly 50,000 of them, were undocumented. They entered as tourists and “jumped” their allowed stay, taking refuge with willing employers who pay them salaries well below government standards, give them jobs Koreans won’t take, and provide them “free” lodging fit only for livestock.

The reality of undocumented workers is as old as the beginning of Filipino overseas workers, which dates back to the Galleon Trade years and the Gold Rush in America. Yet, every Philippine administration has nothing to address this situation involving their citizens whose only purpose is look for opportunities hardly available in the Philippines. Yet, every administration have not taken this problem seriously.

Can’t the bright boys of every administration come up with a solution to this problem? don’t think so. Maybe, when they stop thinking of Filipino migrants and workers abroad in terms of the the dollars they send.

Until the Philippine government see these undocumented workers as Filipino citizens, their countrymen, making a great sacrifice in a foreign country to earn for the keep of their families back home, the story of suffering of the undocumented workers will continue.

But PNoy (including all the Philippine presidents before him), apparently, can’t see beyond the face of the dollar!