Andrew Wood, Pitt Law '08, files from Manila:
The Philippines is a fascinating place to spend the summer. The country is confronted with a constant and complex problem of migration, an issue that the government is struggling to solve. Well-educated Filipinos are flocking out of the country to seek better wages than they can find at home, with around 10% of the nation's population living and working abroad. People find more lucrative work in Dubai, Singapore, Taiwan, and a number of other countries (which, in turn, adds fuel to the fire of human trafficking…but that's a different story). But if asked their destination of choice, most would pick the USA if they could obtain a visa. The lines to get to the U.S. Embassy don't file down the street, as I am told they used to…but only because a change of policy now requires making an appointment in advance. The trend of migration for temporary work is nothing new in the Philippines; during the Marcos era the Philippines sent large numbers of workers to the middle east amidst the oil boom in the 1970s. The post-Marcos era saw high unemployment rates continue, and the government worked to both facilitate overseas work contracts that were safe for its citizens while at the same time trying to address the unemployment problems at home. No easy task, by any means.
The impact of migration/labor export in the Philippines, however, is not just economic. It seems like every family you talk to has someone living abroad. The advantage for them is of course that those individuals almost always send money home. But this type of system, when it occurs on such a large scale, also can breed dependence, and a sense of hopelessness prevails with relation to the future and any effort to improve one's own country. Resentment, frustration, and despair are surprisingly evident, especially concerning a nation known for its happy, relaxed people. This is not to say that people aren't happy in the Philippines; rather, it is just to note that the effect of migration is a double edged sword.
So what to do to improve the effects of migration? Like the issue of immigration in the U.S., there are no easy answers. The national government has made the migration issue a priority, and organizations abound that attempt to empower the locals to live, work, and prosper in their native country. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives play a huge role in corporations instituting micro-finance and other development programs. For example, I recently met a 30-something-year-old woman and recipient of a CSR micro-finance loan which allowed her to start a small restaurant (food stall) business where she earns a significantly higher salary than when she worked as a maid in Singapore. Plus, she is happier because she is able to be home and raise her children. In a country where only a handful of families own an overwhelming majority of the country, this type of program is promising. Still, a long road lies ahead to address the issue of migration on a large scale.
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