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OFWs and Financial Literacy

CNN’s “Eye On” made a special report on the Philippines recently, focusing on our Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs. The report stated that while they earn billions of dollars abroad, our OFWs are faced with the challenge of investing their money wisely.

So to address this, CNN said the Philippine government ventured on providing financial literacy trainings to teach OFWs money management and investment skills and to equip them with the necessary knowhow to “stop their relatives back home from spending all the cash.”

“There’s a lot of money,” Philippine Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Grace Princesa told the CNN. “If we can guide overseas Filipinos and their families to invest, I think that will be a large source of private-public sector cooperation,” she said.

Ambassador Princesa and the Philippine government appear to be trivializing the almost four-decade old forced Filipino migration and its ruinous social costs. For them the solution to the complex issues and problems besetting our OFWs and their families is as simple as educating them on how to spend their hard-earned cash wisely.

What’s worse, the fact that the government is again turning to our OFWs to invest their money if only to spur economic growth, reveal its parasitic reliance to OFW remittances. It also proves that the government has no plan at all in generating long-term and sustainable jobs in the country.

OFW country

The Philippines has been in the business of exporting Filipinos since the early ‘70s. Right now, we have more than 12 million Filipinos toiling in almost 200 countries worldwide. In 2010, OFWs remitted $18 Billion, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. The amount contributed to the spike in the country’s growth rate from 5.6% in 2009 to 8.2% towards the end of 2010. The total remittances that year were equivalent to 8.7% of the country’s Gross National Product (GNP).

Indeed, the money generated by our army of OFWs is huge. But we need to dissect this further.

Government data shows that majority of Filipinos overseas works on service, production and skilled job categories such as domestic workers, caregivers, factory and construction workers, among others.

This means, a huge chunk of OFWs labor on jobs that are tagged as ‘dirty, difficult, demeaning and dangerous’ – or jobs that does not pay well, however backbreaking and demanding it is.

In fact according to Migrante International, a global alliance of OFWs and their families, a remittance-dependent family in the country receives only an average of P7, 000 a month from their relatives abroad. A survey conducted by Hong Kong based migrant Filipino groups also reveal that a typical OFW there sends their families here a measly average of $166 (P6, 640) a month.

This goes to show that the money received by remittance-dependent families here in the country simply is not enough if we compare it to the government estimated data of P29, 000 needed by a family of six to survive. Even if their husbands or wives here in the country have jobs, the pay on the domestic front is glaringly insufficient considering the unabated increase in the prices of oil and petroleum products, transportation, education, utilities and other basic commodities.

So, if the majority of our OFWs barely have enough cash to support their families’ needs here at home, where on God’s earth will they find the money to save or even invest?

To say then that the problem lies in our OFWs’ ignorance in money management is tantamount to saying that they and their families that depend on them are ‘waldas’ (irresponsible spenders) and ‘bilmokos’ (local street slang for ‘buy me this, buy me that’).

Our OFWs don’t need ‘financial literacy’ trainings.

What they need and deserve are sustainable and gainful employment here at home. What they need and deserve is a government that is truly responsive to their needs. ###