Monday, 27 July 2009

Family as great source of OFW happiness

By Dr. Bernie Villegas

MANILA, Philippines—The readers of Global Nation logically expect me to write a lot about economic issues.

From the feedback I got to my maiden column, there is a great deal of interest in the impact of OFW remittances on the economy and on the ways and means that the Philippine government, the business sector, and civil society can help the OFWs and their respective families to maximize the benefits from their earnings and to minimize both the social and economic costs of their going abroad.

To stress the point that the major interest of my column is integral human development, using a phrase from the most recent social encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI entitled Charity in Truth, this second column will focus on the value of the family in Philippine society. This will demonstrate that I will not limit my topics to purely economic ones.

Integral human development has political, social, cultural, and spiritual dimensions. Material welfare is not the prime mover of the human person. I have no doubt that for the overwhelming majority of OFWs, the major reason for their sacrifices in working abroad and the greatest satisfaction that they get from earning higher incomes all boil down to the love that they have for their respective families.

In fact, if Filipinos are still rated very high in various surveys on happiness all over the world, a major explanation is the continuing stability of the Filipino family, despite all the stresses and strains that modern living exert on this most basic of all social units. I know that the highest social cost of working abroad for Filipinos is often due to the absence of a father or a mother. That is why I want to discuss the importance of retaining the no-divorce tradition of Philippine society.

It should be a matter of pride for us Filipinos that the Philippines is the only country left, besides the Vatican, in which divorce has not been legalized. Volumes and volumes of social and economic research findings have shown that divorce has inflicted very high economic, social, and psychological costs to societies all over the world, with children as the primary victims.

As reported in, in a recent statement by an English judge, Justice Paul Coleridge, mothers and fathers who fail to commit to each other engage in a game of "pass the partner" that has left millions of children "scarred for life." He called for a change in attitudes so that the destruction of family life would attract social stigma.

"What is a matter of private concern when it is on a small scale becomes a matter of public concern when it reaches epidemic proportions," he added. His views were strongly supported across the Atlantic in a report by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.

In a study entitled "Private Choices, Public Costs: How failing families cost us all," the Institute detailed the economic impact of marriage failure. The study made an estimate of the cost of family breakdown in relation to government spending for the fiscal year 2005 to 2006. The impact on the budget of financial assistance to broken families amounted to about 7 billion Canadian dollars ($6.1 billion) a year. The reports also highlighted how marriage breakdown has a particularly damaging economic impact on women, leading to what it termed "the feminization of poverty."

Although the study concentrated on the economic costs of family failure, it did also acknowledge the impact on children. Not only is divorce linked to poverty, but a large body of research demonstrates that children are better off being raised in a married, two-parent home. "Where families fail, as they so often do today, it is up to the rest of us, via government agencies and institutions, to pay for those failures." Family breakdown is more than just divorce. It includes couples who just cohabit, single mothers who have never married or lived with the fathers of their babies. It has been demonstrated in many countries with rampant divorce and cohabitation that family life is not just a matter of consumer choice. Given the economic impact of such decisions, it is perfectly legitimate for governments to be concerned about the future of family life. These choices are more than just a private arrangement, but are a vital part of society.

The Institute also commented that when divorce laws were liberalized in Canada, it was generally assumed that what is good for the parents would be good for the kids Subsequently, empirical research shows this has not been the case. "Whether couples are married or not is a remarkably accurate predictor of outcomes for children on many social science scales, even when economic factors are excluded." A whole range of social outcomes, such as drug use, academic results, health, and happiness, are affected by family structures. Both children and adults fare much better in a stable married situation.

OFWs working in advanced Western nations are witnesses to the deterioration of the family through divorce. I hope that our OFWs will be the very first ones to insist that we should always keep in our Constitution the statement that "marriage is an inviolable institution." A stable and happy family is the very reason why OFWs sacrifice some of the best years of their lives literally slaving in some foreign country just to eke out a decent living for their loved ones. There are no so-called humanitarian reasons that should ever make us embrace the deadly consequences of divorce.

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