Thursday, 16 July 2009

Greetings to All OFWs

Dr. Bernardo Villegas

I am grateful to the management of for inviting me to write this regular column especially addressed to the millions of OFWs all over the world.

As a professional economist, I have often cited the significant contribution all of you are making to the economic progress of the Philippines. From my own calculations, the remittances you send to your relatives in the Philippines contribute as much as 12 percent of GDP, especially this year when our economy is slowing down because of the ongoing global crisis.

I have decided to entitle this column Thinking Global because I have often remarked in the economic briefings and lectures I give both here and abroad that one of the reasons why we have been left behind by our East Asian neighbors in economic development is that we have for too long been very insular in our thinking, adopting an inward-looking strategy based on import-substitution and nationalist industrialization. Unlike our neighbors, we did not think global, that is rack our brains on what we could sell to the rest of the world. We were too obsessed trying to protect our very limited domestic market. We were too paranoid about the presence of foreigners in our economy.

One of the major benefits that OFWs can confer on our economy is to open the eyes of those of us left behind to the many opportunities of trading with the rest of the world. A good number of you will come back sooner or later and the contacts, knowledge, skills, and positive values you are acquiring in your respective host countries will make more Filipinos think global, even as they necessarily have to act local. What you have learned from your stay abroad will still have to be adapted to the local conditions in the Philippines. In my future columns, I will talk about the leading sectors of the economy where the OFWs returning can start businesses of their own, apply the technology and practices that you have learned abroad.

Let me congratulate you for all the testimonials I have heard from your foreign employers about the sterling qualities of overseas Filipino workers. I spent the years 2007 and 2008 teaching in the IESE Business School in the beautiful city of Barcelona, where I met a good number of Filipino workers. While in Barcelona, I did a lot of traveling to other European cities, giving economic briefings to potential and actual investors in the Philippines. There was no place where I did not hear lavish praises heaped on Filipino workers for their outstanding traits. That is why I have been telling the people in the World Bank and other international agencies that the Philippines will not suffer from a large decline of remittances that OFWs send home this year, despite the fact that rates of unemployment all over the host countries have risen to very high levels (for example, in Spain it is reaching 20 percent).

The remittances during the first four to five months of 2009 have actually increased, albeit at a slower rate. I am sure that in the second semester of this year, the growth in the remittances will accelerate because new Filipino workers being deployed are more, more numerous than those who are returning.

In Dubai, a seven-star hotel sent many of their foreign workers home, except the Filipinos. Why? Because Filipinos are multi-skilled and can assume different jobs, reducing the manpower costs of their employer. In Barcelona, a restaurant chain hires only Filipino waiters. Why? Because of our pleasant disposition and personal hygiene. In the United Kingdom, patients prefer Filipino nurses. Why? Because of the tender and loving care they give, in addition to their technical skills. In international shipping lines, a greater percentage of the crew is composed of Filipinos. Why? Because they speak English and are very adaptable to various cultures. I can go on and on. In fact, I would appreciate other examples that my readers can send me so that together we can convince the international financial institutions that the remittances you will be sending to the Philippines will not suffer large declines this year.

These remittances will greatly contribute to the 4 percent growth in GDP that I personally think we can still attain in 2009, as our neighbors like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan suffer large declines of 4 to 6 percent in their GDP.

You may be asking what are the other sources of growth that will benefit your relatives, especially in the provinces. Well, there are hundreds of billions of pesos that will be spent in the second semester on infrastructures in the countryside, such as farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities, seaports and airports. These construction projects are generally labor-intensive and will employ many of your relatives who are living in the rural areas. Another major engine of growth will be the spending by the candidates for the May 2010 elections. We may see a repeat of the 1992 national elections when some 5 to 7 candidates may be running for President. If you put all the candidates for the Senate, the House of Representatives, governorship, mayoralty, etc. you can imagine the financial largesse that will be flowing to the masses, contributing to the pump-priming that is very much welcome during these recessionary times. As an aside, I hope you will use your right as absentee voters.

I wanted to set the mood right in this maiden column I am writing for Some of you might have used my textbooks like Guide to Economics for Filipinos or Economics for the Consumer in your high school or early college years. If you did, then you know that I always take a positive view of things, even while conscious of the many difficulties we are facing as individuals and as a nation. The glass is half-filled, I always say. I hope as we interact with one another you will eventually share my optimism about our country. A great deal of that optimism I owe to the fact that millions of you are out there sacrificing yourselves for the benefit of your loved ones.

You are the first ones I think of when I think global. My thanks and prayers go with you.

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