Time to plug the brain drain?

Published September 22, 2022, 12:02 AM

by Manila Bulletin

In one of the speeches of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. during his working visit in New York, a line resonated with Filipinos, especially those who have been far away from their land of birth for too long. The President said, “Let us reverse the brain drain. Ibalik natin ang galing ng Pilipino sa Pilipinas (Let us bring Filipino talent back to the Philippines).”

Going to another country for work, starting a family, or settling down is not something new and shouldn’t come as a surprise since it is a personal decision of individuals and their families.  It was confirmed by a study published by the International Labor Office in Geneva titled “Skilled Labor Migration from Developing Countries, which said, ”Since the early ‘70s, the Philippines has been experiencing a ‘brain drain’ phenomenon with the migration of highly skilled physicians, teachers, seamen, mechanics, engineers, and others.”

The paper then went on to characterize brain drain in the ‘80s as “exodus of those in the medical profession and mid-level professionals such as nurses and medical technicians;” while in the ‘90s, “advances in information technology triggered new waves of skilled labor migration abroad consisting of engineers and programmers.”  Fast forward to the present. Brain drain still continues, most especially if financial opportunities abroad abound in a particular industry.

A message from a president, espousing overseas Filipinos to contribute to the nation, is also not new. But what is different now is that the current president pledged to “eliminate bureaucratic inefficiencies” and to “enhance public service and ease of doing business.” A tall order, indeed, and something this administration is bent on doing — rightsizing the government.

An efficient government, the President stressed, is one that “gets out of the way” of Filipinos’ desire to invest, do business, and live an ideal lifestyle. Thus, he told Filipinos in the US to continue to invest in properties or businesses so that they could help create jobs. For those who are temporarily working overseas, the President said that his government will create more opportunities to entice overseas Filipinos so that they wouldn’t be attracted — or even forced — to find work abroad and leave their families behind.

“I stand here before you to invoke the Filipino spirit of bayanihan… and to challenge each and every one of you to contribute meaningful change back home,” Marcos Jr. said. “Your country needs you!”

It would take time and perhaps more research to truly determine the effects of brain drain. Supporters have said that it would ultimately benefit the country because of remittances and technology transfer. On the other hand, critics have raised concerns about the underlying moral, economic, and societal impacts of brain drain on young families.

Draining any prejudice, the call of the President is timely and consequential. There will be high hopes and expectations coming from the four million plus Filipino Americans, who comprise 18 percent of the total Asian population in the US.  More so in lands where overseas workers are finding it difficult to work in.

Whether they want to find other work or finally retire, or discover channels where to utilize their excess funds for investment and business, there is this fervent hope that they would first prioritize their land of birth and — like what the President said — “help bring the Philippines to heights it has not reached before.”