Revisiting safeguards for our economic heroes


The Philippines’ greatest resource is its people – literally and figuratively.

Last year alone, the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that there are 11 million Filipinos who live abroad, with about a whopping 10 million working as legal immigrants pre-pandemic – about a 10th of the Philippine population.

Despite the decline in numbers of OFWs who were able to work abroad the past two years due to Covid restrictions and consequently dire economies worldwide, Statistika reports that there were 745,000 Filipinos who were actually deployed overseas, projecting a significant rise of 35 percent from 2020. OFWs impact our economy in both macro and microscopic levels through their remittances. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported an unprecedented remittance of  $31.4 billion last year, reflecting a 5.1 percent growth from $29.9 billion in 2020. These are but some of the information to justify if still needed, the term used to describe OFWs as our “modern heroes,” modern-day economic heroes to be more precise.

But with news recently making the rounds in our nightly newscasts about how our OFWs continue to receive much less what a hero should normally be bestowed upon, the empirical data does not seem to matter at the end of the day.

A Filipina domestic helper was yet another victim of a brutal killing  in the Middle East – at this day and age when our government should have already learned from earlier crimes committed against OFWs that sent shockwaves throughout the country then. The Kuwaiti government is quoted to condemn the killing of Jullebee Ranara who was brutally killed just last week, with her abused and pregnant body found burnt and abandoned in a desert in Kuwait. The suspect who is a teenage son of Ranara’s employer was said to have been arrested immediately after, but how can we delve into the case in the long run and make sure that justice will be served? Or just like the past crimes committed against OFWs, will the Ranara case be yet another fleeting memory after its “15 minutes of fame”?

Filipinos have been known to be quite forgiving people. Bad things happen, we mull over it, and move on. But if our people – our nation’s greatest resource – will be truly protected, we as a nation must take this opportunity to serve as watchdogs and ascertain that justice will be served till the end.

Several Philippine senators have vehemently raised the issue of a deployment ban to Kuwait. However, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) prefers to revisit bilateral talks with the Kuwaiti government stating that a deployment ban “might hurt international relations with other countries.” It was only five years ago when President Rodrigo Duterte banned the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait following the gruesome killing of housemaid Joanna Demafelis. If anything good came out from this horrific event in 2018, it was the labor pact between the Philippines and Kuwait, which included banning employers from withholding passports and travel documents.

If anything must come out of the Ranara case, it is for our government to finally fine tune the agreement we have with Kuwait. Following President Bongbong Marcos’ mandate for the appropriate departments and agencies to thoroughly examine the existing treaty, the DMW as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs must decisively find ways to protect Filipinos abroad. As the DMW is currently at the process of investigating the Ranara case, it will be wise to consider finding alternate countries with historically better working conditions where our OFWs can work.

As much as it is ideal to bring the OFWs back here at home, unemployment and underemployment are real issues that need to be first addressed. Parallel to these diplomatic efforts, this moment should not be a flash in the pan but an opportunity to serve as a wake-up call to focus on local economic recovery. 2023 has only began, but if we are to find a glimmer of optimism with the last report that the country's unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent in October 2022, from 7.4 percent during the same period last year, (Philippine Statistics Office), this tragedy can pivot an impactful reformation of existing policies for our OFWs.

In reality, it will take more time to create sufficient and better job opportunities right here in the country to prevent poverty-stricken Filipinos from seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Hence, while we have yet to reach that juncture, the mindset of our elected and appointed public officials must be truly “makabayan” and “makatao” bearing in mind that it is the blood, sweat and tears of our OFWs that have ironically been largely supporting our nation’s economy.