ONE can be found using Lek in Tirane, another in Lusaka using Kwacha. Indeed, Filipinos are everywhere: in almost all the 195 countries of the world.
An estimated 10.24 million Filipinos are scattered across the globe, from Albania and Algeria (59,036) to Vanuatu (160) and Zambia. About 48 percent of them live permanently abroad, while 41 percent are temporary migrants. About 11 percent are irregular migrants.
It is the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) who keeps track of them.
The 10 top destinations in descending order are: the US (3,535,676); Japan (237,103); Australia (160,374); Taiwan (108,520); Canada (721,570); the UK (218,126); Germany (65,000); South Korea (63,000); Norway (18,000); and Sweden (13,000), the CFO said.
It is said the Filipino diaspora started during the reign of the dictator, Ferdinand E. Marcos, when the country was hit by severe economic depression, lack of job opportunities andpolitical oppression.
Thousands of Filipinos desperately seeking better lives for themselves and their families took risks and bravely went to strange lands and cultures taking on whatever jobs were available, according to Ted Laguatan, a
San Francisco-based Filipino American lawyer.
“After the downfall of the Marcos regime, the Philippine economy did not take off as expected,” Laguatan said. “Compared to its Asian neighbors’ robust economies, the Philippines continued to reel from the terrible legacy left by the dictator: massive institutionalized corruption, crony capitalism, bad or weak leadership and a host of other problems—preventing an industry-based economic takeoff.”
AMID low-rise homes in the vicinity of President Quirino Avenue and Osmeña Highway stands a modern building the CFO calls its headquarters.
Despite its modernity, the building, whose entirety is being rented or leased by the CFO, has practically
no parking space except for five cars in the basement and 10 more near the entrance. This lack of parking space in a crowded building is the same state of affairs that characterizes the Aseana, under the Department of Foreign Affairs, where Philippines passport are issued.
“Maybe because it is cheaper to rent,” the guard offered as an explanation. Most often, clients try their luck and park on the sidewalk, with the tow truck or car clamp not far from their minds.
The CFO adopted the International Organization for Migration (IOM) definition of diaspora as members of ethnic and national communities who have left their countries or origin, but maintain links with their homeland.
The CFO said there is a need to correct the misconception that all overseas Filipinos are migrant workers. This is not the case since about half of Filipinos residing overseas are actually permanent migrants or legal permanent residents or immigrants in the countries where they live, or are spouses of foreign nationals residing abroad.
Overseas Filipino workers, on the other hand, fall under the category of temporary migrants whose stay abroad is temporary owing to the employment-related nature of their stay. They are expected to return when their work contracts expire.
The CFO said irregular migrants consist of those who are not properly documented or without valid residence or work permits or who may simply be overstaying workers, tourists, pilgrims, or visitors in a foreign country.
FORMER CFO Secretary Imelda M. Nicolas has said her agency has more than lived up to its mandate.
“Cognizant of the inherent capacity of our people as to shine, as well as survive, even in the most challenging times—we hope that by spreading the news about our diaspora’s potential, as well as their travails—the CFO has not only lived up to its mandate but has elicited the support of and multiplied the stakeholders in this important work of changing the concept of migration into a positive instrument for global and national progress.” The CFO chairman is currently vacant but presently headed by its interim Officer in Charge Director Maria Regina Angela G. Galias. Galias has denied the BusinessMirror’s request for an interview twice. Galias has been with the CFO since its founding in 1980, which gave her 37 years of experience in this kind of specialized job.
CFO insiders wish that President Duterte would appoint Galias as chairman instead of giving the post to a friend or kababayan. It would be Galias who would be the giving guidance to the would-be political appointee anyway, they said.
COINCIDENTALLY, when the CFO was founded in 1980, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported the billions of dollars that migrants transfer out of their host countries through remittances “far exceeded the official development assistance [ODA] from donor states to qualifying countries.”
Ivy D. Miravalles, officer in charge of the CFO Migrant Integration and Education Division, explained, “The CFO is not about looking after the welfare of OFWs. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration [OWWA] and the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency [POEA] are the agencies that take care of the OFWs’ welfare.”
The CFO is a government agency under the Office of the President but with different clients. It was created under Republic Act 79, tasked to promote and uphold the interests, rights and welfare of overseas Filipinos, and strengthen their links with the Motherland.
Its vision is to see a community of well-respected and proudly competitive Filipinos overseas who contribute significantly to the productivity and well-being of the countries where they reside or work while maintaining strong political, economic and cultural ties with the Philippines.
THE CFO wants to be known as “the Philippines’s premier institution promoting policies, programs and projects with migration and development as framework, for the strengthening and empowering the community of Filipino overseas”.
The expanded CFO clientele, according to documents, are the following:
■ Filipino permanent residents abroad;
■ Filipino who have been naturalized in other countries;
■ Filipino overseas who hold dual citizenship;
■ Filipino spouses and other partners of foreign nationals;
■ Descendants of Filipino overseas;
■ Filipino youth overseas;
■ Exchange visitor program participants;
■ Filipino Au Pair; and
■ Migrant workers and their dependents abroad.
To be continued
Image credits: Nonie Reyes