The folly of economic dependence on foreign employment

31 January 2003

Which does more damage to a child during his/her formative years, the lack of cash or the non-presence of one or even both parents because he/she or they are working overseas?

Every example of the *humblest* of Filipinos being able to extricate themselves from poverty by sheer hard work and discipline *within our islands* highlights the folly and destructiveness of our easy-way-out approach to national development by lionising OFWs as "heroes". Let's not forget that the ancestors of most Filipino Chinese were third class citizens when they first came yet managed to make a life for themselves in the same dysfunctional environment.

Sure. Going off to a foreign land to earn cash to provide for one's family back home is what any "responsible parent" would do.

Or is it?

Where and when exactly does "responsible parenting" start? Does it start when one already has four kids to feed, clothe, and educate? Or does it start when one first considers having them? It seems Filipinos have forgotten or choose to ignore the latter aspect of being a "responsible parent".

Having children, then suddenly finding ourselves unable to provide for them is irresponsible. Seeking foreign employment at the expense of sound parenting and labeling it as heroism white-washes this collective irresponsibility and further adds to the counts of this irresponsibility.

It is irresponsible for one to produce offspring without considering one's long-term ability to provide for them materially as well as emotionally and spiritually. Foreign employment and abortion are sometimes the results of this lack of planning. Leaving one's young children to seek employment overseas is different from abortion in only one aspect: with abortion, the social problem ends right there and then; with foreign employment involving young children, the problems just begin. OFWs who "sacrifice" family life and the people who lionise them as "heroes" forget that these absentee-parents are turning loose unto an already dysfunctional society a whole generation of absentee-parented youth. Their "sacrifice" is our society's sacrifice as well in terms of the burden of absorbing this absentee-parented generation. The absentee-parented generation will be no improvement over a generation that already failed dismally at collectively building a strong state.

Foreign employment should therefore be treated as the temporary solution that it is and should not be institutionalised as a key economic activity. Our dependence on foreign employment should be put in its proper perspective in the context of the following principles:

(1) Parents are responsible for the physical, intellectual, and emotional health of their children. This responsibility can be fully fulfilled only by said parents' being present during their children's formative years.

(2) Every child not raised optimally presents itself as a cost to society in varying degrees (depending on the extent of its parent/s shortfall in fulfilling their parental responsibilities). The cost may range from, say, wasted public education funds all the way to law enforcement costs resulting from the criminal activities of the truly damaged ones.

(3) OFWs with young children living in the Philippines are not present during their children's formative years and are less likely to fulfill their responsibilities as parents beyond provision of material needs.

(4) Responsible parenting begins with ensuring one's capability to assume full long-term responsibility for raising children hands-on before one actually has them.

(5) Parents of young children seeking employment overseas can be considered to be remiss in their parental responsibilities, particularly in the aspect described in Item 4.

Therefore, revisiting the opening statement of this article our society therefore needs to evaluate the situation of dependence on foreign employment that it is in by considering these questions:

  • Is the cost to society of less-than-optimal parenting compensated by the financial rewards of foreign employment?
  • Are the financial fruits of foreign employment channeled to sustainable domestic enterprise to fund the long-term social costs of said foreign employment? (Or are these financial fruits sucked in by consumerism that does not contribute to the expansion of the capital base of the domestic economy?)
  • Does the social cost of absentee-parentism include a resulting collective character in the new generation of Filipinos that is not an improvement on the collective character of our generation and is therefore not compatible with the long-term goals of our efforts to build a strong state?

The nineties had demonstrated that Filipinos are good at attracting wealth but poor at employing it productively much less retaining it domestically. The wealth generated by foreign employment is not immune to this reality about us. Irresponsible export of labour has more far-reaching consequences than the go-go speculative inflows of capital in the 90's the drying up of which impacted mainly the middle and upper classes of Philippine society. The fruits of foreign employment are just as fleeting as 1990's speculative capital inflow but its social costs to all Filipinos are long-term.

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