Are Overseas Filipino Workers Creating a Welfare State in the Philippines?

A recent email from Lance the Canadian which contained links to various article regarding Filipino workers in Canada, prompted me to wonder: Are Overseas Filipino Workers creating a welfare state in the Philippines? Over 10 million Filipinos, 10 percent of the total population of the Philippines,   work abroad and send home more than $23 billion a year in remittances.

Marjorie and the crew

Marjorie, far left, and the crew from “The Compound

“It’s keeping the whole country afloat, even with all its corruption,” says Prod Laquian, a UBC professor emeritus who was raised in the Philippines and has written about Asian immigration. Professor Laquian  arrived in Vancouver in the 1960s when there were fewer than 1,000 Filipinos in Canada, now there are 625,000.

“The country may be likened to a man who has become lazy because he receives remittances from a wife working as a domestic worker abroad,” Laquian says. “For the government, the easy money from foreign remittances is a major cause of its inability to pursue sound economic development programs.” (Source: The Vancouver Sun.)

For almost four decades, the Philippines has witnessed the migration of hundreds of thousands of women and men overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to take up work in other countries and on board international ocean-going vessels. While the economic benefits from overseas employment are evident, there are related social costs such as the abuse, maltreatment, and discrimination of Filipino migrant workers, seafarers and fishers. The social impacts of the prolonged separation of family members as well as the social costs on the community and society should also be taken into account.

Republic Act 10022, an act amending Republic Act 8042, affirms that: “…the State does not promote overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development.” However, overseas employment continues, with more than a million workers deployed annually. (Source: Philippines Migrants Rights Watch.)

Should the Philippine government keep encouraging people to be supported forever, which discourages effort (study or work), and self-motivation?  I think not.

My wife, herself a former OFW in Singapore and Taiwan for years, and the rest of my extended family in the Philippines,  are quite familiar with the negative impact of having a loved one, such as a spouse or parent, working overseas for extended periods of time.


  • My wife’s oldest sister has a husband who has worked as a captain on a fishing boat for decades. The husband is sometimes gone for two years at a time. Their oldest daughter starting having children out of wedlock at the age of 17. The oldest had excellent grades in high school and was expected to go to college. Now between her and her younger sister, they have four children. The oldest likes to party until 4 am in the morning as she gets drunk on Red Horse and Tanduay Rhum.
  • My sister-in-law Marjorie, once employed as a dental technician in Manila, has worked in Saudi Arabia, where she was forced to flee after the head of the household, the wife, falsely accused Marjorie of attacking her with scissors. Now in Kuwait for over four years, Marjorie, on the right in the next picture, has not not seen her teen-aged daughter and son for years. Her children live with us and if not for the discipline and close watch my wife and I have over the kids, they, too, could go down the wrong path. But I can’t imagine the loneliness and depression the two must feel at times having been separated from their mother for so long.

Marjorie, Shina, Sharwin and JalAmiel

  • My brother-in-law Moises, seen in the next picture, has worked on a fishing boat for years and is also separated from his wife and children for years at a time. I am of the belief that it’s beneficial to have both mother and father present in the family when the children are growing up. I realize that millions of single mothers across the world are coping with raising children by themselves, but I still hold to old school beliefs, if you will, that both parents should be involved in their kid’s upbringing full time.

MoisesWhen my wife and I retired to the Philippines over five years ago my spouse was amazed by the amount of private vehicles on our little island of province in the nine year span that she was gone from her native home as she was with me nine years in America. And of course the reason for the increase of vehicles were in direct correlation to the increased number of Overseas Filipino Workers that hail from our mango province.

Go to any McDonald’s in nearby Iloilo City and look at all the overweight kids that are clutching I-Pads or texting their friends (probably at the next table) with the latest expensive smart phone. Where do you think those kids are getting that money from to have such expensive toys? Chances are, they have a mother or father, brother or sister,  working overseas.

So are  Overseas Filipino Workers creating a welfare state in the Philippines? No, it’s not the workers that are at fault, they are merely trying to provide for their families. The bulk of the blame must go to the Philippine government which seemingly only gives lip service to creating more job opportunities for Filipinos while they praise the “booming” economy of this archipelago.

The Philippines has been one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, but the expansion hasn’t been accompanied by corresponding improvements in terms of job creation and poverty reduction according to a recent United Nations study. The UN report said governments should expedite education reform and grow their economies fast to generate the kind of jobs that would improve living standards. Amen, to that brother.  (Source: InterAksyon)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  • Bill S. says:

    I cant make a very educated comment,( not that this reason usually stops me) because I dont know what life is really like there just from a few visits there, and I know even if I lived there, life for me would be far different than for the average Filipino citizen.

    One thing that I think, that hampers many jobs from being created there is its almost impossible for a large foreign business, or small one for that matter, to operate there, with all the roadblocks the govt. there has to make it all but impossible to do. The fact that they want to keep there land for only true Filipino’s to own, prevents most all business from trying to move there, and operate there. Making land ownership to foreigners has its pros and cons though, look whats happening in the states, China is taking it over economically and also buying up many of the businesses, so I can see partly what the Philippine govt. is trying to protect there, but seems to me some kind of a compromise needs to happen, if there is to ever be much production type of jobs being created, once those are created, it all runs downhill to help many other types of business and individuals.

    One question though, if in the past 10-15 years many more business’s had been created, and made it possible for many of the OFW’s to remain at home, would the Philippines still be the place that many of us have fallen in love with, and either have moved or want to move there to live. With progress and development, things will change, but not necessarily all for the better, I dont think. One of the things I love about the place is that it reminds me somewhat of the states, and the small town I grew up in, back in the 60’s.

    • The Kano says:

      You’re right on with your remarks, Bill S. The Philippines, in order to protect a handful of families which control the majority of the land here, has very restricted laws against foreigners buying property here. This is in their Constitution, which, like America, they like to enforce selectively and then piss and moan when their Supreme Court rules that what they’ve done is unconstitutional, the recent Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) scheme, for example.

      Some lawmakers what to change the Constitution to amend the law but the current administration, whose family owns vast amounts of land, is firmly against this.

      Good point about what would happen if the OFW’s got to remain at home. Would it alter the current landscape to make it almost unrecognizable? I personally would love to see the families reunited. My sister-in-law Marjorie has been on “vacation” with her boss’s family for over a week. They’re in the Philippines but she will only get one day off to see her daughter and son that live with us. She would need a whole day just for travel time back and forth.

      The Philippines does, indeed, have a certain charm. I go back to the 50’s and I tell you that, except for the cell phones and I-pads, you’d think you’re back 60 years ago as you see girls walking hand in hand with each and young guys strolling in the mall with their hand on their chum’s shoulders, and they’re not tuned in to the Ellen show, either.

  • papaduck says:

    First of all I want to commend Melinda and Yourself for the great job you guys have done in taking care of your nieces and nephews. I keep telling people OFW’s provide false growth to the economy and that they hurt the Philippines in the long run. There is no incentive for them to work. But alot of them don’t want to hear it.

    • The Kano says:

      Thanks, Papa Duck, as you know I do little of the heavy lifting and actual caregiving. I bark out an “order” occasionally, when Melinda allows it, but she’s the backbone of this operation.

      Yes, the OFW situation does indeed provide a false growth to the Philippine economy but the government is so dependent on the remittances that they will do everything in their power to keep that money coming in.

      • Mike says:

        Great topic you wrote about here Dave, and Bill I couldn’t agree with you more. I met my asawa while she was working abroad in Korea. All her family did was take advantage of her while she was there and didn’t care what kind of crap she was dealing with as long as she was sending them money. When I say her family I really mean her father because everyone else is scared of him and will lie to my asawa for him.

        We have been married for a little over 2 years now and we have done a lot to try to make it possible for them to provide for themselves. Unfortunately her father has done everything possible to screw up these opportunities. Mainly because of his drinking, gambling and messing with “Shabu” or as we call it in the states Meth. We just found out about him using Shabu recently and that her other family members have been covering for him.

        Fortunately my asawa isn’t a push over and we have cutoff communications with them to see if they will change. We still have some family members there we can trust that are monitoring everything for us. Her father has developed the mindset that his daughter is married to an American so we can always send them money. I told her father the last time I was there in the Philippines that I work hard for my money and I will not just give it to him and watch him throw it all away. I told him if he screws it up than he will never get anymore help from us.

        It is a never ending cycle that has to be broken. And yes Bill the Philippine government wants the majority of the country to be dependent and helpless.

        • The Kano says:

          Thanks for that insightful comment, Mike. Unfortunately what you report regarding your father-in-law is not uncommon in the Philippines. Many relatives of foreigners married to a Filipina have the ATM mindset; we are a cash machine that never, ever runs out of money. My own mother-in-law who lived with us for a time, is now in Manila. Why? Nobody in the family here would give her money anymore. Now it didn’t matter that we provided the house she lived in and paid for her blood pressure medicine and provided her with food, we have “treated her like dogs” because we no longer fork over any pesos for her.

          And worthless meth addicts and drunkards? We have plenty of those in the family, too. Our niece, 16, and her brother, our nephew, 15, both who live with us, haven’t seen their worthless piece of crap excuse for a father since they were born. He was into shabu and tanduay rhum and would spend any money he got on his vices and not his family. So now the kids mother has to work for a little over 200 US Dollars a month to help us support the two.

          OK, now I know meth and alcohol are a problem back in the States, too. I should know. I come from a family of alcoholics. But for the Philippine government to turn a blind eye to the sexual abuse and slave-like conditions many of these OFWs work under is absolutely atrocious. I don’t see any massive job opportunities for the working Filipino in the Philipplines in the near future. It’s like the 12-Step Program. First you have to realize you have a problem. But with the remittances flowing in on the backs of the average Pinoy and Pinay, nothing’s going to change anytime soon. And that, my friend, is a downright shame.

          • Mike says:

            Dave it is a downright shame. I am so glad to hear what you are able to do for your your niece and nephew. Hopefully I can do the same eventually for my two nephews. First I have to get the rest of the family to wake up and stop covering for her father.

            As for OFWs work conditions, I have seen this first hand. I could right books about some of the crazy conditions most of them have had to deal with. Slave-like conditions would be an understatement. The saddest part is that some of their family members, usually their dads, don’t care what they deal with as long as they are getting remittances.

            Dave I love reading all your stuff and usually check your site everyday to see if you posted anything new. Keep doing what you do. We are planning on going back to Cebu in January. While we are there we are also planning on spending time in Iloilo and Guimaras. Hopefully we can meet you and your family.

            • The Kano says:

              Yes, I was being generous with the term “slave-like”, Mike.Why even last year Philippine diplomatic and labor officials were alleged to have forced distressed Filipino women, in countries like Kuwait and Jordan, into prostitution in return for safe passage back to the Philippines.

              Thanks for checking out the website. I used to run posts on a daily basis and have considered doing that again. With the rotating brownouts currently in place, that might be a little difficult, but hopefully you will see more input from me again in the near future.

              Hope to meet up with you in the future. I love Cebu, great place and my wife sure enjoys shopping there.

  • Rey says:

    Dave, you were right. It’s the fault of the Philippine Government. Especially those corrupt public officials and politicians who only cares for their family, relatives and friends. Sometimes I wonder if democracy is really suited for us, once elected those politicians don’t give a damn about the country at all. They pay lip service that they care but they honestly don’t. If only we can find an honest and patriotic leader like Lee Kuan Yu out of 100 million Filipinos. A big if.

    • The Kano says:

      I’m with you, Rey. With BS Aquino and his cohorts’approval ratings at their all-time lowest, it looks like the Filipino people are waking up and realizing there is no “straight path”but business as usual in the Philippines. Corruption continues to thrive.

  • Owen says:

    It is very much customary for people to see a problem and develop in their minds a solution and be confident that if only their solution were implemented, the problem will be solved.

    It’s at least somewhat useful to offer the contrary perspective.

    This problem has been there for decades. They have no significant oil under ground that is shaken by earthquakes and volcanoes for 80 million years, and they import every drop of it at higher and higher prices. No government change or family power change will ever make that different. It is not reasonable to believe that after all these decades that if a solution were possible it would not have already arrived. There is no law of the universe that says all problems are solvable.

    Should they give up? Yes. Try to help your family, but don’t plan to go in the direction you hear others going, because they are going to fail. Rather, do the opposite of what locals are doing.

    • The Kano says:

      And Owen, if I might add, and if I recall correctly, you also gave out some good advice regarding Filipinas finding a foreigner to marry. Many ladies can better their life that way and thus help their family, as long as the help is not demanded by the relatives (which in many cases it is.) While people in Western cultures might view this as the “mail order bride”syndrome, I see nothing wrong with this practice. My Filipina wife, whom I met through a pen pal service, was branded a “mail order bride” by some of my fellow co-workers. Listen, I wouldn’t trade her for anything. She’s the best and I’m one fortunate guy.

  • Lucy says:

    Dave, I’ve been reading your posts for a couple of years now and I’ve enjoyed them all. Everyone once in a while, I think about posting a comment, only to decide against it. This topic, however, is an issue that I think of often. When I was in the Philippines, Iloilo area, more specifically, I noticed how many young people had the latest gadgets, brand name shoes and clothes, that even I don’t have. Not that I can’t afford it, I just choose to spend my money more wisely. Why? Because I work hard for it! Sadly, many of the people receiving remittance money do not realize that the money they are receiving so easily, is stained with blood, sweat, and tears, of their OFW family member.
    I went shopping with some family at the SM mall in Iloilo City. The Mom is an OFW working in the Middle East. She has two children, both are in their late teens; neither of whom were working or taking school seriously. Husband is a bum. Anyway, the way her children went on and on about asking for the latest Nike apparel, Kiplinger bags, laptop and iPhones, I thought the Mom was making big bucks. Turns out, her income only converted to roughly $700.00 a month! With that, she has to pay for her living expenses, send money back to her family, and pay for her plane fare for the mandatory yearly exit from the Middle East. I asked Mom how she managed to pay for it all. She said, “utang” (loan). Can you imagine having to be away from your family, work like a horse to provide for everyone and still have to borrow money?! What a sad life. Even sadder, is that her family does not have an appreciation for what their mother endures just to be able to make their lives better. Mom said, she can’t even envision ever retiring because she is so far in debt and neither of children will ever be in a position to take care of themselves. And husband, well……. did I say, he’s a useless bum? This is just one sad story of many that I heard of while I was in Iloilo. So, yes, I fear, all the remittance money is breading a welfare mentality among many of the Filipinos and it’s the start of the family unraveling. I hope I’m proven wrong.
    Is it the government’s fault? Well, we can blame the government officials for stealing tax monies that could go towards infrastructure that could employ Filipino citizens, so they don’t have to leave their country to earn a living. We can even blame business owners who partner up with corrupt politicians to keep their fat wallets full, without care for the common folk. But, the overspending and the “you owe me mentality, as in utang na luob,” fault lies within the people themselves. I’m sure there are other Filipinos who take their remittance money and either save it or invest it wisely, so their OFW loved ones can retire and come home to a decent way of life. Why not start an education program using a successful role model? Just a thought. Thanks for letting me post such long winded comment, Dave. And please keep your articles coming. I love reading them! Oh, and I won’t post such long comments anymore.

    • The Kano says:

      Lucy, first of all, you may post as long as comment as you like. Secondly, thanks for following this website the last couple of years. It is always great to hear from someone that has never left a comment before, and I sincerely appreciate it.

      What an insightful story, true but sad. I’m afraid there are a lot of “useless bums” out there. We have a niece that was working in Dubai. Her husband used the money she earned on his girlfriends. She was heartbroken when she found out, of course, and now is in the process of seeking an annulment. And, of course, that’s a process that could take years, unless you are a celebrity or a politician.

      I worry that our niece and nephew that live with us, whose Mom is in Kuwait working as an OFW, have an unrealistic concept of life. They live with a “rich” American uncle, eat three square meals a day, and have access to a computer with wi-fi and satellite tv. Meanwhile, their Mom, Marjorie, who earns big bucks, 200 US Dollars a month, continues to slave away to help provide for her children. But the kids are respectful and do their chores. They’re good kids and we’re doing the best we can with them.

      This “you owe me mentality, as in utang na luob,” as you pointed out, is so permeated throughout the culture, as it is, back in the States. An education fund is an excellent idea. Sister-in-law Marjorie is paying for our niece’s college education and plans to send our nephew, now in his last year of high school, to college.

      Again, thanks so much for your input. Look forward to hearing from you again.

  • Owen says:

    Your last phrasings, Dave, are lost on ALMOST ALL WESTERN MEN ON DATING WEBSITES.

    Girls / Ladies in the Philippines nearly always don’t have computers and they don’t have internet at home. Period. So the ladies replying to men on websites . . . are funding that somehow. Usually from their client list of all the men they talk to and persuade to send money — when they’ve never even been in the same room.

    Additional, typing. Access to the dating site via phone is possible, but how does she read a long multi paragraph message and compose one in return on that tiny screen? How does she “get to know” the guy when she has to fight to read and write the messages? We can extrapolate that socially — these ladies don’t know how to type. How can they hold a job?

    Translation, it’s mostly scams going on with those websites.

    Dave, when you’re back in the US, you need to contact the sons of all your old friends back there. Age 30ish. Throw your pretty nieces at them. They and their dads will be grateful forever. The point there would be . . . to find a girl, know an expat on station.

    • The Kano says:

      You’re probably right, Owen, though the majority of Filipinas at the local internet cafe that I have seen are too busy checking out Facebook to see how many “likes” their friends gave them on their latest selfie. Narcissism runs rampant on the archipelago.

      Well, I honestly don’t know of any American friends that I could introduce my niece, Michelle, to, Owen. I will visiting my Dad in Las Vegas and his buddies are too occupied playing bingo at the local casino or sucking in second smoke and ogling the cocktail waitresses while earning points on the slot machines for that “free buffet.”

      • Owen says:

        Vegas is not what you might remember. A financial nuclear bomb went off there and destroyed real estate. It’s nowhere near recovered.

        Cocktail waitresses are now 50 years old and not ogle material.

        Nellis AFB is 5 miles north of Vegas and the military guys are in town in evenings and weekends. Maybe your dad knows a few. Have some of her most flattering pictures available and an email address for her.

        I’m told most FB checking there is done via phone. What most catches my attention is the inability to type fast (since they never had a computer around to practice on). Seems hard to imagine them doing long conversations if they can’t type, and the glib “just use Skype” doesn’t work too well in a crowded cybercafe.

        • The Kano says:

          My Dad is a Korean War veteran when he was in the Air Force, Owen. He has never been to Nellis though he has lived in Vegas for years now. Michelle, our only niece I would want anyone to correspond with, is too busy working as a teacher’s aide at her auntie’s school and doesn’t have that much spare time. I have asked her, but she’s not interested in chatting with anyone now.

          I have no frickin’ idea how many nieces I have, let alone available cousins my asawa has. My wife has five sisters and two brothers, most of them in the Manila area. Our niece from Palawan, see home page, “How to Find a Filipina Girlfriend 50 Years Your Junior,” recently married. She is in her early 20’s, he is in his 60’s.

Leave a Reply