This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (
Vol. VI, No. 26, August 6-12, 2006



'Supermaid' Solution Proves Permanence of OFW Deployment

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced last August 3 the upgrading of skills and knowledge of Filipino domestic helpers who want to work abroad so that they can become what she described as “supermaids.” The move is said to address the economic dislocation brought about by the evacuation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) deployed to war-torn Lebanon. This only shows that the deployment of OFWs is now a permanent arrangement due to the government’s failure to generate much-needed jobs in the Philippines, as well as the need to keep the economy afloat through OFW remittances.


When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo expressed last August 4 her “dismay over the deaths of (two) Filipino women workers while escaping from their employers” in war-torn Lebanon, she also stressed the need for the forced evacuation of all Filipinos there given the volatility of the situation.

“We shall not take any chances with the lives of Filipinos in threat of danger,” she said. The government’s target of “zero casualty” for OFWs in Lebanon, however, is hard to achieve for the simple reason that there is no clear accounting of the actual number of Filipinos in Lebanon. Even the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) acknowledged that two of every three OFWs repatriated from Lebanon are undocumented.

This situation explains the discrepancy in the figures. The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) pegs the OFWs deployed to Lebanon at only 14,970 while the recruiters’ group Philippine Association of Mediterranean Agencies Deploying Labours, Inc. (PAMADEL) has a higher count of 26,146. Newspaper reports, on the other hand, have higher estimates of Filipinos working in Lebanon ranging from 30,000 to 34,000.

The ban on deployment of Filipino workers to “dangerous countries such as Iraq and Lebanon” is understandable at this point. But instead of encouraging workers to find gainful employment in the Philippines, the president said that she wants “selective deployment” of workers to ensure that “they would land jobs with good working conditions abroad.”

In fact, the president’s decision to upgrade the skills and knowledge of domestic helpers so that they can become not just ordinary maids but “supermaids” is meant for them to command higher salaries more than anything else, based on her statement last August 3.

The government’s decision to continue OFW deployment, even if on a selective basis, and to deploy “supermaids” in the future reinforces the institutionalization of labor migration which runs contrary to the claim of the late President Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s. At that time, Marcos stressed that labor migration is just a temporary arrangement until such time that the domestic economy can generate the necessary jobs for Filipinos.

It was during the Marcos regime, in fact, that the POEA was established in 1982 for the “marketing and deployment” of Filipinos abroad. Four years after (1986), the OWWA was created to provide welfare and development assistance to migrants.

The years that followed saw the establishment of migrant-related agencies like the International Labor Assistance Service (ILAS), Consular Assistance Division (CAD) and the Commission on Overseas Filipinos (COF). In 2004, the Office of External Affairs was created to “harness the help of some three million Filipino immigrants and expatriates in the U.S. West Coast.”

Since the past and present administrations created an atmosphere conducive for the export of labor, it is not surprising that the number of deployed OFWs has risen through the years. In 2005, the POEA estimated that there are 981,677 OFWs, with Saudi Arabia (193,991), Hong Kong (94,553), United Arab Emirates (81,707), Taiwan (46,714) and Japan (42,586) as the top five destinations.

The government actually benefits from the deployment of OFWs not only through their remittances that amounted to $10.7 billion as of 2005, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

There are also pre-departure fees that government collects from each OFW, among them the POEA processing fee, OWWA welfare fund contribution, OWWA medicare, POEA Overseas Employment Certificate, Artist Record Book, Seaman’s Book, and passport processing. During employment, the government collects fees for passport renewal and visa per extension, among others.

Not surprisingly, the OWWA is reported to have combined assets as of June 30, 2004 amounting to P8 billion ($155.28 million, based on an exchange rate of P51.52 per US dollar), courtesy of various fees collected from OFWs. The OWWA reportedly collects $25 as membership fee in exchange for its services.

It is in this context that the local unemployment problem works to the advantage of the government, as OFW remittances are used to help fulfill the country’s dollar needs and it earns from various fees prior to and during employment of OFWs.

The deployment of OFWs therefore is expected to be a permanent arrangement for the present and even future administrations that prefer not to strengthen the domestic economy and instead allow the export of labor, notwithstanding the social cost and dangers endemic to this policy.

This now leads one to conclude that while it is dangerous to work in war-torn countries like Lebanon, the government makes it equally dangerous for Filipino workers to continuously market, promote and deploy them abroad. Bulatlat


© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.