The Mobile Filipino: Glorified Victims of the Crisis of Capitalism

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The Mobile Filipino: Glorified Victims of the Crisis of Capitalism

By: Marlon Cornelio and Rafaela David, Akbayan Youth – Philippines.

Parts of this paper were presented during the Workers Youth Festival, 9-12 May, Dortmund Germany. First published in the Newsletter of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY). 

The future doesn’t look bright in the Philippines. That is, at least for some 60 % of Filipino youth, from rural and urban, ages 15-30, who desire to work abroad because of higher pay according to the 2010 Youth Study of the National Youth Commission. This is despite the knowledge that working abroad is not healthy for family stability, according to more than 70% of those surveyed. About 85% of those surveyed recognize limited opportunities to earn a living in the country.

While noble with intentions to support their families by working abroad, young people, — future scientists,engineers, teachers, medical practitioners, etc. — comprising a third of the Philippine population, are leaving their country for “greener” pastures. Already, about 10% of the 100 Million Filipinos are working abroad, known as overseas Filipinoworkers (OFWs). They are ‘honored’ by the government as the ‘new heroes’ for sending back remittances amounting to more than US$ 20 B a year, 4th largest in the world next to China, India and Mexico, and keeping the economy afloat despite the global economic crises.

Additionally, there are about a million young Filipinos, physically in the country but working for businesses abroad, working in call centers or business process outsourcing (BPOs), one ofthe fastest growing industries in the country for the past years. In 2012, the BPO sector generated revenues of more than US$ 13 B. The industry has grown an average of 20-25% from 2009 to 2012, and is projected to grow more in the coming years.

The global outsourcing industry is one of the few industries that thrived despite the economic crises in the past years. In 2009, the global revenues increased from US$ 106 B (2008) to US$110, employing a total of close to 4 million professionals. By 2016, the industry forecasts revenue of US$ 300B with almost eight million employed. In the Philippines, US$ 25 B, about a tenth of the world revenue, is projected for 2016, with a direct workforce of 1.3 million, accounting for nine percent of GDP.

The numbers for both industries look promising. Philippine economic managers have only praises for the workers in these two industries for the 6.8 % growth in the GDP in 2012 despite the global economic crises.

But is this internationally-dependent, service industry-backed growth sustainable? What is this growth if not a symptom of capital crossing borders to increase profit by exploiting cheap labor?

Indeed, this growth based on mobile labor brings to the fore three important issues that need to be looked at: (1) the ever-adapting nature of neoliberal capitalism, (2) unsustainableand inequitable growth in the Philippine economy and (3) the high cost of labor trading on workers’ rights.

Why the Philippines? — Capital Exploring Greener Pastures

Alongside the mobility of labor is the mobility of capital. Capitalism, always in a state of crisis and expansion, has found its way yet again across borders, this time around, across the Philippine border and other developing countries, for the cheapest labor.

Dubbed as one of the “Tiger Cub Economies” of Asia, the Philippines, like other developing countries, has proven an attractive market where cheap labor can be bought to stabilize the capitalist crisis that had been growing in the shores of developed countries. On the one hand, labor migration or the OFW phenomenon has proven to make capital more profitable, with Filipinos themselves becoming cheap commodities for sale, pushing the service sector in countries abroad at highly profitable rates. It has also provided a way out for businesses not to heed to the demands of more organized labor movements in developed countries.  It is not uncommon for migrant workers to be pitted against local workers.

The whole business of labor export has also led to the investment of capital to institutions that profit from the trade of labor. These include both legal and illegal recruiting agencies, big corporate service providers and even government agencies. Employers in receiving countries are of course more than willing to accommodate OFWs for the sake of skilled workers at cheaper labor costs.

More recently, we also see outsourcing as another form of capital adaptation. Investments poured in the Philippines as the country has become a location of choice for companies outsourcing operational processes, voice and non-voice, such as human resources,information technology support, medical transcription, engineering services,animation, game development and finance and accounting. According to the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP), the Philippines has the largest number of voice-BPO employees in the world and has established itself as a mature tier-1 destination globally.

In its reports, BPAP attributes the attractiveness of the Philippines as an outsourcing destination to a number of factors including strong English-speaking capabilities, low infrastructure and labor costs, large base of fresh graduates and talent availability, as well as strong government support.

Demand for the Philippine labor force, therefore, increases with high supply of cheap yet skilled workers — a  more than good deal for most investors.

Growth for Growth’s Sake

The Philippine government, hence on its part, has been more than willing to oblige foreign investors, promoting both officially and unofficially labor mobility both outside (in the form of OFWs) and inside (in the form of BPOs), citing labor as one of the country’s richest resource, lauded further by the government for keeping the Philippine economy growing in the midst of the global economic meltdown.

The optimism on our economy basedon the 6.8% growth in GDP in 2012 however is misleading.

Looking at the Philippine economy closely, it is evident that the service sector contributed mostly to the growth. This proves problematic as even the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in its recent report stated that unless government supports policies that promote a more robust manufacturing sector, the Philippines has a long way to go to achieve inclusive growth.

The report further stated that the Philippines’ reliance on BPO industry and remittances-driven private consumption do not provide higher paying jobs needed to reduce poverty. This is more importantly critical as even if job creation has increased due to BPOs and OFWs, total labor force participation has not increased. Moreover, the pool of skilled workers are forced to take low-productivity jobs both here and abroad, while there is an increase in the underutilization of moderately skilled workers.

Labor trade and the economic growth subsequently prove both unsustainable and inequitable. Growth herein does not translate to local development and poverty alleviation. It is no surprise then when the growth in the aggregate wealth of our 40 richest families in 2011 has shown to be equivalent (in value) to 76.5 percent of the growth in our total GDP at the time.

The Price of Growth – The High Cost of Labor Trading On Workers’ Rights

The creation of jobs here and abroad has been hailed as among the most important indicators of growth in the local economy. But what kinds of jobs are generated in this labor export business?

There are inspiring stories ofFilipinos being lucky and accomplished in their work abroad. However,generally, OFWs are vulnerable to a number of risks when they go out of the country. The risks begin in the Philippines where local recruiters, acting as placement agencies, get high commissions from aspiring applicants. Once deployed, they are forced to take low-paying contracts that do not reflect earlier agreements with the local recruiters. Many OFWs working in the domestic sector further find themselves in repressive situations, where the pay is lowand the working hours long. Mostly women, they are expected to work 18-20 hours a day and fulfill the sexual needs of their employers. Those in better paying jobs in more developed countries are more fortunate. Nonetheless, they become subject to discriminate office policies and lower salary grades.

This is not to mention the effects of labor migration to both the OFW’s social well-being and to his/her family left in the Philippines. With social adjustments in the new country, integration is not always a pleasant experience, with support systems not readily accessible, especially to those who were recruited illegally. Moreover, the alienation of the worker from his/her family and the dependence bred on remittance becomes a source of conflict in OFW families.

BPO industries on the other hand show another scenario. The entry rate in the industry is between PHP16, 000 and PHP18, 000 which is 50% more than the minimum wage rage in Metro Manila pegged at PHP 389-426 a day. This relatively higher salary however comes with greater cost attributed to odd working hours,irate clients, tedious workloads and heavy performance demands. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the International Labor Office (ILO) found the BPO workers have issues on stress, poor diet, physical inactivity, tobacco and alcohol use, HIV and IDS, tuberculosis and violence.

Furthermore, health complaints concerning eyes, cough, voice disorders and insomnia are common among call center agents. The prevalence of these health problems have been noted significantly higher compared to other night shift workers. BPO night-shift workers are also more predisposed to safety issues, particularly petty crimes. Attrition rate is also significantly high in BPO industries at 9-10% at the average. With these working conditions, one out of three would resign at the end of the year or four times as high as the national average on turnover rate. With these considerations, career development and job security are huge challenges.

Towards a Global Network of Workers

Despite such job insecurities,labor migration, real and virtual, is a growing industry in the Philippines. Working abroad or in BPOs has increasingly become the option for young Filipinos and the government lays policies and invests on infrastructures that promote such kind of market behavior. Similar patterns can be observed and should be expected in other developing countries.

The challenge now of the Filipino progressives and their counterparts is three-pronged: one, the immediate task to consolidate the formidable force of the growing number of migrant (OFW and BPO) workers; two, the necessity to develop cooperations with workers in developing and developed countries, in both countries sending and receiving migrant workers; and, three, the large scale work of directing longterm policy from growth to sustainable and equitable development, while providing security and safety nets for the workers and their families.

The first two tasks prove daunting enough. But the growing labor market that transcends national borders provides progressives with a promising international network of skilled cadres. Workers from developing countries should be empowered to collectively bargain and not to take part in the bidding for the cheapest labor. Decent jobs should be a universal standard applied in and demanded by workers in developed and developing countries. If perhaps progressive movements can once again consolidate their ranks, the third task of directing government policies will necessarily follow.

Student groups summon government agencies, raise education sector woes

3 June 2013 | Press Release

educDays before the start of classes, various student groups and student council from universities and colleges, led by Akbayan Youth together with the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), summoned representatives from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Philippine National Police (PNP), Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and the National Youth Commission (NYC) to a dialogue today to air out various issues and concerns of the education sector.

According to Akbayan Youth Spokesperson JC Tejano, the students convened the dialogue in order to create a venue for closer cooperation of students and concerned government agencies in addressing student issues.

“Pinatawag ng mga estudyante itong dialogue para bigyang tugon ang mga isyung kinahaharap namin. Sa palagay namin, hindi dahil sa nagpoprotesta kami tungkol sa mga isyung ito ay walang lugar para magkaroon ng masinsinang paguusap. Bukas kami sa ibang mga paraan para solusyonan ang mga problema ng mga estudyante,” Tejano said.

“Gusto rin namin maging institutionalized itong dialogue. Hopefully, we can hold these dialogues every semester to ensure that there is a mechanism wherein we can constantly improve the programs and policies targeting the student sector,” Tejano added.

Among the list of issues tackled in the dialogue include tuition and other fees increases and reports of irregular consultations with students conducted by some colleges and universities.

“The rising cost of education has always been a burden to students, many of whom come from families struggling to make ends meet. We urge CHED to immediately act on this concern. We have also received numerous reports of irregular or lack of consultations with the students in some schools,” according to Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) Chairperson Heart Diño.

Students’ safety and security

The student groups also raised students’ safety and security concerns with the PNP especially in the opening of classes.

“Dapat kapag unang araw o balik-eskwela masaya yung karanasan at hindi nag-aalala yung mga estudyante na  baka maging biktima sila ng krimen,” according to Polytechnic University of the Philippines – College of Communication Student Council President Cedric Martinez.

“Natutuwa kami na may ginagawa rin yung PNP para protektahan yung mga estudyante ngayong pagbukas ng eskwelahan. Sana itong dayalogo ay makatulong para magkaroon ng higit na pagtutulungan para maaksyunan ang mga insidente ng krimen,” Martinez added.

Martinez also expressed hope that police authorities will likewise exert maximum tolerance during student-led protests.

“Pakiusap rin namin sa mga pulis natin na tiyaking walang karahasang mangyayari sa tuwing nagsasagawa kami ng demonstrations at protesta. Ipinapahayag lang naman namin ang aming mga saloobin tungkol sa mga isyu ng bayan. Ayaw naman naming may nasasaktan,” Martinez said.

Discriminatory policies against openly gay, pregnant, and student activists

The student groups also urged for closer coordination with CHR and NYC in addressing various reports of discriminatory practices being implemented in some schools such as prohibiting pregnant and openly gay students from enrolling as well as requiring students to promise not to engage in activism.

“It is troubling that there are still schools with policies that are blatantly violating students’ rights. The CHR, together with the NYC, must immediately act on them and put an end to such practices,” Diño said.

Tejano said he looks forward to creating stronger coordination between the students and the government agencies to monitor future incidents of abuses and more importantly, to effectively address pressing issues in the education sector.

“Hopefully this partnership can lead to an efficient way of addressing students concerns. We feel this is an important step in expanding strategies and forums that students can use to safeguard their rights and advance their welfare,” Tejano added.

The inter-agency dialogue is being spearheaded by Akbayan Youth together with SCAP. Student council groups present in the inter-agency dialogue are from PUP – College of Communication, University of the Philippines – Diliman, De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines – Manila and San Beda College. The youth and student groups are hopeful that the dialogue will be institutionalized and convened every semester.###

Honor Her. Finish Your Studies.Fight for a Better Future!

Honor Her. Finish Your Studies.Fight for a Better Future!

Akbayan Youth on the Death of a UP Manila Student

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We in Akbayan Youth express our deepest condolences to the UP Manila community and especially to the friends and family of the UPM student who, according to initial reports, committed suicide due to financial constraints that forced her to file leave of absence.

The loss of life of one student is a loss of many. It is a loss of one student’s dream for a bright future. It is a big loss for that aspiration that through education and hard work one can uplift one’s life and his/her family’s life out of misery and poverty. It is a big loss for a society trying to build itself as caring and supportive of its members.

This very sad incident highlights the necessity to reexamine our collective goals towards education. It redirects our attention to the current state of our education system and to the plight of the youth and students in our country.

We in Akbayan Youth maintain that education is a basic right. Providing accessible and quality education is an obligation of the state to ensure that its people achieve their full potentials and contribute meaningfully to the society. Ultimately, as stipulated in the International Bill of Rights, primary and secondary education should be free and accessible and the state should make progressive actions for free higher education.

A basic step is for the government to follow the international benchmark on education spending for developing countries at a minimum 6% of the Gross National Product (GNP), as prescribed by the 1996 International Commission on Education, popularly known as the Delors Commission. While we laud the efforts of the current administration to dramatically increase the education budget from 2011 to 2013 (PhP 207.3 B, 238.8 B, and 292.7 for DepEd respectively), we lament that it still remains way below 3 % of the GDP, an event smaller figure compared to the GNP. Education budget, in fact, declined from 2.3 % in 2011 to 2.1 % of the GDP in 2012.

The quality of education and school enrollment rate continues to deteriorate with less and less spending on education. Data from both the DepEd and DBM show strong correlation between enrollment rate and government spending on education. Furthermore, only 7 out of 10 students graduate in elementary while 5 out of this 10 graduate from high school, according to DepEd BEIS (Basic Education Information System) in 2008-2009.

Access to and quality of higher education is even worse. The five students that graduated from high school do not necessarily get to enter college. Education has basically been commoditized – only those with money can have access. The barely minimum support for State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) to provide relatively affordable education to the poor and marginalized has resulted to tuition fee increases in SUCs and the lessening of state subsidy. Such is the case of the University of the Philippines and other SUCs. Such is the situation that has pushed one student to the extreme.

We challenge our government to take concrete measures in bringing back the youth to schools. We call for a minimum and mandatory 6% of GNP allocated for education.

While we call for greater state subsidy for education, we also call on the premier national university to intensively review its implementation of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) towards the end increasing coverage to poor students. We deplore the University’s policy to force indigent students to file leave of absence for their inability to pay school fees.

Similar repressive policies are likewise implemented in other schools, public or private.  We call on CHED to put more teeth on the implementation its memorandum imposing sanctions to schools on their “no tuition, no exam policy” which is a common practice among private universities and colleges.

We enjoin colleges and universities to establish or strengthen their guidance offices and peer support and counseling mechanisms to provide life saving interventions to students being taken down by stress and pressure for academic and social loads.

To our fellow students, we encourage you to honor the death of the UPM student by being even more diligent in attending classes and striving even harder to take full opportunity of being in school. Let us remember her as we remember our fellow youth, 50% of whom, are not even able to enter higher education. Honor her by finishing your studies. Honor her more by fighting for a better future. Let us reaffirm our commitment to fight for a more democratic, accessible and quality education for all.

Bello calls for congressional hearing on plight of Filipinos in Sabah

Akbayan Party-list Representative Walden Bello today called for a congressional hearing to look into the plight of the Filipinos in Sabah as the Malaysian government rejected a ceasefire offered by the Sultan of Sulu.

Bello, who is the Chairperson of the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, said he will investigate reports of alleged cases of abuse against Filipino citizens working and residing in Sabah from Malaysian security forces as a result of the crisis.

“It is the responsibility of the Philippine government to protect Filipino lives wherever they are. Even as Congress initiates an investigation to the reports of abuse committed against our nationals, all concerned agencies must already take immediate steps to ensure the safety of our countrymen in the area especially those considered ‘stateless’ or undocumented,” Bello said.

Bello said that if there were clear violations committed against Filipino citizens, the Philippine government must demand its Malaysian counterpart to hold those involved accountable.

“The Malaysian government must not mistake our commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict as an invitation for their security forces to take advantage of our citizens by wantonly violating their rights. All those that will be proven to have participated in such abuses should be made accountable,” Bello asserted.

Malaysia’s militarist response could spill over to Pinoy communities in Sabah

Bello, who is also a renowned international political analyst, feared that with the militarist solution carried out by the Malaysian government to end the crisis, arrests and incarceration of undocumented Filipinos in Sabah might escalate and become more abusive. He said that even legitimate Filipino residents and workers might become vulnerable to abuses.

“We all know that in the past, Filipinos, especially trafficked Filipino women in Sabah have become victims of arrests and illegal detention from Malaysian authorities. Crises such as this often create an atmosphere of xenophobia. We hope our countrymen don’t become victims of racial intolerance,” Bello explained.

“Thus, we call on the Malaysian government to heed the call of the UN and reciprocate the ceasefire offered by the Sultan of Sulu. We reiterate our call for restraint from all stakeholders and for both governments not to waver in finding a diplomatic solution to this conflict,” Bello added.

The Akbayan lawmaker also called on the Aquino government to work closely with its Malaysian counterpart to provide a ‘humanitarian corridor’ to allow the safe transit of humanitarian aid to Filipino and Malaysian citizens caught in the crossfire.

“I join the international community as we call on the Philippine and Malaysian governments to provide ‘safe zones’ where humanitarian organizations can provide assistance to both Filipino and Malaysian citizens who are displaced, injured and requiring medical care,” Bello said. ###

Akbayan on the Sabah Standoff

Akbayan Party-list expresses its deep regret and sadness regarding the deterioration of the Sabah standoff into violence. The fighting which killed several of Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram’s followers and Malaysian security personnel could have been prevented if both sides exercised maximum restraint. To this end we urge both parties to halt any actions that might precipitate further retaliation from either side.

Moreover, we call on the senior officials of the Philippine government to refrain from issuing statements that might only further escalate the tension between both parties. We call on them to temper their pronouncements and focus on the task of aiding in efforts to defuse the standoff by arriving at a win-win solution together with the Malaysian government and the Sultanate of Sulu.

We also call on the Aquino government to review our historical and legal claims to Sabah with the end view of developing a comprehensive strategy to engage the Malaysian government. This must be immediately undertaken after the just resolution of the crisis. We urge the government to consult and forge partnership with all the stakeholders to seek a determined, yet, peaceful and diplomatic course to assert our rightful claim.

Likewise, we call on the Malaysian government to secure the safety of thousands of Filipinos working in Sabah. We hope the crisis will not be used to fan the flames of ethnic resentment, sexism and misguided nationalist sentiment that will further complicate the matter and distract focus from the more crucial and urgent task of coming to a just and peaceful resolution.

Lastly, we call on the people, both in the Philippines and Malaysia, to exercise vigilance against groups that would want to exploit the crisis to derail the current peace effort in Mindanao and drive a wedge between Malaysia and the Philippines. The circumstances on the ground are already tense as it is. We call on the public to exercise prudence and allow the political, diplomatic and legal mechanisms to fully function to end the crisis as soon as possible. ###