The Plight of Our Seafarers and the Family That Gets Left Behind

“Paglaki ko, gusto kong mag-abroad.” We often hear this statement from our younger generation as they often associate working overseas with a better and fruitful life. With all the misleading information surrounding the nature of working abroad, it is not surprising for most to be naive about the realities of the sacrifice it takes to endure the true meaning of working abroad.

One of the most glaring but seldom recognized effects of working miles away from home is the damage, both emotional and psychological, it creates on the family of an overseas Filipino worker and consequently on Philippine society. In exchange for having a viable source of income, most of our OFW’s families have to deal with an absent father, or mother, or worse both. Based on reports of the Department of Labor and Employment’s Overseas Workers and Welfare Administration (OWWA), more than three thousand (3,000) Filipino workers leave the country everyday as overseas contract workers. Studies of several NGOs and advocacy groups also indicate that an estimated 27% of our total youth are children left behind by a migrant parent/s. The social costs of this migration may not be quantifiable in tangible terms but it is very easy to observe that the physical separation of family members endangers marriages and parent-children relationships, thereby causing family instability. Children’s drug addiction, dropping out of school, juvenile delinquency, and early pregnancy and marital infidelity are just some of the manifestations of the effects of having absent parent/s.

To address this problem, the executive branch of our government, through the OWWA, has implemented measures in order to somehow mitigate this problem. An example of these measures is the “OWWA-Microsoft Tulay”, a project which gives information and technology training to OFWs in order to facilitate long distance communication between our OFWs and their families. Through this measure, the government offers free information and technology skills training, as well as access to technology and communication via the internet.

Our Congress has also come up with some laws as regards the reintegration of our OFWs upon their return. Section 17 of the Migrant Workers’ Act, as amended, provides for the establishment of the National Reintegration Center for Overseas Filipino Workers (NRCO), the function of which, among others, is to develop and support programs and projects for livelihood, entrepreneurship, savings, investments and financial literacy for returning Filipino migrant workers and their families.

 

A common trend about these measures is the fact that they are mainly intended for the OFWs themselves, with very few aimed for the welfare of their families who are left behind. It can also be observed that most of our government’s programs intended for our OFW families are economic welfare-oriented like scholarship and entrepreneurship programs, but very few address the social effects experienced by our OFW families.

I believe it is high time that our legislature comes up with measures which will be more responsive to the emotional needs of the families left behind by our hard-working OFWs. We need to come up with laws which will be able to plug the hole vacated by a parent/s working overseas. Providing free and accessible family counselling for our OFW families here in the Philippines, as well as in our embassies abroad could be a good subject of legislation.

Another recommendation we can incorporate under current labor laws is the provision of transportation funds which may be extended to our OFWs so they can go home to their respective families periodically. Lack of funds is often the reason why migrant workers are unable to go home to their families as often as they would want. Sometimes it takes them more than a decade before they can be with their families since they would rather send the money to their families rather than use it to buy a ticket to go home. Finding a source of funds for this will be the problem. I am against adding any burden to our workers and I still have to do more research to arrive at a solution for the sourcing of the funds.

 

OFWs may also avail of “family emergency” leaves so that our OFWs can rush home whenever there are pressing family matters that they need to attend to. Although there are still many issues to be ironed out concerning these ideas and suggestions, these measures will certainly be able to protect the solidarity and development of our Filipino families by curtailing the ills brought about by the usually long-term separation of our OFWs with their families.

No less than our Constitution mandates this duty. Under Article XV of our Constitution, it is provided that, “The State recognizes the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation. Accordingly, it shall strengthen its solidarity and actively promote its total development.” The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights also states that, “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.

I understand that nothing can replace the actual presence of the parent/s in nurturing their family, but we are confronted by the realities of having better opportunities abroad. This, however, does not mean that we will no longer do anything to mitigate the effects brought about by this reality. We will be working hard to incorporate the ideas discussed above under our current social legislation and labor laws so that our OFW families can benefit from them right away.