While reviewing our month-on-month figures for 2017 in Taipei, the staff was quite worried about the plunge in tourist arrivals to the Philippines beginning June. This was after a healthy 23-percent increase in the first quarter of the year compared to 2016 figures.
I instructed the staff to get Department of Tourism figures on the effect of the Marawi crisis and the declaration of “martial law” on visitor arrivals from Japan, South Korea, and the other major sources of visitors to the country. This was so we would know whether the Taiwan decline was ascribable to peace-and-order perceptions, the usual dampener on tourist arrivals.
I recall how, when I headed the Philippine Tourism Authority back in the turn of the millennium, we saw visitor arrivals sorely affected by the Abu Sayyaf kidnap of Sipadan tourists who were then brought to Sulu for atrocious ransom demands. And then, there was the war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Maguindanao.
Having discussed the matter of tourism from Taiwan, we went into a discussion of Philippine economic prospects, and the mood was somewhat lifted by the announcement from the Bangko Sentral about increasing remittances from about 12-million Filipinos working abroad.
Overseas Filipino worker remittances plus business process outsourcing receipts constitute our major sources of income and help shield the economy from external shocks, neutralizing internal diseconomies as well.
BSP Deputy Gov. Diwa Gunigundo reported that “we see both remittances and BPO receipts continuing to grow. They have been resilient all these years.”
That’s the good news. And indeed, this was followed by Moody’s saying that though there were “political risks,” the Philippine economy would continue to show strong growth.
My staff segued into a report in a Taiwan news digest, about how Taiwan would need more skilled workers but noted increased “resistance” from their own labor sector. The article also rued the fact that many young Taiwanese professionals were leaving for better-paying jobs abroad.
The Taiwanese value education probably more than any other country in the region, indeed, even compared to the rest of the world. Most every middle-aged professional you encounter has a doctorate or at least a master’s degree tucked into his bona-fides.
In a field trip sponsored by the Council of Indigenous People which I took two weeks back, I had a conversation with a 25-year old interpreter who had a master’s degree in international studies and was already pursuing a doctorate in “ethnicity” in one of Taipei’s prestigious universities. And he confided that his girlfriend was soon leaving for Germany to pursue her master’s degree as a scholar in a Goethe Institute program.
So it is no wonder that Taiwanese professionals are in demand abroad, particularly in North America. Silicon Valley in California for instance is fueled by migrant talent, from Indians to Taiwanese, to Korean, to yes, Filipinos like Dado Banatao.
Which brought us to a discussion of the Filipino diaspora.
Twelve million, likely more, of our countrymen are living and working abroad, the proverbial “greener pastures.” Here in Taiwan, we have some 137,000 of them.
Just recently, New Zealand announced it would be open to hiring as many as 10,000 Filipino workers more than they already have. The Filipino community in that exceptionally beautiful and pristine but population-sparse country at the southern edge of the world is the fastest-growing foreign sector.
Japan likewise announced its need for more Filipino contractuals. As far as Kazakhstan, or Alaska, even in Iceland upon the northern edge of the world, the demand for Filipino workers is strong.
The reason is what social scientists call our demographic “sweet spot.”
Explained very simply, while other countries “controlled” their population growth in the face of economic realities and even visionary calculation, we in Catholic Philippines merrily propagated our species.
The result is that these countries now have an “ageing” population while ours is very young. Taiwan, for instance, has a median age of 47; ours is 23.
The domestic problem is this: How do we generate enough jobs for the almost a million new entrants to our labor force, on top of absorbing the army of unemployed, and if I may add, livelihood for the “unemployable”?
So we export brawns, and brains.
The reckless population growth has become our economic savior.
This is likely to continue for many, many years. We meet the demand for foreign-labor needs and business process outsourcing as well, regardless of Trump’s insular moods. He is, after all, passing fancy.
At the end of our staff discussion, I rued the fact that we were also losing our skilled workers to foreign destinations. For instance, it has become increasingly difficult to get welders and carpenters back home. The construction industry—in this epoch of Build, Build, Build—is concerned about the lack of skilled workers.
Here in Taipei, the contractors of the new American Institute building have been shuttling between our office and the intransigent DoLE officer because restrictions on direct hiring has caused them huge delays and consequent losses in trying to finish the humongous new headquarters of the American presence here. They acknowledge Filipino skilled workers as “the best in the world,” but their demand is stymied by our regulations on direct hiring. (After ministrations by MECO with Secretary Bebot Bello and the personal assistance of OWWA Deputy Administrator Dodo Dulay), it looks like the problem will be finally resolved).
“Pluses and minuses,” I described the demographic sweet spot that has propped our economy up.
Then my executive assistant lamented, “But sir, our best are abroad, and what’s left back home are…drug addicts.” The ones who, he added, are dependents of the poor OFWs who send their hard-earned money, a case of the “bagong bayani” financing the habits of the “bangag.”
It’s more “fun” in the Philippines.
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