Flight as Fight for Survival

| Written by Fred Dabu

Filipinos unite to call for nationwide wage and salary hikes and an end to the contractualization policy on May 1, Labor Day 2018, Manila. Photo by Fred Dabu, UP MPRO.


(This article reviews the domestic and overseas Filipino workers’ situations as of 2012. It also articulates hope through policy interventions pertaining to wage hikes and better opportunities as feasible solutions that will help the working-age population in the daily fight for survival here in the Philippines.)

The Filipino workers’ hopes for a better future take them to countries where they think they may improve their economic status. Their flight is most of all a fight for survival.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reported a total of 2.8 million unemployed Filipinos in 2011 while the April 2012 Labor Force Survey (LFS) of the National Statistics Office (NSO) estimated that some 7.3 million Filipinos are underemployed out of the 40.6 million it considers part of the labor force.

The same NSO survey showed that the majority of employed and underemployed Filipinos are in the services sector (51.4 percent of employed, 40.2 percent of underemployed) and the agriculture sector (33 percent of employed, 43 percent of underemployed).

UPDATE: The Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA) October 2018 LFS indicated that there were 2.2 million unemployed and 5.5 million underemployed, out of the 71.9 million Filipinos who are 15 years old and over. Filipinos in the services sector comprised 56.8 percent, the agriculture sector showed 24.1 percent, while the industry sector registered only 19.1 percent of the total employed. 

“Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are not considered part of the labor force in the Philippines.”

IBON Foundation Inc. estimated that 4.64 million Filipinos were unemployed in 2017 and “inflation has increased the family living wage (FLW) needed for meeting basic needs to Php1,175 for a family of six in the National Capital Region (NCR) as of June 2018.”

The country’s more than 300,000 registered nurses remain either unemployed or “mis-employed,” although Philippine government hospitals need a whopping 300-percent increase in the number of nurses to meet the ideal 1:10 nurse to patient ratio.

UPDATE: Nurse-patient ratio in hospitals ranges from 1:50 up to 1:80 as of February 2018, according to #LabanNurses Movement.

These numbers point to what Migrante International (MI) calls the “primary push factor” for workers to seek jobs abroad.

“Underdevelopment—aggravated by the perennial lack of livelihood, income and opportunities—forces Filipinos to migrate, separating them from their loved ones while working in another country.”

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), a total of 1,470,826 Filipino workers were deployed overseas in 2010.  The data do not include undocumented OFWs whom MI estimates to be as many as 900,000 as of 2007.

UPDATE: The POEA reported that 1,992,746 workers were deployed as OFWs while MI claimed that there were almost 1 million undocumented OFWs in the US alone for the year 2017.


Thousands of protesters joined the “SONA ng Bayan” to dispute President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24, 2017 in Batasan, Quezon City. Photo by Fred Dabu, UP MPRO.


MI also says that there are 12 million to 15 million Filipinos overseas, and that 30 percent to 40 percent of the entire Philippine population depends on remittances from their relatives abroad.

Among those interviewed for this story were former employees of the University of the Philippines Manila. One of them served the public sector for four years before flying to Dubai to allow her to meet her family’s growing needs. “Salary was just enough for the most basic commodities; we could hardly make both ends meet,” she said, adding that her take-home pay was only good for paying off their bills and debts. That is why she decided to work abroad.

Outside the Philippines, she said, “There are many companies that offer better salaries and benefits.  Even skilled workers are empowered and can attain a better life.”

Aside from economic reasons, she decided to leave the Philippines because she no longer sees it as a safe country.

“The Myth of Migration for Development” report by IBON and MI states that “the income benefits from remittances for households are arguably considerably offset by the social harm for families due to separation for long periods of time.”

“The country still suffers economic backwardness despite increasing migration and remittances over the last decades and since the start of the government’s labor export policy in the mid-1970s,” the report states.

She and many other overseas Filipinos hope to see the progress and opportunities they saw abroad become attainable here in the Philippines.

She proposes the “leveling of employees’ wages to the cost of living, coupled with the provision of better benefits and proper protection.” She says that policy-makers should “create a better system that allows employees to have a progressive career and not just a stagnant job.”

“If employees are given better wages, better benefits and better career paths, I think nobody has to leave,” she says.

UPDATE: Filipino workers, legislators, and peoples’ organizations are pushing for a national daily minimum wage of Php750 and the abolition of the regional wage boards for the private sector, and for substantially increasing the monthly salaries of public sector personnel, along with hikes in benefits and allowances, as urgent and realistic measures for families to be able to cope up with rising prices.


1  National Statistics Office. (2012, April). Labor Force Survey. Retrieved June 11, 2012 from http://www.census.gov.ph/data/sectordata/2012/lf120202.pdf 

2  Philippine Statistics Authority. (2018, December). Employment Rate in October 2018 was Estimated at 94.9 percent. Retrieved January 29, 2019 from https://psa.gov.ph/content/employment-rate-october-2018-was-estimated-949-percent

3  IBON Foundation. (2018 – 2019). Retrieved January 29, 2019 from http://ibon.org/2019/01/the-jobs-crisis-is-real-but-disguised/ and http://ibon.org/file/2015/11/2018-Midyear-Birdtalk-Illusory-Growth-Emergent-Authoritarianism.pdf

4 #LabanNurses Movement. (2018, February). Overworked, underpaid nurses. Retrieved January 29, 2019 from Inquirer.net https://opinion.inquirer.net/110714/overworked-underpaid-nurses

5 Migrante International. (2012, June 7). SUMA: Summing-Up of the State of Migrants Under Aquino (2010-June 2012). Retrieved June 11, 2012, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/96254642/SUMA-Summing-Up-of-the-State-of-Migrants-Under-Aquino-2010-June-2012

6 Philippine Star and Migrante International. Retrieved January 29, 2019 from https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/09/24/1854138/ofw-deployment-drops-after-10-year-growth and https://migranteinternational.org/2017/06/30/suma-2017-a-year-of-big-talk-band-aids-and-business-as-usual-for-ofws-and-families/

7  IBON Foundation and Migrante International. (2009, July). The Myth of Migration for Development. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from http://iboninternational.org/resources/pages/EDM/75/58

8  Kodao and IBON Foundation. (2018).  Retrieved January 29, 2019 from https://kodao.org/2018/07/05/teachers-call-for-30k-salary-increase and http://ibon.org/2018/04/php750-national-minimum-wage-a-legitimate-call-ibon-facts-figures-excerpt/

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