Are OFWs really heroes or should we stop overrating this title?

The towns of Mabini and Bauan in Batangas are probably on top of the lists of towns and cities in the CALABARZON region with most Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW),  working in Europe, particularly in Italy, France, Spain, and Greece. Both towns are first-class municipalities in terms of income, thanks to tourism and companies lining up their coastal areas.

With a population of just over 90,000, Bauan’s shoreline is full of heavy industries employing thousands of skilled workers mostly welders, scaffolders, and pipefitters. There are shipbuilding companies, oil refineries, construction, and energy companies. In Mabini, its sea is home to dozens of diving resorts attracting thousands of divers and tourists each month. It’s safe to say that both towns’ economies are thriving.

During the early 90s, the towns of Malvar and Tanauan are not that well-known until the Lima Technology Center opened. When I first worked in Lima way back in December 2000, the then Tanauan town proper was very silent at 6:00 PM. You can count the number of people walking around and rushing to their homes. The following year, Tanauan became a City.

Fast forward 20 years after, Tanauan public market operates almost 24 hours a day (before pandemic). The LIMA entrance in Malvar is also the same with a very busy business district center. With more than 100,000 people working in dozens of factories inside the 700-hectare economic zone,  the circulation of money in the local economy is just phenomenal.

These four places (Mabini, Tanauan, Malvar, and Bauan) although located on the other side of the province of Batangas, have a considerable number of OFWs. Batangas is on the top of the list when it comes to producing OFWs, both professional, skilled, and caregivers. The province had been sending OFWs overseas since the early ‘70s so why did the aforementioned 4 towns become progressive only recently?

The total remittances sent to the country by OFWs was P211.9B in 2019 according to the record. That’s P211.9B of cash without an income tax. Yes, that money was spent inside the country and the government made only income on sales tax that includes VAT, business, and other taxes not related to income. But, if the P211.B was earned by local workers with the 3rd of it by people earning more than P20,000 a month, the government could directly earn a staggering P2.2B in income tax alone.

Local jobs are far more important than OFWs

Based on the above data, the government is actually losing money on OFWs. Let’s compare below.

1.) A factory worker in Taiwan who earns P25,000 a month could send P12,000 to her family back home. When members of her family spend that 12,000 locally, the government could earn through sales tax. So, an OFW who earns P25k/month has P12,000 to share with the Philippine economy.

2.) A production supervisor in the Philippines who earns the same amount pays P628.32 income tax per month. Less SSS and Pagibig contributions, he is left with P23,346. When his family spends this money, the government could earn on sales tax. So, a local worker who earns P25k/month gives the government P628.32 income tax and also shares P23,346 with the Philippine economy.

So who shares bigger money?

As you see in the above example, there is a big amount of money lost in OFWs on the part of the government while the family is also losing big. So where does the money goes into? 

Countries that hire OFWs not only enjoy the services provided by the Filipino workers but also their economy. Of course, a Filipino worker needs to spend in order to survive. He/she needs to buy food, clothing, and rent a house. 

On the other hand, the earnings of a local worker being spent back to circulate in the local economy is far better because there is no money going outside the Philippines. The government should provide more local jobs instead of sending people abroad.

Going back to the first topic where 4 towns are mentioned, the reason why these places are thriving now is because of the local jobs. The number of OFWs is increasing but with half of their income being spent abroad, they are not really helping.

The effect is not just a loss in the government but also in the community.

In a small community where people are living dependently on each other, an OFW can cause more problems than solutions.

Imagine having a community of 200 people all of whom are skilled in their respective lines of trade. Fishermen catch fish to feed the community daily, teachers are educating children, carpenters are building are repairing homes, farmers plant rice to feed the people, police maintain security, vendors distribute goods,  drivers transport goods, and people, etc. So what can an OFW do in this situation? Money is not the answer since everyone who works is earning too. We are talking about direct services provided.

So why OFWs are considered heroes?

OFWs are considered only heroes by some politicians who can’t provide local jobs but want solid votes. Calling OFWs heroes is overrated and does not make any sense. I am not saying OFWS are overrated per see but I am talking about the title of “being a hero”. Of course, people need to find ways to make money and we cannot blame them if they want to go to other countries.  They want to have better lives for their families as well but again, calling them heroes just because they want to fulfill their responsibilities to their families does not make any sense. 

Let’s put it into simple words:

  • Teachers are getting paid to educate Filipino children.
  • Farmers earn money while providing food, and so do the fishermen.
  • Construction workers are paid to make homes
  • Police and the military are paid to maintain order and safety.
  • Drivers are paid to transport people to school and their work daily

OFWs are paid to do what? Aside from the portion of their salary that they send back to the Philippines (without paying income tax), what they are good at compared to the above people? Nothing? We can’t say their job is dangerous because there are more jeepney and public transport drivers engaged in accidents every day. There are more construction workers involved in site accidents daily than OFWs, the list is long so the excuse that they have difficult jobs does not make any sense at all. Fishermen’s lives are in total danger once they leave the fish port. 

We should stop overrating this “OFW hero” thing because it is insulting to our local workers and professionals who are the ones who truly take care of this country.

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