The folly of economic dependence on foreign employment

Which does more damage to a child during his/her formative years, the lack of cash or the non-presence of one or even both parents because he/she or they are working overseas? Every example of the humblest of Filipinos being able to extricate themselves from poverty by sheer hard work and discipline within our islands highlights the folly and destructiveness of our easy-way-out approach to national development by lionising OFWs as “heroes”. Let’s not forget that the ancestors of most Filipino Chinese were third class citizens when they first came yet managed to make a life for themselves in the same dysfunctional environment.

Sure. Going off to a foreign land to earn cash to provide for one’s family back home is what any “responsible parent” would do.

Or is it?

Where and when exactly does “responsible parenting” start? Does it start when one already has four kids to feed, clothe, and educate? Or does it start when one first considers having them? It seems Filipinos have forgotten or choose to ignore the latter aspect of being a “responsible parent”.

Having children, then suddenly finding ourselves unable to provide for them is irresponsible. Seeking foreign employment at the expense of sound parenting and labeling it as heroism white-washes this collective irresponsibility and further adds to the counts of this irresponsibility.

It is irresponsible for one to produce offspring without considering one’s long-term ability to provide for them materially as well as emotionally and spiritually. Foreign employment and abortion are sometimes the results of this lack of planning. Leaving one’s young children to seek employment overseas is different from abortion in only one aspect: with abortion, the social problem ends right there and then; with foreign employment involving young children, the problems just begin. OFWs who “sacrifice” family life and the people who lionise them as “heroes” forget that these absentee-parents are turning loose unto an already dysfunctional society a whole generation of absentee-parented youth. Their “sacrifice” is our society’s sacrifice as well in terms of the burden of absorbing this absentee-parented generation. The absentee-parented generation will be no improvement over a generation that already failed dismally at collectively building a strong state.

Foreign employment should therefore be treated as the temporary solution that it is and should not be institutionalised as a key economic activity. Our dependence on foreign employment should be put in its proper perspective in the context of the following principles:

(1) Parents are responsible for the physical, intellectual, and emotional health of their children. This responsibility can be fully fulfilled only by said parents’ being present during their children’s formative years.

(2) Every child not raised optimally presents itself as a cost to society in varying degrees (depending on the extent of its parent/s shortfall in fulfilling their parental responsibilities). The cost may range from, say, wasted public education funds all the way to law enforcement costs resulting from the criminal activities of the truly damaged ones.

(3) OFWs with young children living in the Philippines are not present during their children’s formative years and are less likely to fulfill their responsibilities as parents beyond provision of material needs.

(4) Responsible parenting begins with ensuring one’s capability to assume full long-term responsibility for raising children hands-on before one actually has them.

(5) Parents of young children seeking employment overseas can be considered to be remiss in their parental responsibilities, particularly in the aspect described in Item 4.


[Photo courtesy Exiled Blogger.]

Therefore, revisiting the opening statement of this article our society therefore needs to evaluate the situation of dependence on foreign employment that it is in by considering these questions:

  • Is the cost to society of less-than-optimal parenting compensated by the financial rewards of foreign employment?
  • Are the financial fruits of foreign employment channeled to sustainable domestic enterprise to fund the long-term social costs of said foreign employment? (Or are these financial fruits sucked in by consumerism that does not contribute to the expansion of the capital base of the domestic economy?)
  • Does the social cost of absentee-parentism include a resulting collective character in the new generation of Filipinos that is not an improvement on the collective character of our generation and is therefore not compatible with the long-term goals of our efforts to build a strong state?

The nineties had demonstrated that Filipinos are good at attracting wealth but poor at employing it productively much less retaining it domestically. The wealth generated by foreign employment is not immune to this reality about us. Irresponsible export of labour has more far-reaching consequences than the go-go speculative inflows of capital in the 90’s the drying up of which impacted mainly the middle and upper classes of Philippine society. The fruits of foreign employment are just as fleeting as 1990’s speculative capital inflow but its social costs to all Filipinos are long-term.

[Photo of beggar child courtesy Grey Matter.]

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15 Comments on “The folly of economic dependence on foreign employment”

  1. Might also be the result of relying too much on extended family to take care of the kids, which in turn raises the financial cost of their upkeep, what with the “utang na loob” thing.

    It’s quite ok that grandparents are taking care of the kids while the parents are away, but when the grandparents have to do the parenting all over again, then that is just plain retarded. There is no guarantee of transmission of values as the grandparents get older, and given the widening culture gap as well, the children would need more than just the latest-issue gadget to get over the lack of real parenting.

  2. Point taken, I do appreciate the article on how it puts on the issues the benefits of foreign employment vs. the effects to child that lacked “proper parenting”.

  3. My dad was an OFW for almost 25 years, who tried to provide for 3 children. We grew up just fine with the help of my mother and some relatives. I would say we developed normally and if not better than others. We learned to appreciate our dad as the provider, and always were grateful for the sacrifices of our parents. With the help of technology now, constant communication is possible. I know it’s not the ideal family but we learn to cope with changes when needed. I know a lot of families who are also together, but still live like broken families. I guess it depends really on how even one parent can instill the values on a child.

  4. My parents were OFWs for almost 25 years, we grew up with our aunties and we have a good relationship with them but not with our parents. Of course I understand their reason of working abroad but sometimes we just can’t help but blame their absence why our family is almost broken. We all now live together here in another country after 25 years of no family picture. It’s harder now especially for that 25 years of their hard work the money they earned was only for the payment of their loans, our expenses for immigration, relatives who rely on us. Now we’re all in university and we all have student loans. FML.

  5. The thing is an irresponsible parent is an irresponsible parent. I find this article very offensive to OFWs. ok nandyan na ang mga anak and the problem of raising them, at least OFWs are doing something to provide for their children. They work hoping that their children dont have to go through the things they went through. Sure you can stay and work your ass off in the country, earn hardly enough, and worst case the children have to stop with their studies. what kind of future will they have without proper education? isnt that even more irresponsible? working abroad gives others the opportunity to get their children so the parents can be with their children and in some countried thats possible in less than a year.

    1. You seem to be assuming irresponsibility is necessarily willful, and I don’t think that’s an argument anyone can support. Take a look at those consecutive comments by curl and Hiraya above yours — neither one of those sets of parents seems to have been intentionally irresponsible, yet there are two very different stories there.

      The point of the article is that it is irresponsible to take on a commitment you can’t guarantee you can honor. Does anyone think it through first? Do they ask themselves, “Do I have material and mental resources enough that I can properly house, feed, educate, and help a child develop into a decent person?” before they have one? Or do they just slap pee-pees and hope it’ll all sort itself out somehow later? Evidently, there’s a lot more of the latter happening here than the former. And that’s irresponsible, no matter how offensive you find it.

  6. Might just actually apply to the rest of the jejemon crowd, that responsible parenting thing. I keep wondering why squalid slums are teeming with crowds of children alongside gin-toting drunks, and obversely, fewer children in middle-class neighborhoods where no alcohol or smokes are sold to minors.

    You’d sooner and easier find a 36-year old grandmother in the slums than a 40-year old virgin.

    1. townhouses in exclusive villages are turned into shabu labs (read the news) and you worry about smokes sold to minors in slums. checkmate.

  7. I got the message of the post and so the comments in this topic, But what I would like to point out now is that let’s just face the fact that no one in this world is perfect, no perfect parent, child, lifestyle attitude etc.
    but I must admit that really planning before you go with something is more idealistic rather than going in a war without a gun. But anyhow, In my own opinion of how the post has been delivered is a bit harsh for the OFWs. This is my only point with this post, we as a concern citizen must also have a set of standard to up to where we can slice a bread.Cause sometimes because of our eagerness to express our thoughts and emotion, we are forgetting that its more likely for others to get our message by way of an advice rather than a criticize or condemn. By the way I have a mom who is an OFW, and to give credit to her, Since my Dad unexpectedly left us in this world, Never in my first 20years of age did I saw my Mom didn’t tried her best to provide our needs even when she was still in the Philippines, It’s just so happened that there’s a rather big opportunity she saw for our family if she will go overseas. And that happened with everything going well, summarizing our story only proving that there’s a variety of unexpected happening which may result to one person to make a massive decision,and we as a human being must not judge so quickly specially generally…
    I just want to make clear that I admire the writer of this post for the issue that he brought up is so valuable and really an eye-opening article for us.

  8. Listen, in everything there are good and bad points. Yes, true, it is very irresponsible for a couple to have kids and not being able to raise and nurture them properly – exactly what you said. However, if do not have enough education, or lack of it, and cannot get employment locally, you resort to working abroad – basically, to support your family, your children. That is always the MAIN reason.

    But then, women/men, especially mothers tried try their best to find a relative to care for them. It is not like you leave the kids on the streets. However, things cannot get so perfect. You have kids who live with parents yet the former get into trouble – drugs, bullying, etc.

    I had lived and worked in the UK. If it is hard for kids, the same with the parents who had to leave and work in another country. I have interviewed many mothers in London who are so depressed yet feel their hands are tied- what is the point of being with your kids and you cannot raise them properly, especially feed them? It is also not easy for the parents to leave their kids behind. They are robbed of the years they can enjoy them – I should know.

    I do not think it is the parents working abroad and leaving their kids in the care of relatives or “trusted” people. If the government can give enough jobs, why leave? If everyone can have that free and quality education, then jobs are easier. We are not like the UK or US, or other Western countries where a high school diploma is enough to secure a job after graduation. Employers here look for college graduates, especially of topnotch schools like U.P., Ateneo,or La Salle. So, what happens to Juan who finished in a “non” to Philippine school? We have many underemployed as well as unemployed. Even UP grads now are not guaranteed with jobs, right?

    It is not whether you are together physically or jot, although, of course, there are not-so-good effects on both the parents and the children when the family becomes a
    dysfunctional.”

    But I do NOT agree entirely that young children and teens get into trouble because the parents are away, and in being away, they are irresponsible. Hmmmm….

  9. I bet those kids would choose having their parents go away than go hungry any day. I’m friends with a number of these children of OFW parents, and they grew up just fine.

  10. For me, the answer to the first question is lack of money does more damage to a child, those kids in the picture sniffing glue? they have their parents, they just happen to be jobless. But I get your point. The fact that the government think more OFWs is a good thing sucks and it does not help our country in the long run. Problems like these are not really unsolvable, there’s just people in the government who want to keep it this way.

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