Overseas Foreign Workers: the economic backbone, and the heart of the true Filipino spirit

Back to the beginning. I first got to know about the Philippines as I was travelling in other countries and met a number of Filipino Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs). Over time I often helped some with English, form filling etc., and heard more about their lives, loves, and hardships, and was never once asked for money!!

It was the spirit and character of the OFWs which made me curious about going to the Philippines, and maybe personally to have a less stressful life there, whilst still making a contribution. Mmmm. But thats another story.


The OFWs I met were remarkable, whichever country I happened to be in. Hard working, polite, high morals, keen to learn, sacrificing so much to help their family, always with a smile on their faces, certainly able to find fun in simple pleasures, and very supportive of their fellow OFWs.

Their day off – usually Sunday, (and not everybody got a day off), consisted of church, internet cafes to Skype home, sending most of what they earnt back to the Philippines via money transfer, picnic with the other OFWs in a favoured spot – sometimes not the best spot in town! – and maybe some walking or window shopping, before heading back to their employer by dusk.

To me a rare combination in any nationality of generosity and warmth despite personal pressures. Putting other people first. I felt truly humbled, and maybe a little ashamed at my own good fortune. Time to give back.

But, there was also a dark side, which cannot be completely glossed over, much as many only enjoy ‘good news’, and which was much more prevalent in some countries than others. Maybe it is not for me to recount some of stories I heard, and was privy to, but simply to say that a group who are the economic backbone and cash cow of the country deserve more respect, attention and particularly support. They are also clearly the country’s best ambassadors, but sadly their spirit and attitude is not always so apparent in certain areas and categories within their homeland. I think i am starting to understand where and who.

They account for about 14% of the Philippines’ GDP and this may be rising, but any mention of OFWs in speeches proclaiming the sudden economic miracle? The miracle is that there are people who will leave their families, even their children, pay ‘fixers’ an exorbitant fee, go to a strange culture, hand over their passports (illegal), sign contracts requiring them to put in up to 100 working hours a week (I hope that has changed but nobody can confirm it), live largely in isolation (especially if your phone is taken), and sometimes not even get paid. No wonder some just leave the house and go ‘illegal’.

Many who went as a housemaid – again depending on the country – found their job to be quite different upon arrival – cheap labour picking fruit all day in the baking sun, acting as cheap live-in nurse to elderly men, and sometimes worse. And, of course there are many OFWs who are treated much better, but any OFWs treated badly is wrong, (and we are not talking about just one or two cases). If a country cannot treat OFWs with decency, then is it worth visiting?

I am sure many also read about the recent trafficking and abuse cases in the paper. The added abomination is that it was Filipino officials carrying out the trafficking/abuse in many cases!! No doubt none of these officials have been sacked, just “re-assigned”. Well imagine what support any OFW would get if they suffer abuse – verbal, physical, sexual – from their employer, and would go to the embassy/consulate. Most I encountered said they wouldn’t even go to the Philippine embassy or consulate to report such incidents as it would only cause more problems. Others said even if they wanted help on simple matters they do not get it there, or no-one is available. I wonder if these Philippine foreign service offices are open Sundays or is that too obvious or sensible? As I said, too many suffer too much in silence, live in fear, but maintain their dignity and fortitude, and keep smiling. Remarkable.

I am sure a country experiencing 7%+ growth, thanks in a large part to OFW’s can find a little money to repay the country’s best asset (President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino’s one trillion peso pork barrel fund comes to mind), and a start might be a full quality improvement review to identify the problem areas, but with complete honesty!

No one likes bad news or change, but the pain goes before the pleasure. I can identify a number of simple, practical, cost effective solutions, but there must be many experts in the bureaucracy who are paid to do just that. Maybe they should employ ex OFWs if they do not already do so.

With a seeming push by the government for more people to work abroad, particularly higher earners, and I thought the objective was to ‘bring people home’, then maybe it is high time for a review of the whole process. The government finance managers should be thanking them on bent knees. OFW remittances are making them look almost mediocre.

To OFWs: Respect and Best Wishes.


About Libertas

A traveller, always learning, and hopefully still contributing. An attitude of work hard, play hard, and a love of architecture, design, and the creative spirit. A global ICT executive, who traded in corporate life for real life.

Post Author: Libertas

A traveller, always learning, and hopefully still contributing. An attitude of work hard, play hard, and a love of architecture, design, and the creative spirit. A global ICT executive, who traded in corporate life for real life.

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34 Comments on "Overseas Foreign Workers: the economic backbone, and the heart of the true Filipino spirit"

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Unfortunately that isnt the case worldwide. Here in the ME (particularly KSA) our fellow kababayans betray and backstab each other in a struggle for “Alpha” fliptard supremacy. the friendliness is only a facade, with hipocrisy at its worst (i had no idea that it was this bad). oh and the racism! all those whispers that float around when a filipina marries a pakistani guy (for all we know it could be true love), or remarks of how stupid other nationalities are and not keep in mind that they do not have the blessing of having english as a secondary language… Read more »
I feel the same way about OFWs accepting risky positions in countries with bad reputations as I do about Filipinos who move from the pleasant countryside to Manila slums. You’ll earn more (if you end up earning anything), but is it worth such a sacrifice? Clearly I’ve been too corrupted by an upbringing that expects a certain quality of life to ever understand the self-sacrificing OFW mindset. I do have respect for what OFWs can put up with, but when I heard that my girlfriend’s brother-in-law works in Saudi Arabia, that he isn’t getting paid any more by naughty employers,… Read more »
I am a second generation OFW. My father worked as a cook for merchant shipping company. My parents thought it would just be a temporary arrangement for them but it lasted for 23 years until he was “not employable” anymore due to his psoriasis that he was sent home before the end of his contract from his last assignment. Thinking of my father’s sacrifices makes my heart aches. I remember how awkward for us to deal with him his first few days home and how sad we were when it’s time for him to leave. I remember how strained his… Read more »
Toro Hyden

I consider myself, one of those Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) …I left the Philippines, because, I cannot find opportunities to earn a decent living for me and my family…I have also brothers and sisters to send to college…

We are treated like Cash Cows, by the Aquino Administration. It is like a U.S. Southern State’s Slave Plantation Economy. We are living like those Hacienda Luisita Serfs of Aquino…you sweat…they pay you low…then, the Philippine government take its share of your pay…

You get lousy service from any Philippine Foreign Embassy…

remedy medina

glad to have found your website.i agree with all the observations that you mentioned. i am a former ofw that worked in the middle east that now resides in the US. i am planning to retire in the Philippines and planning to create an ngo and advocacy group for OFWs.
good governance and fighting corruption is tied to the cause of OFWs,amd i believe that with social media and real time flow of information, ofws can organized themselves and be more capable of empowering themselves.

Thanks for the great article, Libertas. I just wish that the government recognizes the OFW’s importance in their scheme of things. But being an OFW for a long time now, I do not see that as every time I go back to work and leave the country, it appears that the Philippine government, wants to suck all the life out from the OFW, even to the point of stopping them from leaving. Granted, that the government might be doing their job, deploying illegal OFWs, hey…. who are they to prevent a person from travelling because his documents are somewhat “suspicious”.… Read more »
Dale Gozar

@ $20 Billion Annual Remittance

Our government main Export commodity are OFW (modern day form of slavery),Philippines role will always be to supply cheap/quality labor to the world.

Government always Export our Best People (OFW w/c are hard-working, productive, highly skilled & intellectual) which result to “Brain Drain”. And forever relied on their dollar remittances to fuel our economy. Those left behind (lazy & AMPAW) who are tasked or voted to lead our nation/organization and others are appointed to vital positions in the government.

You know what’s funny? Our government has the audacity to call them “heroes”, while treating them like nothing but mere commodity. But I guess that’s how the oligarchy regards the rest of the population – mere commodity. No wonder it was easy for the government to turn their backs on the Yolanda victims, and to snob the millions living under poverty line, without but a decent social welfare system. It’s all BS (Bull Shit!). With the growth the country is experiencing, thanks in large part to the OFWs, there isn’t a single major program geared toward their welfare (or am… Read more »

Strong, protective bilateral agreements are in order, considering the huge number of ‘heroes’ risking their lives in less than savory work destinations. And a strong economic and welfare system back home that will help ensure that their money goes a long way in improving their lives, and that of their family. Many an OFW returns from long years of insufferable hardships only to come home to the Philippines with nothing much to show for it. Financial tools should be provided to ensure that their earnings are sustainable in the long term.


What happened to Libertas’ travel musings post?


Why was your article titled “24 The Philippines a world traveler’s musings and ramblings – WTF (Where’s The Fun )” removed here.

Dick S. O'Rosary

Whatever happened to the “the musings of a world traveller” article?