Emotional cost of Philippine exodus

By Sarah Toms 
BBC correspondent in Manila

The millions of Filipinos working overseas make a huge financial difference to the lives of their families back home - the difference between basic survival and a better life. 

But there is a social cost too, as children grow up without their parents. 

Thirteen-year-old Marc Anthony Terencio has never met his American father, and it has been two years since his mother left to work as a domestic help in Saudi Arabia. 

He is being brought up by his weathered but sprightly grandmother, in a Manila neighbourhood made up of a warren of shacks. 

"My mother went abroad to earn a living to support school expenses and other basic needs," he said. 

"We eat good food a lot, and our house has been improved, like the floor got cemented." 

Brain drain 

There are millions of children like Marc Anthony, being raised by a relative because one or both parents work overseas. 

With an unemployment rate that is usually above 10%, the search for opportunities has taken eight million Filipinos - a tenth of the population - away from their country and their families.

The $8bn they send home each year helps their relatives and gives vital support to an economy burdened by debt, corruption, tax evasion and poverty. 

But it also creates other problems, such as a loss of skills in their home country. 

"At least 73% of workers are women, and the jobs they go into are usually in the service sector," said Malou Alcid, who teaches social work at the University of the Philippines. 

"Many of them are college graduates, so you have over-qualified women taking on domestic work because the salary is better than what they would get here as a teacher or an engineer." 

Mia Nabulenai, who has three children and a husband with no job, is a case in point. 

She used to be a supervisor at a hotel, but decided to go to an overseas employment agency in Manila in the hope of getting work as a laundry woman at one of the US military bases in Iraq. 

"It will give a nice future to my children," she said. "Sometimes the people here don't get meals three times a day. A lot of people are applying to this agency. They sleep overnight in the street." 

Many Filipinos want to go to Iraq, despite the risks, and nearly every week hundreds of workers like Mrs Nabulenai stage noisy protests calling on President Gloria Arroyo to lift the ban on Filipinos working there. 

The government stopped its citizens from taking work in Iraq after a Filipino lorry driver was taken hostage by militants in July. 

He was released two weeks later but the ban remains, as officials study whether it is safe to go back there. 

Psychological scars 

According to Connie Bragas-Regalado of Migrante, a lobby group for overseas workers, it is not just the loss of talented Filipinos that is of concern.

"We have many cases of broken families, and children are dropouts at school," she said. 

"So if you look at the economic benefits and if you look at the social costs, it's really not compensating. But then we have no other option." 

Studies have shown that children can have behavioural problems at school because of the absence of one or two parents, said Ms Alcid of the University of the Philippines. 

"One academic has used the term emotional orphans to describe the children of overseas workers," she said. 

"They fall into bad company, so they get into drugs. Some of the girls get pregnant. They are looking for acceptance, for love. They are looking for people to care for them." 

In the alley outside his two-room house, Marc Anthony bounces a basketball as his grandmother sits on a wooden bed inside. 

His mother has worked in Saudi Arabia for two years, but there is still not enough money for a mattress or glass in the windows. 

"I am used to her being away and I appreciate having extra money," Marc Anthony said. "But I wish she would come home because I need a mother."

13/09/2004

Bron : BBC World

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