Every month, even during the pandemic era, Filipinos abroad continue to send home remittances above $2 billion. And why not? They have families, about 12% of Filipino households, who rely on them for monthly expenses such as food, education, medicine, etc. This only affirms the commitment OFWs have for their loved ones back home.
This all-too-common scenario is one reason OFWs are often referred to as modern-day heroes. Still, it’s also a cautionary tale of how common it is to hear sad tales of OFWs failing to secure a bright future as they return home from many years abroad.
OFWs are expected to look after family members. Many OFWs finance the education of their younger siblings, cousins or nephews/nieces. Some of them support the medical expenses of ailing parents or grandparents. Others pay for expenses such as a home mortgage, car loans or small business investments of other family members. Although cases vary, family members have become over-reliant on money remittances that they are helpless if money doesn’t arrive.
“Naku ma remate na yung nakasangla na lupa kung hindi ka magpapadal ng pera,” a thinly-veiled threat might appear in the conversation. An ever-helpful OFW who only wish for the family’s benefit readily pledges to support, sometimes at the expense of his or her own plans. They delay plans to settle down or buying their own property because they have to put their families ahead on the priority list.
Family members expect uninterrupted money remittance regularly. Filipino workers abroad who are devoted to their monthly allocation to families and extended ones argue that sending money is the main reason they left home to work overseas. Such devotion is a commendable act. However, it has also become an expectation from family members to receive monthly remittance.
During boom times when jobs are plenty, they are confident they’ll fulfil the promise of sending money home. But as with everything else, nothing is certain. As the pandemic ravaged economies, sent businesses tumbling, and resulted in job losses, OFWs are at the forefront of unemployment. According to estimates, about 1.6 million OFWs have been displaced by Covid-19, and about 700,000 to 1 million have lost their jobs. Many don’t have enough savings after sending the bulk of their take-home pay to their families. Such reality has put an end to the uninterrupted flow of remittance money.
OFWs feel an obligation to extend help. The Filipino culture places high emphasis and importance on the family. From putting high regard to education among children to taking care of the elderly, the family is close to every Filipino’s heart. This belief resonates among OFWs who look at others’ efforts and sacrifice as something that they must reciprocate. For fear of being tagged as “walang utang na loob”, OFWs adhere to the standards and expectations others have set for them.
So even if they feel a sense of realization after listening to advice from others such as financial management and self-investment from government agencies or labor organizations, OFWs still have the propensity to submit to others’ demands, even if not all are reasonable.
Now that the pandemic has brought so much disruption in all walks of life, OFWs who are expected to be breadwinners are now unable to help themselves. Many of them depend on the Philippine government’s assistance to repatriate them home after they were let go by their employers. Some of them might not have any savings to bring back home because they could not initiate a savings plan.
When jobless go home during this Covid-19 crisis, they might even be subject to ridicule or mockery, not only because they can no longer provide, but pose a health risk to others, like the lepers as told in the Bible. How painful can it be to be dismissed by their own family as useless after many years of continuous support extended from afar?
There are countless articles or seminars advising OFWs to save for rainy day, so there might be a degree of self-blame among overseas Filipino workers who failed to act accordingly. As lessons are learned from this experience, we can only hope that, once this pandemic is over, future OFWs will have a more firm resolution that they need to look after themselves first before they can help others.