Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Among OFWs, we need more ‘TNTs’

Migration is a natural phenomenon. As the song goes, birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.

Practical steps on how to stretch your dollar or dinar

By Pat Sto. Tomas

Chairman, Development Bank of the Philippines

Migration is a natural phenomenon. As the song goes, birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.

The non-migrant is the oddity. If you do not live where you were born, you are a migrant.

So enough already. Let’s stop the national flagellation and defeatist mantra that we leave the Philippines because there are no opportunities here. The human race and the not-so-human race leave for perceived better opportunities. Why else do you see all those foreign-looking nationals in Ortigas, Makati and my native Mindoro?

But this is not about migration. This is about how migration can be made to work for the OFW himself or herself. This is how that hard-earned dollar (or euro, dinar or dirham) can go a longer way so that it benefits not just the family that is left behind but the one who leaves as well.

Save, Save, Save!

I have a few suggestions.

First, we need to have more TNTs. That is correct. We need more people who can do Tago ng Tago (TNT), hindi Gastos ng Gastos.

If you make $400 a month (that is minimum wage for domestic helpers), open an account for yourself. Deposit at least 25% of your income to that account. Let that be an account which you cannot withdraw from for a specific period of time, usually your contract duration. Ask the bank to put it in a higher yielding account other than savings. If you have a 12-month contract, you would have saved $1,200 or P48,000 for one year.

The assumption is that an OFW leaves only if what he gets abroad is at least double what he makes in Manila. You may send $200 to your family but you may want to impose a number of conditions to that remittance.

Start a business

One is that they may avail themselves of a loan from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration or OWWA (up to P40,000) that allows them to start up a little business. This can be done even before the OFW leaves and after his contract is processed.

For that amount, one telephone company will give you an Internet Service Package where OFW beneficiaries can derive some income through rental time. The Internet package may also be done in conjunction with cell phone loading operations. This should allow repayment of the loan anytime from 6 months to one year.

I also know of one company that allows small investors to distribute their products such as soft drinks, hot dogs, tocinos and assorted household necessities for a minimum investment of P20,000. This can be sold in your neighborhood.

Keep a book of accounts

The second condition for the regular remittance is to keep a book of accounts for expenses sourced out of remittance. This allows all concerned to monitor costs every month and to be mindful of what is necessary and what isn’t.

The OFW is not a milking cow. Separation should be a reason for undertaking fiscal discipline and engaging in activities that keep the family together. Within the family, there should be a designated treasurer, an auditor who verifies the expenses and renders a report to the chief financial officer—the OFW.

The OWWA organizes family circles for people left behind. Ask them to put you in touch with family circles in your area. The family circle is supposed to facilitate support. They should be able to tell you where to access services for things like counseling for rebelling children or tutoring for those who do not quite make good in their academic studies.

Join family circles

At the same time, family circles are supposed to facilitate bulk-buying of basic necessities like rice, cooking oil, pork, fish, chicken or even school supplies. This should also be a source of savings for families who wish for their remittances to go a longer way.

It is tempting to view having an OFW as an opportunity to splurge. If income from the home-based business exceeds payment for business-related expense, the remaining $100 can be shared between OFW and the family so that there may be room for a little luxury.

I am a penny pincher myself, so what about putting that money towards an education fund for the children or a housing fund for the family. My sense is, after five years of a regime like this, we would have learned not only financial discipline but a better appreciation of the kind of hard work and loneliness that affects an OFW and his/her family. The OFW experience can thus be a self-limiting exercise if everybody cooperates.

After Tago ng Tago, we might be Tuwang Tuwa because all that sacrifice would have made possible better opportunities for the OFW and his /her family.

The author is chair of the Development Bank of the Philippines and former labor secretary.


Sentosa Weekend Getaway

My Wife and 3 of our friends went to Sentosa last Feb. 24 (Sunday) of 2008. We agreed to meet in Harbourfront at about 12pm. One of our friends already went to Sentosa a couple of times before so i did not bother planning. Since it was Sunday my Wife and I went to Novena Church at about 9am. The mass started at about 8:30am. We're late again. Nothing new there. We decided to eat breakfast in McDonalds along Orchard Road after the mass. I didn't know that they also serve pancakes like in the Philippines. Seats are located outside since it was a Cafe style and ambience. The morning is nice. Until we found out that pigeons flock on that site rummaging the floors and empty tables for leftovers. I'm not a pigeon or bird hater or something but if you see pigeons or any bird for that matter flapping their wings beside and on top of you i'm sure you will be bothered too. It's a good thing that they don't just jump on top of occupied tables. We finished at about 10:30am. While we were walking towards the MRT station we saw the poster of the movie "L Changed the World". We thought since our meeting time is 12noon why don't we watch this movie first. Having watched the first two movies of Death Note with my Wife way back we decided to go ahead (even though we're short on the budget already). We didn't expect that the movie was relatively long (approx. more than 2 hours) so we called our friend that we might be late. After the movie we huried to Orchard MRT so that we can get off to Dhoby Ghaut station to the purple line. We met at B2 of Vivo City Kopitiam to eat our lunch. At about 2pm we're off to the Ticket Counter of the Cable Car. There are direction signage pointing to the ticket counter so i was easy to find. I say this because my friend forgot the way which is understandable. Two-way cable car ride costs S$12.00/person. Regular cable car can accomodate 6 person at a time. They have special cable car with glass floor which, of course, is more expensive. They also have packages for lunch in cable car. There are different packages offered. If you want to check them out just visit their website. At first we thought the line was long because when we arrived the line was already outside the door. It's a good thing that it moved fast so we were able to buy tickets in no time. We took our pictures inside the ticket counter and while we are waiting to be boarded. While waiting i tried to crack a joke. I said
Hey, there has been no accident happended in the cable car yet, right?
as they lookup to the cables attached to the carriage which literally will be holding our lives. My friend told us stories of their experiences in the cable car were one of their friends are wriggling the carriage while it's moving. She told me her friend said
Don't do that! This is not a joke anymore!
. The ride was great although some of the views below are construction sites. The panoramic view was great! We took our pictures inside the carriage and the surrounding view. Ride lasted for about 10 minutes. I kinda' wish the ride lasted for a little more. The drop-off point is the visitor center. Here you can shop for souvenirs although there are other souvenir shops inside Sentosa. We just followed our friend since she was the one familiar with the place. Along the way we saw some people gathering at the sides. THen we saw a family taking their picture with a boa (sawa in tagalog but not sure with exact specie but i'm pretty sure it was huge). Flowers all around relaxed my eyes. We stopped at a building with "Images of Singapore" sign on top of it. In front of it was a garden of flowers and a statue of a mouse-wizard reading a book (sorry i don't know the name). There are telescopes which you can use provided you insert S$1.00 to it to take a closer look at the view. A word of advice though. When you plan to go to Sentosa make sure you were the proper clothes. Just a couple of minutes of walk made me sweat. So if possible where cotton shirts, shorts and bring face towels and water bottle. You'll thank me for it specially once you arrive in the beach. We also took our picture in the Carlsberg tower. Picture this: Place a circular ring in a long stick. Move the ring up and down the stick. Basically that's what the tower look like. You will get in fromt he ground the the ring will rotate while coming up the tower. We haven't tried that one because of budget restrictions. Maybe some other time. I read that you can see Malaysia on top of the tower. We encountered also a Merlion statue as big as the one in Esplanade. We saw some people on top of it so it's like Statue of Liberty where you can go to the top of the crown (although i've heard it's not aloud anymore because of 9-11). I won't go to the details of the walk. We bought tickets for Songs of the Sea for S$6.00/person. Later on our friends bought tickets for the Luge and Skyride. Its S$9.00/person which includes 1 skyride and 1 luge that is if you bought it after 7pm. See their website for other packages. There are rental bikes also. They have adult bikes, kidde bikes and tandem bikes (2 person in one bike with two pair of pedals). The only beach we saw is Siloso Beach. For me the beach is great. White sand, lifeguard post, a resort, beach volleyball nets and coconut (or maybe palm) trees. I wished we brought a mat. We rested under the shade of the tree. The problem is there are a lot of ants. My Wife was so tired i think she fell asleep for a couple of seconds in my lap. The heat and wrong clothes took toll on us. I said to myself "Next time we will come prepared so that we can take a dip at the beach and relax." The beach was so enticing. Some families brought their dogs and made them swim too. We stayed until 5:30pm then we decided to buy some drinks in 7-11 near the Train station inside Sentosa. For those who don't know there are 3 ways in getting to Sentosa. By cable car, train and bus. You can bring any food and drinks in Sentosa to save money. We waited until 7pm then me and my Wife got in the queue for the Songs of the Sea while our friends went to the Luge. The show starts at about 7:40pm but there's already a long queue. We saved them seats. My advice is choose seats at the front (2nd to 3rd row) and middle to get the best view in my opinion. If you have a camcorder you must bring it if your planning on watching the Songs of the Sea. At first i thought it will be boring since the title seems kidde stuff but twhen the show started i was impressed. The shows plot is these group of teenagers trying to wake up the princess by singing. They summoned different creatures in their village until the princess finally awaken. The actors lip sync the songs which is necessary since it was an open air performance. The show highlights the combination of choreographed water and laser displays and image water projections. Bursts of fire are part of the show too. Everybody can feel the heat generated every time fire burst. Images projected in the water fountains have 3D effects that they almost look like holograms. You haven't been to Sentosa until you saw the Songs of the Sea. For me it's a must-see attraction. It ran for about 30 minutes (if i'm not mistaken). Sentosa is like a setting in fairy tales in the morning and specially in the evening. Lights are colorful and has that romantic feel. We had our dinner in Vivo City Kopitiam again. After that we went our separate ways. It's quite an experience but very tiring. Next time i'll be more prepared. I'd like to relax at the beach and maybe this time try out the Luge. For pictures see the following links below.

Sentosa Website


Friday, February 15, 2008

POEA suspends controversial direct-hiring memo

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on Thursday suspended the implementation of a POEA memo which required foreign employers to pay bonds to directly hire Filipino workers, ABS-CBN News learned.

POEA Administrator Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz ordered the "relaxing" of Memorandum Circular No. 4, Series of 2007, which required foreign employers wishing to directly hire Filipino workers to pay repatriation and performance bonds.

Memorandum Circular No. 1, Series of 2008, was released to "relax the rules [on] direct hires for professionals, those to be employed by reputable companies already providing adequate protection and similarly situated employers" based on MC No. 4.

The new memorandum also said that the agency will process documents of directly-hired Filipino workers using procedures used before January 15, 2008.

The new memo comes after Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Arturo Brion instructed the POEA to suspend the implementation of MC No. 4.

In a statement, Brion said he will convene with the POEA Governing Board on Monday to discuss the directives of President Arroyo on further amendments to the memorandum.

The POEA’s new rules took effect last January 15, amid protests from Filipino professionals abroad that the new rulings will make employment abroad for them harder.

In direct hiring, recruitment agencies are not involved and compliance to the contract is therefore dependent on the capability of the foreign employer.

Before the memorandum was released, these professionals negotiated their own contracts without intervention from the POEA.

With the memorandum in effect, everything in relation to a Filipino professional being hired directly by a foreign employer would have to go through the overseas employment body.

Aside from mandating stricter documentation and processing requirements which would include posting a $5,000 repatriation bond per employee, employers are also required to post a $3,000 performance bond per employee to guarantee payment of the employee’s salary for the duration of the employment contract. The bonds should be secured from local bonding companies.

Further, it said employers are required to provide their employees with health and medical insurance.

Brion earlier said the adoption of a stricter policy on direct hires is aimed at strengthening the protection of the OFWs.

However, Brion said the DOLE is open to exemptions from the total implementation of the memorandum on a per country, employer or workers classification basis on the request of the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs).

POEA records show that in 2007, a total of 26,753 OFWs in the household and other services were directly hired by foreign employers. The biggest employer of directly hired household service workers was Italy at 5,564 followed by Canada and Spain, while the Middle East hired the most number of non-household service OFWs on direct hiring basis.

OFWs with employment contracts and work visas issued after January 15 was to be covered by the new guidelines prior to its cancellation.