Friday, 31 August 2012

Who Leaves? Who Stays? The Migration of the Young and the Future of this Province

OFWs at the airport. Courtesy of antipinoy.com


I sat beside a good friend of mine, a former student, and a former associate of my consulting firm Step Up Consulting Services, in one of my regular plane rides to Bohol one sunny weekend.  We talked about many things but one thing that stayed on me until now is the realisation that several of my students are already out of the country to permanently live and work elsewhere.  She herself is starting her own process of migrating and even encouraged me to do so.  She said, “I already lost hope in this country”.

It’s disturbing to hear these statements from exemplary young people whom we need in order to make that big turn-around in this country. It is already even disappointing to see them leave Bohol and work elsewhere as their competencies are those that we need in several public and private entities within the province.  Our human resources are one of our greatest assets and watching Boholanos leave the province, much more this country, is sad in itself.

Interestingly, it has been said that Boholanos are the first recorded OFWs. In 1800s, skilled Boholanos were recruited as pearl divers to work in Australia (Santiago 2003).  Since then, throngs of Boholanos have already left Bohol to live elsewhere in the country (the phenomenon of internal migration) or abroad (external migration).  The old joke that if all Boholanos all over the world will go home to Bohol, the Bohol islands will sink, may be true. 

OFWs in Bohol plays a pivotal role in its economy. The same case can be true also to this country.  In recent financial crises, it has been argued that OFW remittances cushioned the country from experiencing deep shocks brought about by the volatility in the market.  The effect of remittances - income transfers of migrant workers to their families – to improvements in living condition can not be ignored in the Philippines (Rodriguez 1998).  An empirical study (Yang and Martinez 2005) shows that increases in household remittance receipts resulted to “reduction in poverty migrant’s origin households”.  Moreover, transfer incomes from abroad are not only found to have decreased poverty but also encouraged greater investments in education of recipient households, “the so-called ex-ante brain effect” (Sawada and Estudillo 2006).

Quantitative evidence in Bohol exists to support the claim that remittances from OFWs have positive impact on poverty reduction. The Peace Equity Access for Community Empowerment Foundation study on levels of deprivation in the province (2004) showed that 75% of the poorest municipalities have very low percentages of migrant workers, between 2.9% to 6% of the total municipal population.  Likewise, 60% of the better-off municipalities have high OFW-to-population ratio ranging from 9% to 22.

In another study (HNUCRLG 2004), the presence of migrant workers in the family was one of the indicators used to compare development performance in the years 2001 and 2003.  The study revealed that in 2003, the number of migrant workers in District 1 and 2 increased by 67% and 173% respectively as compared to 2001.  However, the number of migrant workers in District 2 decreased by 67% in the same period.  It is to be remembered that among the three districts, poverty incidence is at its highest in District 2 and poverty reduction in this District between 2003 and 2001 did not significantly improve.

While these figures are insufficient to explain improvements in living condition, because they only represent number of workers but not remittance value, it suggests that Yang’s and Martinez’ theory may be applicable.  However, even when remittance value can be obtained, the “ex-ante brain effect” may not necessarily materialize since it may not necessarily equate to utilization in education. However, despite lack of causality, the figures tell something which may support an anthropological observation that there are many decent and even extravagant houses in Bohol because of OFWs.

But these economic effects come at a great expense.  I do not want to elaborate here the social costs of having parents working outside of the country.  I am more concerned however, that the “ex-ante brain effect” will be submerged by the loss of skills and talent that happens because of people working outside, and by the prospect of those educated out of OFW remittances to leave the province or country and spend the rest of their lives elsewhere. I call this the cyclical negative effect of out-migration which can diminish the number of skilled, talented, and competent people at present but will also result to another wave of loss in succeeding cycles. Simply put, if a young woman migrates and sends money to her family back home for schooling of her siblings, and the siblings as a result of education are more positioned to migrate and later do so, then the out-migration yields not just a single but a double effect which can continue in a cycle.

Considering the push (e.g. hardships, lack of opportunities in Bohol) and pull factors of migration (e.g. better life in Davao, Cebu, Manila, or in other countries), this is not far from happening.  Bohol’s primary economic drivers are agriculture and tourism.  Agriculture, at one hand, has a declining relevance to the young, and generates least attraction as a job or livelihood option.   Tourism, on the other hand, will reach a saturation point for it to be sustainable.  One can only have as many tourist spots and establishments as the carrying capacity of the province.  This, besides the fact that because of inadequate labour absorption (i.e. more employable people than number of jobs), tourism establishments here pay very small when compared to other cities which then becomes another push factor.  It can be possible that if trends will continue, there will be more young people leaving Bohol than those staying; the more brains lost, the lesser people to build a stronger provincial economy.  It is possible, that at a provincial scale, Bohol will experience a demographic problem, where dependency ratio is high as most of the productive workforce resides elsewhere and only the young children and the old retiree, and a few of the in-between remain.

I also left Bohol, in terms of work, both caused by a push and a pull factor.  My capacities in Bohol are valued so outrageously low when compared to how it is valued elsewhere. There is this economics of things that I, a father of two, have to contend with.  I need not elaborate the circumstances that happened that led me to decide to leave Bohol, as a professional, and work elsewhere.  I believe these are the same circumstances that many of us who chose to do work outside of the province had to face.

On a larger scale, these push and pull factors also enticed our young people not only to leave the province, but the country.  It is true there are still opportunities for them here. But to get a raise or a promotion is so stiff that one works hard for a small return. In other countries, an hour of work equates a month of effort in this country, and social security systems are good, crime rates are low, and while it snows some months of the year, one can afford a comfortable bed, a thick duvet, and a good heating system with uninterrupted power supply. 

Who leaves? Those who can.

Who stays? Those who chose to do so, or those who do not have a choice. 

Indeed, even in our aspirations, the world is so unequal.  There are those who are fortunate to be able to dream big and make their dreams come true.