Over 10 million Filipinos are living and working overseas. Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said “our overseas Filipino migrant workers have become the big missionary presence”.
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) term denotes to Filipinos who are abroad indefinitely as citizens or as permanent or temporary residents of a different country and to those Filipino citizens abroad for a limited, definite period. OFWs take and practice their faith fervently wherever they go or are. OFWs are in more than 193 countries. That is why the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines deem OFWs as they become modern apostles of evangelisation in the foreign countries where they go to work or immigrate.
About 10 percent of the population of the country (100 million people) are OFWs in more than 193 countries. Half of them are in the US, where over 85,000 more Filipinos continue to migrate every year.
For Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, OFWs play a big role in sharing and proclaiming the “joy of the Gospel” given their sheer number. “Our overseas Filipino migrant workers have become the big missionary presence”, says Tagle.
OFWs bring their faith to wherever they go. Filipinos actively take part in church-related activities. They fill empty churches, fill the air with joyous songs, praising God. They are the answer to the prayer of parish priests who have only a few old people left in a parish. They are active in the parish.
Filipino workers abroad are of big help to the economy remitting annually about US$2.55 billion. The remittances are hard-earned money from their blood, sweat and tears and products of their sacrifices and sufferings.
Filipino bishops reiterate the flight of Filipinos searching for jobs abroad, saying overseas workers are “missionaries of the Catholic faith” and help the Church in its mission to spread the Gospel.
Former CBCP president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro says, “the notion on Filipino diaspora has been redefined” after they were given a clearer picture of the “new situation” of OFWs.
The CBCP has called on the government to focus on programs that would raise job opportunities in the country to prevent the flight of Filipino workers, who “have become part of our social concern”.
“How many of them are made to suffer because they are deprived of employment rights, their salaries or travel documents unjustly withheld? How many of them, mostly women, are abused, assaulted or sexually harassed by employers? How many of them suffer the pain of isolation, alienation, and discrimination? And need we talk about the innumerable cases of broken families and conjugal infidelities?” asked outgoing Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro as he enumerated the concerns of the Church with the migration of Filipinos.
Lagdameo said it is about time to look at the “positive aspect” of the global migration of Filipinos. “Along with our smiling faces, we are offering to the receiving countries or Churches, our Christian faith lived in the context of different cultures and religions. This positive aspect is likewise the new challenge of the Filipino diaspora. It is both a challenge and a concern”, Lagdameo said. “Two million Filipinos have already made the Middle East their home. Would you believe that 30 percent of the entire population of Malaysia that is 900,000 is Filipinos?” Lagdameo asked.
Of the 140,000 in Hong Kong, he said, a majority are Filipino domestic helpers. In Italy, only one half of the more than 1 million Filipinos are listed, the same is said of the one million in Japan, he added.
“These few examples are only a portion of the migrant Filipinos we find present from America to Asia, from Africa to Oceania, from Russia to Australia and also from Jordan to Saipan”, Lagdameo said.
Professor Amaryllis Torres of the College of Social Work and Community Development of the University of the Philippine and social scientist says there many flipsides of Filipino migrant workers. Due to OFWs phenomenon, there many “social costs” — children growing up with without parents’ physical presence and guidance but taken care of grandparents or other relatives pose many challenges for children. Another aspect is when one of the parents away, there are reports of illicit relations either or both ends. “How to balance, the economic factor with social cost is the big challenge for the country and church”, Torres said.
According to observers, about 5000 Filipinos leave the country daily in search of employment overseas. It is a dream the one day, there would be a day, where no Filipino would ever leave the country in search of job abroad for the sake of the family, she said.
– Santosh Digal