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Philippine Migrants Society of Canada (PMSC)

Filipino Migration: A Brief History
Filipino Migration: A Brief History
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Since the early 1900's, successive waves of Filipinos have migrated to other countries in search of employment opportunities. Overseas migration can be traced way back to the 1920s under American colonial rule, when the Filipinos worked in pineapple plantations in Hawaii. The movement of agricultural workers later expanded to California, and to Washington and Alaska to work in fish canneries.

Successive waves of Filipino migrants followed in the 1960s, which were largely professional workers. They were Filipino nurses, doctors, medical technicians who filled in skill gaps in the United States, Canada and other European countries.

In the 1970s, the phenomenom of overseas contract workers (OCWs) emerged. Filipinos began to leave the Philippines in even larger numbers to fill in labour shortages in rich and industrializing countries as construction workers, nannies, domestic workers, nurses and entertainers. Filipino men filled in labour shortages in the construction industry of the Middle East. Filipino women, on the other hand, took care of children and performed domestic work in booming economies in the Middle East (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait) and the Asia-Pacific (Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia) to allow women in these economies to work outside the home.

The increasing revenue that these migrant labourers provided to the Philippine economy through foreign exchange remittances, as well as persistent, widespread unemployment and underemployment, have provided a strong incentive to systematize the export of Filipino labour. Under Marcos, the labour export (LEP) was established, and entrenched or enhanced under successive governments under Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and currently under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The history of the migration of Filipinos abroad is a product of extreme poverty, underdevelopment and joblessness in the country, rooted in the uneven distribution of land and wealth that has benefited a handful of rich landlords, big business, cronies, and multinational companies. This system started under Spanish colonial rule, was entrenched under American colonial rule and continues to this very day.

The Philippines is a country rich in natural resources and has an educated work force, but Filipinos are driven abroad since the government cannot provide jobs. This is not surprising since the Philippine economy is backward, primarily agrarian, and without basic industries. With landlessness and poverty in the countryside, and without basic industries to generate jobs, the Philippines has become a source of cheap raw materials and labour for multinational companies.
The deepening economic crisis in the Philippines has aggravated the migration of Filipinos abroad to the point where 8 million people, more than 10% of the population, now work abroad as migrant labour in 186 countries.

Filipino migrant workers contribute significantly to the Philippines economy through their remittances. From 1990 to 1994 remittances of migrant Filipinos were registered at a high of $4.8 billion. This contribution is recognised by the government. Migrant workers are hailed as "new economic heroes" as their economic contribution provides much needed stability for the ailing Philippine economy.

The Philippine government, however, has been unable to provide protection to its migrant workforce, despite the hefty fees OCWs have to pay in order to be employed overseas. There are only 45 labour attaches abroad to service 8 million Filipino migrant workers. Many Filipinos continue to experience abuse and exploitation. These range from contract violations, termination without cause, rape, sexual harassment, and even death.

The cases of Flor Contemplacion and Sarah Balabagan opened the eyes of the Filipino community to the plight of migrant Filipinos. In Canada, high-profile cases such as Leticia Cables and Melca Salvador have mobilized the community to fight against the unjust treatment of migrant workers.

The anguish and ordeal of migrant Filipinos continue. The conditions that confront them necessitate the continued organising, education and mobilisation work, in order that they can better defend their rights and welfare abroad, and to address the root causes of migration in the Philippines.