Thursday, March 10, 2005

The e-mail brigade

The e-mail brigade

Posted 11:51pm (Mla time) Mar 09, 2005
By Juan Mercado
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the March 10, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ARE overseas foreign workers "an emerging middle class"? e-mailed an overseas Filipino worker. Interesting question, but I don't know the answer, we replied. Anyone out there seen a study on this issue so far?

But there are qualified people who know: Inquirer's resident economists Solita Monsod and Cielito Habito, or the University of the Philippines School of Economics' Ernesto Pernia, among others. Perhaps, they'll address the issue soon.

Will OFWs, like the poor, be always with us? "Hearts Apart," the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines' study on migration, found that even before graduation, the majority of OFWs’ children mull over leaving the country. Last week's roundup of Filipino workers in Malaysia shows migration streams are not subsiding. Neither are their e-mails. Here are excerpts:

From Luis Zamora in Korea: "I'm an OFW, one of those keeping the economy afloat. Yet, government can't even simplify processing of the overseas employment certificate (OEC).

"We need this P100-certificate every time one vacations or leaves. As an OFW (1985-1988; then 1993-1995, and 2002 to the present), I find the tedious OEC processing unchanged. Although more Filipinos go overseas, we find the same rude employees, same windows, same dirty toilets, etc.

"I'll [be] on vacation this May. Already I dread the long lines. Even if one files early in the morning, it takes more than half a day to finish."

From Anthony Yu: "Almost 11 years ago, armed with an Ateneo degree, I worked and did well at my job in Taipei. When news of President Fidel Ramos' reforms reached Pinoys, I felt hope and returned.

"Many ethnic Chinese are products of a much older diaspora. Younger overseas Chinese no longer see China as the motherland. These days I look at China the way all other nationalities look at it: a huge opportunity with a large competitive labor force that's also a large consumer market.

"The world is getting smaller. It's no longer a question of Pinoys against somebody else. It's now just a question of where is the best place to do anything: live, run a business, raise children, etc.

"I fear that Filipinos who've migrated will have descendants who'll become like the Taiwanese-a demographic grouping that has its own identity apart from its "motherland."

"There have been many disappointments since my return. But I cannot make any claim to patriotism. Nor do I have the right to brand anyone a thief. I only want the best for this country for one reason-- I happen to live here.

"This reason should spur commitment in me, and probably in others who also live here. It does not take rocket science to arrive at a conclusion as to where this country is headed.

"Exclusivity has always been the bigger sin of any country. But for our own sakes, we must pin our hopes on ourselves, not on those already packing for the next flight out."

Former Health Secretary Jaime Galvez-Tan and San Beda's Dr. Helen Santiago-Sigua have written, in the Inquirer, on the Filipino medical diaspora. Now, Davao's Henrylito Tacio notes the debate is resounding in The Lancet, the international journal for physicians.

"Developing countries, such as the Philippines, India, and Africa, face a serious crisis in the loss of their doctors and nurses," writes Our Lady of Peace Hospital's Dr. Willie T. Ong in the March 5 issue of The Lancet.

"Because of a shortage of doctors, some government clinics are manned by midwives," former health chief, Galvez-Tan, says. "Unless something is done, [this] could lead to the collapse of the health-care system."

The Philippine Medical Association estimates that one in five doctors today is taking up nursing to "qualify" for jobs abroad. By 2010, we'll be short of 10,000 doctors.

The main reason is economic. Doctors-turned-nurses earn 10 times in the United States, Britain or Saudi Arabia more than they do here. Human rights bar a law to block this exodus. A cash-strapped government spends 3 percent of the gross national product on health.

"In response, the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) drew up a Doctor's Covenant. It asks members to stay for at least three years after qualifying. They're to dedicate some time to charity work. This contract has no legal implications, working instead on the notion that a doctor is answerable to his own conscience."

When launched last September, half of 1,500 doctors at the PCP convention signed. Ong notes that 30 percent was "undecided." And 20 percent bucked.

"The Covenant might seem inadequate, but its implications are far-reaching. PCP believes that if 2,000 doctors sign up, Filipinos are assured of specialist care in the next three years.

"Patients welcome this assurance," Ong writes. "I'd encourage doctors in other countries, especially those also affected by migration, to consider a similar initiative."

But isn't it too early to declare the covenant a "success"? The shortage of nurses overseas is projected to continue up to 2010, Dr. J. Ruiz -- who returned from the United States to serve here -- writes in the Philippine Journal of Internal Medicine.

Remember the nursery song: "Mother, Mother, I am sick/Call the doctor very quick"? Will the answering machine tell Mama: "The doctor is out and will get back to you-say, two years from now. Maybe never."


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