Philippines' top export: its people

With more than 80 per cent of the population expatriates, the money sent home from the UAE is vital to the economies of many Asian countries.

Lita San Pedro de la Cruz at Splash in the Centrepoint Mall in Abu Dhabi. She has worked for the company for 17 years.
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People are the Philippines' biggest export, with 10 million of the country's population of 92 million living abroad. A lack of employment opportunities at home forces many Filipinos to seek work overseas but there is a price to pay when one or both migrant parents leave their children behind.

Grace Princesa, the new Philippine ambassador to the UAE, has expressed concern over the growing "feminisation" of migration and its social costs. About 50 per cent of Filipino migrant workers are women, most of whom leave their family behind, she said last month. "Studies show that children aged 12 and below need their parents, especially their mother," she said. "If the mother really needs to go out of the country to work, she should be fully documented, fully protected and the price should be right."

The US$400 (Dh1,470) minimum wage for overseas household workers, which is set by the Philippines government, should be followed, Ms Princesa said. Her agenda includes plans to conduct financial literacy courses for Filipinos in the Emirates early next year; support attempts by her government to make the transition back to Filipino life easier for returning expatriates; improve women's employment prospects at home; and help reduce the need to leave in the first place.

Records from the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs showed that as of June 2008 there were about 325,000 Filipinos in the Emirates, but the Philippines' Commission on Overseas Filipinos said there could be an additional 204,000 who live and work here now. Sixty per cent of them are skilled or professional workers, 25 per cent are in the service sector and 15 per cent are household workers. After Saudi Arabia, the UAE is the most popular destination for Filipino workers. Overseas workers worldwide remitted $1.4 billion to the Philippines in September, up 8.6 per cent from a year ago.

Filipinos in the UAE sent home $471 million, or 3.7 per cent, of the $12.8bn in total remittances registered worldwide for the first nine months of the year. They send an average of Dh700 a month, according to UAE Exchange, the country's leading handler of remittances.

A resident of the UAE since 1994, Lita San Pedro de la Cruz, 49, said the money she sent home while working in Manama and Abu Dhabi for more than two decades has helped improve her family's quality of life in the Philippines. Mrs de la Cruz said her remittances were used to educate her four children and to renovate the house she inherited from her mother. Three of her four children have graduated from college and have landed overseas jobs; her youngest will graduate in October 2010. "I really don't know how I was able to manage to send them to private schools and later to college," she said. "I did not rely on my husband for their needs." Her eldest son, Fernando, 30, is an accounting graduate who worked at UAE Exchange in 2000 before moving to Holland where he now lives with his wife and their infant daughter. Jennifer, 29, works as a supervisor at Axiom Telecoms in Abu Dhabi and was married this year. Her other daughter, Joanne, 25, recently got a job at Al Ansari Exchange after arriving in Abu Dhabi on December 2. Both are marketing graduates. Her youngest son, Ahmed, 20, is a marketing student in Manila. Mrs de la Cruz left the Philippines in 1985 to work as a cashier at a bakery in Bahrain and moved to Abu Dhabi in 1994. "After being away from my children for a long time, the only way for me to be with them was to provide them the best education so they could join me here later," she said. Before leaving the Philippines, she and the family rented a one-bedroom apartment in Manila. When she and her husband separated, the children moved into their grandmother's home in Angat, Bulacan, about 35km north of Manila. "I have simple dreams both as a mother and an overseas Filipino worker," she said. "All I want is for my children to have a good education and see all of them graduate from college." Mrs de la Cruz married when she was 18 and did not finish high school. "I did not want them to follow in my footsteps, so I worked hard overseas to send them all to school," she said. She started out as a sales assistant at Splash, a GCC fashion retailer with headquarters in Dubai. "But Dh800 (US$215) was not enough to pay for the education of my children who all attended a private school," she said. "Although we're paid for overtime work, I still had to take a salary advance from my company and the money was used to pay for school fees for the entire year." She worked at different outlets in Sharjah and Dubai, and requested a transfer to Abu Dhabi in 2000 when her eldest son arrived in the capital to work for UAE Exchange. Of the Dh1,000 she earned each month in 1994, Mrs de la Cruz sent Dh800 each month to her children. As a migrant worker, she was also in a position to help her sister and cousins. "I was indeed blessed with a good job and an employer who valued my hard work," she said. Mrs de la Cruz still works at Splash after being with in the company for 17 years and now earns Dh6,500 a month. "My children have always been my top priority."