OFW remittances promote mendicant culture

10:04 PM September 18, 2012

Ted Unarce

A Cabinet-level agency official announced on September 10 that for the last three years, the Philippines has become “less dependent” on remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFW) but admitted that the country cannot hope to achieve “zero dependence” from OFW remittances due to its “important role in promoting inclusive growth or economic growth that trickles down to the masses (which) are used to address various household needs such as food, shelter, and education.”

Planning Director Rosemarie Edillon of the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) added that apart from the “trickle down” benefits of remittances, “our country’s international reserves have been at comfortable levels, and this implies less vulnerability of the country to external shocks, lesser reliance on foreign savings, and availability of more currency that will help our country service its debts and pay its imports. “


The cash remittances by Filipinos working and living overseas, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), reached $1.809 billion in July, growing 5.4% year-on-year, hitting $11.94 billion for seven months in 2012 so far, “higher by 5.2% from $11.35 billion the previous year” for seven months.

At least one million Filipinos leave the Philippines every year to work abroad, adding to the current estimate of between 9.5 million to 12.5 million Filipinos working overseas, according to the figures of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa).

This massive migration of Filipinos to more than 210 countries around the world was the subject of a short documentary recently shown on America’s Current TV network ( which opened with this line: “Imagine a nation where the #1 career choice is leaving the country.”

The introduction adds that although the country is “rich in culture and resources”, much of the population want to leave. Where? “Destination, Anywhere” is the answer and the title of the documentary.

One Foreign Policy Blog article describes the documentary as focusing on the impact of remittances on the Philippines. But the interviews of OFWs in the documentary show them merely explaining why they are sending money back to their families in the Philippines- “to feed my family”, “to pay for family medical expenses” were the most common reasons offered.

The closest to showing the impact of remittances in the film is the segment taken in a crowded Metro Manila mall where a local bank advertises that customers can receive their remittances there. The Current reporter, Linda Chang, comments that it is a most convenient location because remittance recipients can easily spend their parents’ hard-earned dollars on the luxury items that abound in the mall.

Gloria Navarrete, a long-time South San Francisco resident, related how she sought to provide income opportunities to the young people in her hometown of Lipa City, Batangas. “I offered to pay the kids good money to pick the lanzones fruits in the trees in my brother’s farm so they can be sold in the market,” she said. “But they rejected my offer and refused to do any work because they didn’t need the money, they said. Their OFW parents were sending them money regularly so they didn’t have to work if they didn’t want to.”

“I know four kids in my hometown who were receiving money regularly from their mother who works 24/7 as a domestic helper in Long Island, New York,” she said. “The kids, teenagers, refused to do any work because, anyway, they have enough money for their cell phone bills and food and miscellaneous living expenses.”

There is a term to describe the kids who rely on remittances, and not their own hard-earned labor, for their daily living expenses. They are “mendicants”and the society that is bred by this “new form of social illness” is the subject of a new documentary by Ted Unarce entitled “Mendicant Society” which will hold its world premiere at the Third World Independent Film Festival ( this Friday, September 21, at 4:30 p.m. at the Century 20 Theatre at the Great Mall Plaza in Milpitas, California.


Catch the trailer on Youtube:

Unlike Destination Anywhere, this documentary focuses on the impact of remittances on Filipinos. “Many of us ponder the factors behind the creation of corruption in our youth, our culture, our politicians, even our families,” Unarce explains in his synopsis of his film. “By taking a look at the issue broadly, we might ask how an entire society can lose its balance due to lack of morals, principles, discipline, hope, and other factors.”

Mendicant Society examines the Philippines as a case in point, Unarce explains, because of its “long history of government-sponsored human exportation which adds a great sense of calculated malignancy to this problem by creating a society that sustains itself by remittances sent by family members working abroad and by supporting a national government that lends itself to being mendicant to the very people it serves.”

The narrative in the documentary mirrors the frustrating experience of Gloria Navarrete. The film posits that “given the scarcity of employment opportunities in the Philippines, family members left behind often begin to self-identify as hopeless and helpless victims of circumstance. To compound this dilemma, these family members receive remittances, which gives them very little motivation to seek employment themselves. The figurative door is thrown open to sloth, greed and corruption.”

The film posts an intriguing quote from Jewish-American writer Anzia Yezierska – “Give a beggar a dime and he’ll bless you. Give him a dollar and he’ll curse you for withholding the rest of your fortune. Poverty is a bag with a hole in the bottom.”

The“dollar” perhaps represents the significant remittances sent by hard-working parents to their children in the Philippines who somehow believe they are entitled to the money and to the rest of the “fortune” provided by their parents. The remittances are soon wasted away on frivolous items, just like a bag with a hole in the bottom perpetuating the cycle of poverty. The remittances turn out not to be the blessing it was thought to provide.

Philippine government bureaucrats present one side of the picture – remittances are necessary for national development because they provide funds for food, shelter and education for millions of Filipinos dependent on them for their daily sustenance and because they provide economic stability to the government.

Mendicant Society provides the other side.

(Send comments to [email protected] or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call415.334.7800).

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TAGS: Features, Global Nation, ofws, Philippine economy, Remittances
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