The Philippine Star

There was a time decades ago when the phenomenon of a society living off the earning of overseas workers was severely criticized for blaspheming the sanctity of the family. This was in the 70s when Hong Kong opened its doors to Filipinas to serve the needs of their working families. They were called DHs, for domestic helpers.

Mothers left their husband and children to do housework and nanny work at ludicrous rates for contract periods of a year or more. The salaries, however small, were still appreciated because they were much better than what any kind of employment for under-educated married Filipinas could get in their own country.

Our Filipinas suffered cramped sleeping places, verbal and sometimes sexual abuse, long working hours and loneliness just to be able to send home a big part of their salaries. They relied on expensive overseas phone calls to stay in touch.

The criticism of philandering husbands left behind, unsupervised children going wayward, and the overseas Filipina worker getting into extra-marital relationships abroad had been a controversial topic then. But the years have dulled these pains, and surprisingly, the concept of a Filipino family unit remains strong.

Now OFWs are glorified

Now, we glorify our OFWs who have kept the economy afloat even when the whole world was reeling from a global financial crisis. We see concretized houses in place of shabby wooden ones where a member of the family has had the opportunity to earn abroad.

One of the best legacies of a society living off remittances is of our overseas workers being exposed to the workings of a developed world. They had years to observe the advancements and conveniences that the citizens they served enjoyed, and it made them strive to become better people.

Thus, I have hope that, with time and improved lives, our returning OFWs will want to think of how they can help bring about bigger changes to Philippine society and the country.

An overseas retiree speaks

One of our overseas Filipino readers, describing herself as a “talkative retiree,” sent a letter reacting to my Tuesday column on remittances and speaking her mind on some other things. Let’s hear what Lily Galace has to say.

“The 27 billion reported remittances of OFWs and migrant workers overseas are, I believe, understated by a lot more. Balikbayans who visit bring home a lot of dollars in cash, or ask relatives and friends who visit them to bring home money for their relatives.

“Years ago, I visited a resort hotel in Holland. Filipino hotel attendants were very kind to take me around the city. When I returned to Manila, they asked me to bring home $100 for their relative. I was amazed how trustful they were, but I was happy to accommodate.

“I stayed at a hotel where Pavarotti was staying and gatecrashed his party attended by European royalty, but that's another story.

“I am now a happy 71-year-old retiree, after living overseas for 32 years. I retired five years ago, and my money remains in Australia because there are no attractive investment alternatives in the Philippines. 

“Government bonds you suggested are attractive at the rate you suggested, but that is above the debt rate BDO wants to pay for going to the debt market, at 3.5-3.75 percent, a story on the following page of your column. If a government bond offers anything above that rate, it would be attractive enough.


“My wish is that the Philippine government offer incentives to move our assets from overseas back to the Philippines. There are a lot of deterrents. To transfer funds from overseas to the Philippines involve charges and fees about 3 percent if one uses reputable banks. Using door to door is more attractive except that, due to strict government regulations, allowable funds for transfer is limited. 

“On my trip to Sydney last year, the allowable amount was only $3,000 per week. A$6,000 after a two-week stay is not enough for a year's living expenses, supplemented by my SSS pension of 4,000 pesos.

“A huge deterrent to sending money from overseas for investment is the 20 percent withholding tax on interest on bank deposits, or any income from financial institutions for that matter. Income on deposits is almost non-existent, and then, that small income is reduced by 20 percent. 

“An Australian retiree pays income tax only when one's income reaches A$30,000. If your income is below that, you don't have to pay any tax.   

Not friendly for seniors

“The Philippines is not a friendly country for people 65 years old and above. I once applied for a credit card with a large bank I had large deposits with, and I was not approved because I was, well, too old. I also once applied for a contract cell phone and, again, my application was not approved, in spite of showing my bank deposits to show I can afford to pay the monthly fee. 

“I said I had a pension overseas, but I was not about to reveal my financial condition to a cell phone company. I thought that would be an overkill, so I am left to buying phone cards or getting ‘loads’ from my friendly sari-sari store.

“There is a lot of money waiting to be transported to the Philippines, if it is worth taking the move. I see no reason to do it. While a government bond might appear to be attractive, once the 20 percent withholding tax is deducted, we are back to where we started.

“While I'm at it, the tourism industry could also benefit from the ‘gray market’ money of retirees, including local retirees. How about offering hotel accommodation discounts to senior citizens as well? That will make me try harder to have holidays in the Philippines.

“I am a keen observer of Philippine politics. The Philippines is not in a good place, from where I sit. I was greatly disappointed that Aquino did not take the opportunity to raise the SSS pension when he had the opportunity. If there's a will there's a way.  He had to wait for Duterte to do it. 

“Aquino had no heart for the poor. He has no idea how difficult it is to manage on a small pension. His claim to eliminate corruption was a laugh. Never mind, he's gone. Now it's President Duterte's turn. While his concentration on drugs is admirable, his promise to eliminate corruption is nowhere near good enough. Why is it so difficult to eliminate the culture of corruption at the B of Customs? If there's a will, there's a way.

“There, what I want to say is off my chest. 

“Oh, I wish to commend the Department of Immigration. I was able to obtain my dual citizenship within one day, with all payments duly receipted, at the right amount. The people in the department who get rich are in other areas of the department, ha ha ha.”

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