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With the extreme scarcity of jobs and income opportunities in the country, many young people, majority of them girls, are making an exodus to nearby Malaysia and from there possibly to other countries as undocumented migrant workers.  The traffick has been going on for many years, but judging from recent interdictions by government authorities at local ports, it has been intensifying.  This increase reflects the growing number of people entering the tight labor market, an expanding population falling into the poverty trap, and social dislocation as a result of structural violence such as families breaking up or students dropping out of school.

The unemployment situation would likely get worse.  Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the Middle East are being forced out of their jobs because of the spreading “Saudization” policy and the disruptions caused by the so-called Arab Spring.  Elsewhere in the world, national economies are in trouble due to the lingering recession, with a growing number of their own nationals unable to find work.  Millions of Americans are unemployed, no relief is in their sight, and some economists are predicting that another recession is on the way.  Some European countries are also facing a serious debt and fiscal crisis, from which political instability and change along with national policy overhauls could result.  There is a growing sentiment worldwide against migrant workers and immigrants.

The recent interceptions of Malaysian-bound job-seekers most probably represent only a small fraction of those who are able to slip through the porous border.  There are many Filipinas now working in that country who came in legally in the guise of tourists but actually to find a job and they continue to stay under a questionable status.  As such, Filipinas staying or working there are vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation and abuse.  Most of them were aware of these dangers, but the “kapit sa patalim” conditions in the Philippines forced them to jump into the fire just the same.

Something, perhaps, can be done for these backdoor OFWs while the government is taking its sweet time to alleviate unemployment and poverty in the country.   The Philippine government could enter into labor agreements with Malaysia and the other progressive neighboring countries.  The agreements will extend legal cover for our OFWs’ entry into these countries, job security, fair and humane treatment from their employers and the host society, and orderly repatriation.  Unlike the Philippines’ and the West’s, the economies of our neighboring, well-stocked countries are growing by leaps and bounds.  They are running short on skilled and non-skilled workers and so are hiring foreign workers more and more.  

Such bilateral or multilateral labor agreements could also serve as one of the avenues for the economic integration which the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been pushing, without committing the now apparent mistakes made by the European Union when member countries opened their borders to a free and easy flow of migrant workers and citizens. (Peace Advocates Zamboanga)


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