MANILA, December 9, 2003  (STAR) By Des Ferriols - The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has expressed alarm over the continuing decline in the deployment of Filipino workers overseas, warning that other countries will soon overtake the Philippines in the international labor market.

The country has been heavily dependent on remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and heavy competition from countries like India, Malaysia and Indonesia could prove disastrous since the domestic economy has no strength to sustain itself without the dollars from OFWs.

According to the BSP, the deployment of OFWs has been slowing down since 1999 and this year, a drastic 8.88-percent decline has been recorded for the period between January and September.

BSP economic research manager Diwa Guinigundo told reporters that although Filipino workers remain competitive, other countries were moving into the labor market with redoubled efforts and systematic development strategies intended to grab market share.

Moreover, the traditional destinations OFW deployment in the Middle East have been nationalizing their labor markets while European countries have become even more restrictive against immigration.

As a result, the deployment of Filipino workers slowed down to a 0.65 percent growth rate in 1999 and 0.55 percent in 2000. There was a 3.04 percent increase in 2001, but this slowed down to 2.8 percent in 2002. By this year, deployment declined dramatically by 8.88 percent during the first nine months of the year.

Consequently, there was also a continuing decline in remittances which fell 7.78 percent in 1999 and plunged by 10.95 percent in 2000. There was a slight recovery in 2001 but the total still fell by 0.32 percent.

In 2002, the BSP said remittances bounced back and grew by 19.2 percent but the dramatic decline in deployment led to a slowdown in remittances with the growth rate recorded at 5.08 percent.

"If we are moving fast, everyone else is on turbo speed,‰ Guinigundo said. „Other countries like India, Malaysia and Indonesia are training their workers specifically for the overseas market."

Guinigundo said there were specific niches in the labor market that the new entrants were angling for, like highly-trained positions in areas usually for unskilled labor.

"For example, the domestic help market has positions like housekeeping supervisors and clerical positions are not simply secretarial, there are also positions for medical clerks, legal clerks and such," he said. "These positions need skills training that require government encouragement and funding."

Guinigundo said competing countries have come up with more systematic programs aiming at the international labor market, training their workers in such areas as languages, ethics and even hygiene in order to make them desirable to foreign employers.

"The challenge is focusing on quality rather than quantity," he said. "If we continue to do nothing, everyone else will catch up."

The alarming trend in OFW deployment has already alarmed the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) which earlier said that it was trying to find out why.

According to a POEA report, 571,294 land-based workers had been deployed as of Nov. 17, down 7.6 percent from 618,418 in the same period last year. Of these, new hires numbered 240,024 compared with 255,422 last year, and rehires numbered 331,270 compared with 362,996.

Deployment of seamen also dropped, to 187,161 from 188,732, the report said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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