MANILA, December 16, 2003  (STAR) By Des Ferriols - Despite the decline in the deployment of Filipino workers, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported that total remittances in the first 10 months this year reached $6.3 billion, higher by 5.7 percent compared to last year’s $6 billion.

The BSP said there was an increase in the deployment of higher-paid land-based overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), including professional and service workers such as caretakers/caregivers, clerks, office managers and utility personnel, which made up for the decline in the total number of land-based workers since they were earning more than the low-skilled or unskilled workers.

Also, the BSP said that while deployed land-based workers contracted by 13.2 percent in January-October 2003 to 520,597, deployed sea-based workers grew by 1.3 percent to 178,094 from their comparable levels last year.

This brought total workers deployed to 698,691 or nearly 10 percent lower than the level posted in the same period a year ago.

"OFW remittances remain a critical component in both the national income accounts and the balance of payments (BOP)," the BSP reported. "They accounted for 10.8 percent of real gross domestic product (GDP) and 15.6 percent of total current account receipts in 2002."

The BSP said the major sources of OFW remittances during the period were the US, Saudi Arabia, Japan, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates.

The increase in OFW remittances could be misleading, however, because the dramatic drop in actual deployment of workers indicated that Filipino labor was being edged out of its traditional markets.

The BSP had already 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 OFWs and heavy competition from countries like India, Malaysia and Indonesia could prove disastrous.

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

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

"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 that were usually for unskilled labor.

"For example, the domestic help market has positions like housekeeping supervisors and clerical positions that 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."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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