MANILA,  February 5, 2004 (STAR) By Des Ferriols - Preliminary figures from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) indicate that remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) reached $7.6 billion in 2003, up by five to six percent from the previous year.

The BSP revealed that despite the decline in the deployment of Filipino workers abroad, the increase in the number of workers with higher-paying jobs made up for the decline in the actual number of people working abroad.

BSP Deputy Governor Amando Tetangco told reporters yesterday that the increase in remittances was due mainly to the increase in the deployment of sea-based workers who are usually higher paid than their land-based counterparts.

In 2004, Tetangco said the BSP still expects OFW remittances to increase by three percent although he said this was a conservative target considering the expected surge in the US and Japanese economies.

"Hopefully, this would translate to higher hiring of Filipino workers," Tetangco said. "But we will have the opportunity to review this target at the end of the first and second quarters so we will be more certain then."

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

According to Tetangco, 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 shows 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 OFWs, warning that other countries will soon overtake the Philippines in the international labor market.

The country has been heavily dependent on OFW remittances, 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 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."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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