(STAR) By Des Ferriols - Remittances from overseas Filipinos (OFs) reached $9.3 billion in the first eight months of 2007, hitting $1.2 billion in August alone and marking the 16th straight month that monthly inflows went over $1 billion.

Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) revealed that the January to August OF inflows rose by 15.3 percent compared to the same period last year.

BSP governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. said this year’s growth rate was steady from the 15.32 percent year-on-year growth posted in 2006, although remittances were growing at a much faster rate this year compared to last year. This was attributed to the demographic shifts in advanced economies.

Tetangco said that despite the decline in total deployment of workers, the geographical and skills diversification made up for the slack with higher-skilled and therefore better-paid workers earning higher salaries.

The BSP said that according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), the number of deployed workers actually declined by 3.7 percent from January to August compared to year-ago levels.

The POEA noted a more drastic 10.2 percent decline in the number of deployed sea-based workers which was traced to the shortage of marine officers to fill up vacancies in foreign shipping vessels.

Tetangco said there was also stiff competition with other Asian and European seafarers, which was made worse by delays in the issuance of working visas to Filipino seafarers.

During the period, Tetangco said the major sources of remittances were the US, United Kingdom, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong.

The economy, however, is bracing for a projected slowdown in OF remittances starting next year when the growth rate was expected to drop to 5 percent as a result of the steady decline in the deployment of workers abroad, with the global economy also slowing down in the wake of an anticipated economic recession in the US.

Tetangco reported the 2008 estimate before the Senate, scaling down the growth projection next year against this year’s 10 percent projected growth in OF remittances.

Bring down remittance fees

President Arroyo called on the BSP and the Department of Finance to find ways to bring down the remittance fees being paid by OFWs just to send home their earnings to families.

For the OFWs, whose dollar remittances have consistently propped up the economy, the President has ordered the Department of Labor and Employment and the National Economic and Development Authority to conduct a study on the impact of the strong peso on the OFWs and their recipient families.

The President also directed the concerned agencies to develop supplemental income-generating activities for the OFWs and their families so that the remittances would go to even more productive use.

Mrs. Arroyo made the directive while speaking at a human rights workshop at the Traders Hotel in Manila. She also instructed various government agencies concerned with food prices and transportation fares to come up with measures to mitigate an impending hike in both areas.

The President also inaugurated yesterday the Pritil Public Market in Tondo, Manila, the newest addition to the growing list of Barangay Food Terminals (BFTs) and Bagsakan Centers being established around the country by the Department of Agriculture, to address the public’s clamor for quality, safe and affordable food items. – With Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero, AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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