MANILA, JANUARY 16, 2011 (MANILA TIMES) BY ALFREDO G. ROSARIO THE MANILA TIMES COLUMNIST - The perceived forthcoming predominance of Iran as a possible nuclear power and the declining US influence in the Middle East (ME) has raised fears of what a changing geopolitics in the region can do to the economies of other countries. Iran’s persistence to develop its own nuclear bomb betrays its ambition to achieve hegemony in the oil-rich region. On the other hand, the US plans to bring to zero the number of its 50,000 troops in Iraq by the end of this year, which could mean its loss of power and influence in the region.

How does a change in the balance of power in the region affect labor migration? Do we expect a major drop in our workers’ migration to the Middle East where there are now an estimated 2.5 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), over 1 million of whom are in Saudi Arabia alone?

Up to now, there has been a steady stream of OFWs to the Arab World and other countries of the Middle East. Figures from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that the total deployment was 631,620 in 2008, and 609,040 in 2009. The count is likely to be more in 2010.

The average daily deployment to the region was 1,900 or nearly two-thirds of the 3,000 figure to the whole world.

Our ME labor market stays To calm our fears, we put the question to Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz: Do you think we will lose our rich Middle East labor market in the event of the rise of Persian Power in the region?

“Not at all,” she replied. “Labor migration has never been at risk due to ideological factors or with the rise of any super power in any part of the world.”

She explained that labor-short countries, regardless of their ideology, are hiring our world-class workers to help in their social and economic development.

“Labor migration is market-driven, so we have OFWs in nearly 200 countries, including China and Russia, to help in their social, economic and infrastructure development,” the secretary said.

She added that Iran was one of the first countries to recruit our workers at the launching of organized labor migration in 1974 by the late statesman, Blas Ople, one-time labor secretary and acknowledged “father of overseas employment.”

Interviewed on the same subject, Administrator May Dimzon of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration said she saw no connection between overseas employment and the dominance of either the US or Iran in the Middle East.

“Filipino workers are preferred in most countries because of their skills, competence and pleasant disposition, not to mention their fluency with the English language,” Dimzon said.

Speaking for POEA Administrator Carlo Cao Jr., the POEA information chief, Sagi Samson, said she has never felt any drop in the daily deployment of OFWs to the Middle East.

“I don’t think our workers migration to the region will ebb, whatever change is there in the balance of power between Iran and the US,” Samson said.

Baldoz added that overseas employment will continue to be a major pillar of the national economy. “We are intensifying our search for more Saudi Arabias [countries like Saudi with the potential to employ more Filipino workers].”

She said Canada and Australia had become the emerging favorite destinations of OFWs, with their offer of high-end jobs with commensurate high salaries to our professional workers.

At the same time, she said her department is developing a more effective reintegration program for OFWs coming home after the termination of their employment contracts.

“We shall encourage our returning OFWs to become entrepreneurs by teaching them the needed skills and giving them enough funds as working capital,” she said.

We were once competing with South Korean workers for jobs in the Middle East. Today, South Korea left the field to us and is employing different nationalities, including Filipinos, to work in its humming factories.

Baldoz said that one day, the Philippines will also attain full industrialization, like South Korea. “That will be the moment to pull out our workers from overseas to man our own industries,” she added.

(Fred G. Rosario, who writes the “From the Sidelines” column for The Manila Times, served as Philippine labor attaché in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Libya. He led rescue and desert-crossing transport of OFWs in emergency situations. Including the 1987 Iraq-Iran War.)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved