Heroes in distress

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The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported a significant drop in cash remittances sent by overseas Filipino workers, sinking to its lowest level in more than 19 years in the month of April.

Cash remittances coursed through banks dropped 16.2% year-on-year to $2.05 billion in April, the steepest drop since inflows slumped by 33.5% in January 2001, the BSP reported this week. It suspects massive job losses among migrant workers as the cause and expects it to worsen as the coronavirus pandemic continues to engulf the globe.

“The decline in cash remittances was attributed to the unexpected repatriation of some OFs (overseas Filipinos) deployed in countries heavily affected by the pandemic, and temporary closure/limited operating hours of some banks and institutions from both the sending and receiving ends that provide money transfer services during the lockdown,” the central bank said.

Remittance inflows that have normally been resilient through various economic crises may have met their match with COVID-19. 82,057 migrant workers that send money home have been sent back jobless as of July 13 while another 117,000 remain stranded in their host countries. To make matters worse, the deployment of new workers and rehires have nearly halted.

Remittances plummeted the most in Europe, down by 15.2% year-on-year for the first four months. Those from the Middle East, where 57% of Filipino workers were deployed as of 2017, fell 13.9% year-on-year from January to April. The good news is remittances from the US saw an uptick of 7.1% year-on-year. This could mean that Pinoys in the US are beginning to draw from their savings or unemployment insurance, which could be unsustainable if employment figures don’t recover.

The biggest reason why we call OFWs the “bagong bayani” is because of their remittances that have uplifted the lives of their loved ones and carried the economy back home. Now that a significant number of them can no longer perform that heroic act, will our government treat them as fallen heroes, providing support until they get back on their feet, or are they now on their own like the millions of their countrymen?

Our OFWs that have been propping up their families and the nation for decades are going to need help navigating the new normal. Other than dubbing them heroes and collecting taxes, does our government have a plan for this sector of our society gravely affected by the pandemic?

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October 2020
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