The workers’ quest for survival

By Herbert Vego

WHILE in Washington DC in the first week of this month, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. lauded the overseas Filipino workers for their “unwavering service and sacrifice in their respective fields and also for their significant contribution to the country’s development.” He admitted that without them, sustainable productivity at home would be unattainable.

In his first year in office, however, he has yet to reverse the lethargic economy. Inflation has sapped the value of the Philippine peso to the extent that a laborer earning the highest daily minimum wage – P570 in Metro Manila, P450 in Iloilo – could not cope with basic needs.

The research group IBON pooh-poohs these figures as inadequate because “a family of five in Metro Manila should now be earning P1,100 per day to live well.”

We could only wish, however, for that day to come when we would not have to export labor to keep our skilled and unskilled laborers well-paid; and living at home with their well-fed families.

Alas, we have to allow our laborers to be “exported” due to lack of opportunities to thrive within our country. More than 12 million Filipinos now live and/or work abroad – an indicator that our own survival at home now depends on remittances from them. We have heard of hard-up, home-grown physicians taking up Nursing courses in the hope of working in US hospitals, which pay them from $3,000 to $5,000 dollars a month.

The survival of Filipinos who now number more than 115 million hinges on workers’ productivity. Unfortunately, according to the Asian Development Bank, the proportion of poor Filipinos whose per capita income is not sufficient to meet their basic food and non-food needs, is estimated at 23.7 percent.

More Filipinos are poorer today compared to 2018. Based on the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the country has 19.99 million individuals living below the poverty line, with the poorest of the poor often eating less than three square meals a day.

We have heard so-called “progressive organizations” criticizing the government for unequal distribution of wealth.  They say that 90 percent of the country’s wealth is in the hands of only 10 percent of the people.

But fault-finding will lead us nowhere.  The fault could be ours.  Take for example the poor parents who believe in the wrong notion that the more babies they make, the more they contribute to productivity. This belief is especially prevalent in the farming communities where they expect their children to take over farm work, only to end up disappointed when these children ironically seek “greener pasture” in the city.

Out of disappointment, the aging farmers eventually sell their farms to subdivision developers, thus contributing to the scarcity of production.

It is ironic that our country used to be bulging in natural resources. We grow rice, sugar cane, pineapples, bananas and coconuts, among others. Our seas throb with fishes. But have we maximized utilization of them? Unfortunately, “no” is the answer.

A better alternative would have been to strike a balance between income and consumption. An ideal family must only beget as many children as they can feed, clothe and send to school. A good education and stable career will assure them of better opportunities for success. Failure to generate income would bind them and the succeeding generation to a vicious cycle of poverty.

Learning by example is how most children learn to cope.  Unless parents teach their children ways to escape being poor by seeking opportunities, their children may be picking up the sign that this is all that is for them in life.

Let us learn from the entrepreneurs who are capable of exploiting our natural resources to the hilt. The Guimaras mango, for example, has a huge export market in Australia. The Davao pineapple sells like hotcake in New Zealand. Dried ripe mangoes from Cebu, are available in duty-free airport shops everywhere.

We have creative professionals in the arts and sciences – say painting, writing, sculpting, cooking, gardening, sewing, playing instruments, dancing, singing, nursing, care-giving, among others – but there’s not enough local environment for them to bloom.

Unfortunately, during six years of the previous Duterte presidency, the scenario of underemployment has worsened. For instance, most nurses and other health workers still work hard for low income in both government and private hospitals. There are even “volunteers” who are required to work for free for the first three months on the pretext of gaining experience. Naturally, the hospitals benefit from their gullibility.

“God provides,” we often console ourselves in times of scarcity.

But that does not jibe with what the Bible says in Proverbs 6:6-8: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise; which, having no guide, oversee or ruler, provides her meat in the summer and gathers her food in the harvest.”


The Antique Capitol Press Corps (ACPC), led by its President, Annabel Consuelo J. Petinglay, is having its first Media Exchange Learning (MEL) activity in Iloilo City on May 26-27, 2023.

Through this, they hope to share insights with the Iloilo Provincial Capitol Press Corps (IPCPC) and the Iloilo Provincial Information and Community Affairs Office (PICAO).

They would also ask for an orientation audience with MORE Power President Roel Z. Castro for information on how the company has implemented its modernization and expansion plans.