Thousands of migrant workers leave the Philippines on a daily basis but many are being prevented from returning abroad to work because of the coronavirus. (Photo: Mark Saludes/UCA News)
Remittances sent home by Filipinos working overseas are expected to drop sharply because of the global economic fallout caused by the coronavirus and because nearly 200,000 retrenched workers have been forced to return or remain home, the Philippine government says.
Many others are suffering the effects of the virus while still overseas, it added.
“Millions of Filipinos have already been affected by the coronavirus. While many have been sent home, others have been receiving less than their normal salary due to pay cuts thus affecting their remittances,” the Labor Department said in a Sept. 24 statement.
Remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) usually account for about 10 percent of the Philippines’ GDP.
In 2019, the country’s central bank reported that remittances totaled US$33.5 billion for that year.
“Sustained growth in personal remittances during the year  was primarily driven by a 3.5-percent increase in remittances from land-based workers with work contracts abroad of one year or more, which rose to $25.6 billion from $24.8 billion,” the central bank said in a statement.
However, with Covid-19 having savaged world economies, the Labor Department say remittances will also take a hit because 189,000 overseas Filipino workers have returned or remained in the country since lockdowns began in February.
The department did not say by how much it expected remittances to drop.
Bishop Narciso Abellana of Romblon in the Visayas region said the coronavirus has brought misery to overseas workers.
“Many of our OFWs are forced to come back home with no security for a better life. Yet they are still luckier than those who return home in caskets or urns, or those whose remains could not be repatriated,” Bishop Abellana said in a statement for Philippine Migrants’ Sunday.
Bishop Abellana said overseas workers were to be considered “migrants” for being stranded or displaced from their motherland due to their jobs.
“Our overseas workers are forced migrants because of their jobs. But many of them are now stranded in the Philippines because they cannot leave the country to work while others are stranded abroad because they do not have the money to come home,” he said.
The virus has not only hurt overseas workers but also jeepney drivers and restaurant workers at home who cannot return to their work, the bishop said.
“There are those who have no work to go back to, their companies having folded up or closed. These are displaced workers, and they have families to care for and feed,” Bishop Abellena added.
The government said in August that the Philippines had joined the Covid-19 Migrant Support Coalition, an international group established to bring together expertise and resources to help meet the needs of migrant workers affected by the pandemic.
“We are now coordinating with the coalition to provide many of our countrymen the help that they need abroad such as dormitories, food packs and even cellular phones and laptops so that they can get in touch with their families,” the Labor Department said in a social media post.
Bishop Abellana, however, said that uncertainty is the greatest enemy of overseas workers.
“What makes the pandemic unbearable is not only the fact of losing one’s job. It is the idea that the end is not yet in sight. We do not know how far companies can survive. How many workers will lose their jobs? When can our workers resume their employment?” the bishop told UCA News.
“We know that we have to welcome, protect, promote and integrate displaced migrants, especially in these trying times.”