Emer de Lina, 59, expected that when she returned to the Philippines, there would be improved roads and basic services as well as reasonably stable prices for necessities. She did not expect major disappointments after spending about half of her life working abroad as a maid. However, to her dismay, living conditions in her homeland had deteriorated. "I worked abroad because I could not find a decent-paying job," she said. "Now, I am faced with the ever-increasing price of rice."
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De Lina is one of the 'top exports' from the sprawling Asian archipelago. Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency
confirms that Filipino men make up less than 40 percent of the nation's more than 10 million overseas workers. A study done by the non-government Center for Women's Resources noted that working abroad had become the only viable option for many Filipino women, also known as Filipinas. Because they keep the Philippine economy afloat, they are dubbed by the government as modern-day heroes. In 2017, the Philippines received US$28.1 billion in remittances from Filipinos working abroad. The government also received revenue from mandatory fees that aspiring migrant Filipino workers have to pay in order to be able to leave the country. Like many other women migrant workers, De Lina toiled long and hard to earn much-needed dollars to send back to family members back home. She first worked in Singapore, but her pay there was barely enough to cover her own needs. After three years, she moved to Hong Kong in 1993 and stayed there for two decades, receiving relatively higher pay. From 2013 she worked in Macau before returning to the Philippines in 2017. Emer de Lina recalled that her working life as a maid overseas usually started at dawn. "There is no chance to rest or even to sit," she said. "You are always at the mercy of your employer. "There is nothing that you can do." Of all the challenges she encountered, sleepless nights were the most difficult as she would lay awake thinking about her own children back in the Philippines. "They're my children, but they've become strangers to me," said De Lina. "They blamed me for not being there to guide them." The Philippine government's so-call 'Labor Export Policy' has produced more Filipinas who are compelled to endure difficulties abroad to support their families. As well as being domestic helpers, Filipinas also work overseas in a wide range of other occupations, including as massage therapists, hotel managers, nurses and cooks. But Migrante International
, an organization of Filipino migrant workers, noted that most Filipina migrant workers remained in "elementary occupations" such as doing domestic household chores. A women's group called Gabriela noted that only a very small percentage of female contractual workers in the Philippines are covered by labor unions. Bishop Ruperto Santos
, head of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, said there is no lack of work in the country. "It is not true that there are no jobs here," said the prelate during the observance of Migrants' Sunday on March 10. "The problem is Filipinos are not prioritized. "Our local jobs are being given to others." The prelate cited an announcement by the Labor Department that at least 400,000 'alien employment permits' and about 180,000 'special working permits' had been issued by the Philippine Government. After being far from home for several decades, De Lina came back empty-handed. All her hard-earned salary had been spent supporting her children and various relatives. Today, De Lina's existence is centered on stretching her limited finances.