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OFWs from the '70s to the '90s

Back in the 1970s, labor migration was seen by the government not as a problem but a solution to rising unemployment and inadequate foreign exchange earnings to pay for increasing foreign debts. The solution was supposed to be temporary while the government was working toward building a solid domestic economy that could generate sustainable local jobs. However, the stopgap measure became a policy when the Marcos administration created laws during Martial Law that became the foundation for the government's overseas employment program. In 1974, President Ferdinand Marcos came out with Presidential Decree 442 or the Labor Code. Among its goals was “to ensure the careful selection of Filipino workers for the overseas labor market to protect the good name of the Philippines abroad." Three agencies were created to pursue this goal: (1) the National Seamen Board (NSB) that was tasked to “develop and maintain a comprehensive program for Filipino seamen employed overseas" (2) the Overseas Employment Development Board (OEDB) that should “promote the overseas employment of Filipino workers through a comprehensive market and development program," and (3) the Bureau of Employment Services (BES) which is responsible for the regulation of “private sector participation in the recruitment of (local and overseas) workers." In 1978, Marcos signed Presidential Decree 1412 to “strengthen the network of public employment offices and rationalize the participation of the private sector in the recruitment and placement of workers, locally and overseas." Finally, in 1982, Marcos institutionalized the deployment of Filipinos abroad through Executive Order No. 797 that turned over the functions of the OEDB, the NSB and the BES to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA).

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A year before Marcos was overthrown in 1986, data from the POEA showed that in just one decade, the number of OFWs increased tenfold – from 36,029 in 1975 to 372,784 in 1985. Meanwhile, job generation remained a serious problem, as the unemployment rate ballooned from 6.3 percent in 1972 to 12.55 percent in 1985. No president after Marcos has detoured from the labor export path. During her term from 1986 to 1991, President Corazon Aquino also utilized labor export to address unemployment and source much-needed foreign exchange. Deployed Filipino workers jumped from 378,214 in 1986 to 615,019 in 1991. Meanwhile, average unemployment rate from 1985 to 1990 remained high at 10.46 percent. From 1992 to 1998, the Ramos administration took the same direction. In 1995, President Fidel Ramos signed Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers Act to promote the welfare of OFWs. The number of Filipinos leaving for work abroad slowed down but still rose from 686,461 in 1992 to 747,696 in 1997. Joblessness remained a problem, with unemployment ranging between 8.6 percent and 10.1 percent during the term of Ramos. Under the short-lived Estrada administration deployment increased to 837,020 in 1999. Unemployment under his administration averaged between 8.4 percent and 9 percent. - Annie Ruth C. Sabangan/YA, GMANews.TV References: POEA; Path Dependence, Increasing Returns, and Philippine Labor Migration Policy by Bing Baltazar C. Brillo Is Labor Export Good Development Policy? by Ernesto Pernia