'OFWs are not ATMs'

Posted at 10/01/2011 1:17 PM | Updated as of 10/04/2011 10:02 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Papias Banados has been an overseas Filipino worker for 16 years now.

The 39-year old OFW counts herself lucky as she is able to translate her years of hard work into worthwhile investments.

“Mayroon na din akong naipundar. May farm ako mina-manage ng sister ko. May traktor ako at bumili din ako ng multicab para may service,” said Banados.

Despite having a solid investment, Banados said the idea of retiring hasn’t crossed her mind yet.

“Maliban lang siguro kung pagod na pagod na ako,” she said.

But that is not the case for this OFW who works as a housekeeper in Singapore. She said her employers are almost always away.

“If I want to go out I'm free to do so,” she said.

Although thinking about her children further encourages her to work hard for their future, Banados has nothing else to worry about.

That is why she has taken on a new challenge, a bigger responsibility by writing a book about the bittersweet experiences of fellow OFWs not just in Singapore, but around the world.

Banados, with the help of a good friend who is also her publisher, Sri Lankan Dr. Kalinga Seneviratne, was able to release a book titled “The Path to Remittances: Tales of Pains and Gains of Overseas Filipino Workers”. It is a collection of 20 short stories of OFWs, including her own.

“This book is about the real stories of OFWs,” said Banados. “I wrote this book because I want to bring to the attention of both Filipinos and foreigners some of the hidden issues experienced by OFWs.

She said the book hopes to bring out three pressing issues that confront Filipino workers around the world—the exorbitant placement fees charged to OFWs by recruitment agencies; the demand by relatives of OFWs for more money; and unwanted pregnancies that seem to be driving women to go overseas to work.

She said recruitment agencies charge OFWs with high fees. They often deduct payment for the placement fees and airfare from the workers’ salaries so that the OFW sometimes doesn’t get paid for about 7 months.

“I don't understand why they charge OFWs with such a large fee especially now we have budget airlines,” she said.

She also complained that while recruitment agencies take advantage of OFWs, they make their presence scarce when it comes to helping workers in distress. She added that she has many friends in Singapore who have experienced this.

“We are hoping someone would help us solve this problem. I hope that by writing this book I could make a contribution to pressure government authorities to do something more practical to stop this exploitation of OFWs by agencies.

Not milking cows

Working overseas, and away from the family, is very difficult. However, working abroad doesn’t mean that they are also paid more.

While their families are proud of them to be working overseas in the hopes of improving their quality of life, many OFWs could not help but feel as though their relatives treat them like ATMs or Automated Teller Machines—where they can withdraw money anytime they please.

“Most of my friends always complain about their mothers, fathers, uncles, sisters, or cousins, because if they have like fiestas, they would call and request their family member who works overseas to send more money. But it’s not easy,” she said.

From the regular remittances an OFW sends home, some relatives still ask for more money to pay for household utilities.
 
“Many borrow money because they don't want to see that they don’t have money. I am abroad and they are proud of me, so they borrow money from other Filipino overseas workers. Some of them have foreign boyfriends whom they ask money from,” she said.

She hopes that through the book, families would realize the pains they had to go through just to earn money to send home.

“I also like family members of OFWs to read this book for them to realize the difficulties we go through with sending money back home,” she explained.

Her publisher also echoes her sentiments. Seneviratne said, “the family should also realize that OFWs, especially girls who work as maids, don’t earn that much and there are limitation and that they go through a lot of pains to send that money”.

As for unwanted pregnancies, Banados said the book has a number of stories on that topic. Oftentimes, the woman is forced to go abroad to support the growing family.

“I hope President Aquino will be successful in getting a new legislation that would encourage better family planning,” she said.

For Caridad Sri Tharan of the Miriam College, the book is “a very powerful tool for advocacy” because it’s the voices of migrant workers.

“The book is not just about remittance. It’s really the story, the day to day story about the lives of our migrant workers. Hindi naman bago yung mga problems na sinsabi sa libro. There is no end to this so long as migration is with us there will be no end to the stories-the stories of the lives of the migrant workers, their children and their families,” she said.

Andrea Anolin, Executive Director of the Batis Center for Women, said OFWs often say that they want to help their family by working abroad.

“But when we read the book, we realize that having a good quality of life is not an automatic phenomenon. It is something that should be planned,” Anolin said.

Banados urged media to not only focus their reporting on how much remittances they have sent home. She said journalists should also report about the hardships, challenges that they go through to remit money back to their relatives in the Philippines.

“I hope you will give us, OFWs, a voice,” she said.