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ALMA Reviews Blog: Looking Back, Moving Forward: Philippine Migration Issues, Policies and Narratives

Jean Encinas-Franco (ed.): Looking back, Moving Forward. Philippine Migration Issues, Politics, and Narratives. Department of Political Science, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines

Published in 2021, Philippine Migration Research Network, Quezon City/Manila

Available at: https://pssc.org.ph/product/looking-back-moving-forward-philippine-migrations-issues-policies-and-narratives/?fbclid=IwAR0uQSojXmAR2Gxh_rm_3tcLoibQoiFvnAaVmEI6wp9HFK1rrFLj1MND9e8

In labour migration research, the Philippines have been established as a prime case study, being a major country of origin. The very active role of the government in migration policies is evident in characterisations that go beyond the common term “sending state” – such as “major labour exporter” or “labour brokerage state” (see Rodriguez 2010). International institutions and global processes often refer to the Philippines as a case of “best practice” and many politicians in the country wholeheartedly agree, characterising their country’s migration policies as the “gold standard”.

This praise is not unequivocal, however – the very lively civil society of the Philippines criticises the labour export concept as a form of commodification of labour that ignores the agency of migrants. This edited volume by Jean Encinas-Franco is an important contribution to a more nuanced assessment; it looks beyond the “best practice” narrative and analyses the multiple actors involved in Philippine emigration. It primarily focuses on the lived experiences of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) in very diverse settings.

The editor is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman. Before her appointment at the University, Encinas-Franco worked for 15 years in the Economic Planning Office at the Senate of the Philippines. She shares this experience of a life beyond academia with several of the authors, who have backgrounds in fields such as NGO advocacy or journalism. Another commonality is the membership of the contributors in the Philippine Migration Research Network, which has also published this edited volume.

The chapters of the book complement each other very well by exploring on the one hand various aspects and phases of migration, such as everyday life, reintegration and aging, as well as different types of migrant experiences: domestic work, women seafarers and marriage migrants. Most of the chapters also share a gendered and intersectional perspective, drawing from various disciplines. Below, I will provide a snapshot of contributions that highlight the benefit of bringing these various disciplinary perspectives together.

Elma P. Laguna from the UP Population Institute looks at “Caring from a Distance: Exchange of Support Between Migrant Children and Their Parents in the Philippines” – an original perspective, since the more common discourse is that OFWs migrate in order to provide a better future for their children. The author analyses the bidirectional flow of exchange between parents and children while taking into account cultural aspects such as the adherence to filial norms, which include observing one’s duties and responsibilities within the family, including caring for the parents. She shows how the types of support depend on factors such as economic and social capacities, circumstances in the life course of the family members and their geographic distance.

Another chapter, written by Michelle G. Ong from the UP Department of Psychology, relates to this intergenerational perspective by looking at the intersection of aging and migration. Her analysis takes into account various forms of migration by focusing on permanently settled migrants in the Philippines and Japan as well as former OFWs, i.e., temporary migrants who have returned for good. She discusses how “the construction of an ideal aging Filipino migrant is expressed in their ideals, choices and practices around paid work, health and carework”. As Encinas-Franco points out in her introduction, Filipinos have been called the “caregivers of the world – it is high time to speak about who cares for them”.

Jorge V. Tigno from the UP Department of Political Science looks at the response of the Philippine state in his chapter on “They Serve, We Protect: A Policy Analysis of Government Safeguards for Overseas Domestic Workers from the Philippines”. He comes to a rather critical assessment by stating that the so-called “reform package” for migrant domestic workers has turned out to be a paternalistic kind of protection which, albeit unintentionally, poses additional constraints on their agency, such as restrictions on the countries they are allowed to work in. Furthermore, the protection efforts of the Philippine state are hampered by the country’s reliance on remittances sent by those migrants – an outspoken promotion of migrants’ rights might lead to lower deployment numbers.

Agency also plays a central role in the chapter by Melanie Reyes, Deputy Director of the Women and Gender Institute at Miriam College, who discusses “The Realities of Philippine Marriage Migration: Narratives of Filipino Women Married to South Korean Nationals”. Despite facing numerous restrictions and forms of discrimination, the author’s respondents have managed to exercise their human agency and negotiate their identities in the third largest receiving country of marriage migrants from the Philippines. This chapter is complemented by a study on the experiences and strategies challenging the exclusion of male Filipino migrants in South Korea: Clement C. Camposano from the college of education of UP-Visayas looks at “Basketball and the Displaced Lives of Ilonggo Migrants in Seoul: Transforming the Uncertainties of History into Readable Spaces”.

This well-researched and very readable volume also tackles further aspects of the Philippine migration experience, such as reintegration and livelihood services for returned OFWs and the economic impact of COVID-19 on migration, as well as addressing another under-researched topic in “Pinays Face Tides at Sea: Intersectionality of Gender, Race, and Class in the Seafaring Industry”, a chapter by Lucia Palpal-latoc Tangi, UP Department of Journalism. Collectively, as Encinas-Franco aptly states in her introduction, “the pieces weave into the country’s tapestry still grappling with the migration phenomenon and its consequences”. The eight chapters provide a comprehensive inside perspective on the topic and its authors are best placed to critically outline how migration affects the Philippines.

Reviewed by: Stefan Rother

Works cited:

Rodriguez, Robyn M. 2010. Migrants for export: How the Philippine state brokers labor to the world. Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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Foto: ©Cynthia Matonhodze, Harare, Zimbabwe

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