Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 07:09 GMT

Philippines: Migration strains social fabric

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 5 December 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Philippines: Migration strains social fabric, 5 December 2008, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

MANILA, 5 December 2008 (IRIN) - Maureen Tating has just celebrated her seventh birthday thousands of miles away from her parents, who have been employed in low-skilled jobs in the US for the past four years.

"It has not been easy for her," said Elsie Tating, Maureen's 66-year-old grandmother, her legal guardian while her parents are away.

Maureen's mother, Ruth, left for the US in 2004 as a tourist. She went into hiding after her visa expired, but has since managed to get legal working papers.

A laboratory technician by training, she now works as a care-giver at a hospice, earning between US$800 and $1,200 a month, depending on tips as a part-time cleaner.

Her husband joined her in 2005 and found a job as a labourer at a construction site.

He is still illegal and no longer lives with Ruth after their relationship soured, of which Maureen is unaware.

"It has been difficult for everyone, especially Maureen. She has problems in school. She wants to be with her mother, but she can't come home just yet and neither can she send for her at the moment because she may lose her job amid the financial crisis," Elsie Tating said.

A national phenomenon

The Tatings are among more than eight million Filipino emigrants, making the Philippines the fourth-biggest supplier of expat labour after China, Mexico and India, according to official statistics.

More than 3,000 Filipino workers leave the country daily, and the vast army of Filipino workers abroad, about 10 percent of the 90 million population, has been keeping the economy afloat with their remittances - a record $14 billion in 2007.
[Also see: Contingency plan for army of migrants.]

But the financial crisis leaves them vulnerable and many are expected to lose their jobs. Others still cannot go home for the Christmas holidays for fear of losing their jobs once they return.

Impact on families

A recent study stated that children of migrant workers regard themselves as having been abandoned by their parents, while adolescents may be resentful.

Of particular concern are children between six and 16, who have more difficulties adjusting because they had already known and established affection for their mothers, according to the study for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), by Melanie Reyes of the Women and Gender Institute. Women comprise the majority of émigrés, according to the data.

"The absence of the parents is substituted through the different technological mechanism - cell phones, emails, video-cams - to make their presence felt by their children even if they are thousands of miles away," Reyes said.

"Unfortunately, this 'techy' parenting will still not replace the emotional bonding that can develop in the relationship when they are physically present. At the same time, they will miss the growing-up years of their children and their value formation," she said.

Moreover, children of migrant workers often take the same path, choosing a career readily in demand abroad - such as health work and nursing.

What is an "alarming reality", however, is that many children have already developed a consciousness "that they could get a higher salary abroad even without having a college diploma", Reyes stated.

"Social behaviour of children can also be affected by migration of either one or both parents," she said, noting that children with absent mothers "showed poorer social adjustment and suffered impeded psychological development".

In most cases, too, the money sent home "is just enough or sometimes hardly meet the demands and needs of the families left behind", the study said, noting that many families remained poor, despite the dollars being sent home.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said international remittances to developing countries, estimated at $240 billion last year, usually went on school fees and daily subsistence.

For those left behind, being a single parent usually entailed an increase in workload and responsibilities, which could also lead to greater emotional and physical problems, including depression, due to the inability to cope, it said.

Research has also shown that children lack motivation in schools, or drop out altogether, with the search for a father/mother figure often leading to substance abuse, according to the IOM.


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