The Sale Goes On

by Ninotchka Rosca

For women of the Philippines, 2009 began with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Administrative Order 247 to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency to “execute a paradigm shift by re-focusing its functions from regulation to full blast market development efforts, the exploration of frontier, fertile job markets for Filipino expatriate workers.”

In short, Macapagal-Arroyo intended to “deploy” two million Filipino workers overseas, nearly doubling last year’s 1.2 million already mired in often unspeakable working conditions in over 160 countries.

The Philippines is already scraping the bottom of the international job market, with Filipinas getting paid $200 a month for 24/7 housework in such countries as the United Arab Emirates. With new-hires among the overseas workers running at 65-70% female, the probability is that the surplus of the “deployed” will be funneled into the global sex trade, underscoring the Filipina’s reputation as the most trafficked woman in the world.

But increasing the export of women has been the knee-jerk response of every Philippine government to every global, regional or national crisis in the last three decades. What was intended as a stop-gap solution to a cash-flow problem under the Marcos Dictatorship (1965-1986) and to IMF/WB debt service requirements has become a permanent policy of “development.”

In 2008, overseas workers remitted $13 billion to the Philippines, breaking previous records. The money simply cycles in and out of the islands; the country boasts three of the world’s largest shopping malls, some stuffed with designer and luxury goods. Most of the remittances from overseas workers go to servicing the country’s foreign debt – which stands at $55 billion and uses 36% of the national budget for interest payments. Remittances are also used to make up the balance of trade deficit, which in 2008 stood at $6.994 billion – a hefty sum in a country where the per capita income is $1,346. It is an economy on a chronic tightrope walk.

Rigorous indoctrination maintains this desperate arrangement of desperation. Women, in particular, are shackled by law and by culture to the self-sacrifice and servitude demanded by an economy dependent on the sale of women. The Philippines still has no divorce law; marriage can be annulled only if one spouse is declared unfit or insane; its ban on abortion does not provide for the woman’s health and survival; the city of Manila passed an eight-year ban on contraception; prostitution is virtually as legal as it is rampant; and various fundamentalist sects, as well as the Catholic Church, are extremely influential in the country’s politics.

Though many recognize labor export for the trap that it is, few dare protest and oppose it, for fear of depriving the very poor of one option against poverty. And indeed, short of dismantling the country and building it from the ground up, there are few options for an economy dependent on foreign capital and remittances. The global economic meltdown has closed down sections of the export processing zones where the garments, electronics and other labor intensive assembly plants operate with a work force that’s 70% female. Selling human flesh seems to be the only way to survive for a people whose difficult lives unfold in some of the earth’s most beautiful terrain.

(This article first appeared in the Website of Sisterhood is Global Institute. Posted with permission from SIGI and the author.)

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