The labor export policy is based on an argument that to every Philippine administration since Ferdinand Marcos’ has been specially compelling.

By sending off the skilled and semi-skilled to foreign climes, the economy benefits from their remittances—which last year amounted to over US$11 billion, by no means a small amount. What’s more, and what’s even more important, overseas workers and their families may not be enthusiastic supporters of the very status quo that’s been unable to provide them jobs at home in the first place. But it’s safe to say that few end up as rebels or, as the Arroyo regime would put it, “destabilizers.”

The most crucial factor that’s driving the policy–and the political elite knows it in its bones– is its serving as one more excuse for this and past administrations’ keeping things the way they are. They after all benefit from it, OFW remittances included.

But the export of labor also helps ease the pressure for basic reforms–for example in the corrupt political system–that in another time would have had the political elite scrambling to halt corruption, broaden political participation, and craft economic policies that could create employment and economic opportunities.

It’s true that there are trade-offs in terms of family separations, broken homes and worse. But that’s not really the government’s concern, and it’s certainly not in the list of priorities of the Arroyo regime. It’s also true that many overseas workers return to discover that the economic benefits they’ve acquired offer only temporary relief, and that the alternative to returning to a life of penury is to keep working abroad until they drop dead. But no matter. The point is that the political structure and the economic and social systems it protects has bought time, and prolonged its existence for, say, two, or three or four decades.

Over time since the Marcos period, this factor has grown larger in the calculations of the country’s so-called leaders. The steady growth in the number of workers leaving for abroad daily, and the fact that some 20 percent of Filipinos want to go with them constitute good rather than bad news. These mean so much fewer Filipinos contributing to the endemic unrest in the country as well as additional remittances, part of which inevitably end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

In the last few years the demand for nurses abroad has grown so much that it has triggered a corresponding pressure in the Philippines for training–which in turn has created the so-called nursing review industry. The combination of large-scale demand for training and corporate greed has led to the slap dash creation of nursing schools and programs. It is the inadequacy of these programs that has driven the growth of review centers–which, to remain in business, have to prove that they can help as many as possible pass the Nursing Licensure Examinations.

Figure it out. In the context of the widespread corruption in both Philippine officialdom and Philippine society as a whole, collusion between certain nursing schools, review centers and some elements of the Professional Regulation Commission is practically inevitable, thus the June examination leaks–which incidentally may not have been the first or the only case of its kind.

Enter Malacanang, in these parts the ultimate decision maker. It’s in a bind because its PRC–incidentally headed by the Arroyo family dentist–is ultimately responsible for the failure of the examinations. But it can’t penalize the PRC regulators–by, say, demanding their resignations–without itself being blamed for the entire sorry business.

At the same time, it has to demonstrate to the rest of the world that the country’s nurses are competent professionals who passed examinations of unquestioned integrity. Malacanang is in the throes of a dilemma between having to deny ultimate responsibility domestically, and the need to preserve the country’s reputation as a source of nursing professionals internationally.

What to do? What to do? One can imagine Palace denizens wringing their hands in desperation. Malacanang initially ordered a retake, but flip-flopped on it with the realization that a number of nursing schools and review centers are likely to balk, and in the process reveal how far and how high responsibility for the June leak goes. Neither can it afford to antagonize the thousands of nurses who took the exams, and who’ve had to bear the “cheater” stigma while the PRC escapes blame.

But the very bottom line is that, for all the country’s huge shortage of nurses and other health care professionals, it can least afford a constriction or even a shut down in the global market for Filipino nurses. It’s making too much off it in both a literal as well as figurative sense. Thus the protracted grief all around as the Arroyo regime looks around for a solution it can be happy with.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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