Balitang America Special Report: To the Philippines, with Love

By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

October 4, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO – Living a tough life is nothing new for 63-year old Lydia Capili. In Samar, Philippines, she single handedly raised her ten children.

“I did it on my own. My husband never helped me as he was always with other women. To earn money, I would wash and iron people’s clothes. I would clean people’s houses,” she shared.

So she prayed for a better life for her and the children who depend on her. She moved to the U.S. in 2008 and began working as a caregiver in San Francisco. Even here, she said, she continues to work like a slave.

“I am an abused worker here. My employers would not pay me well. The patients I care for would sometimes hurt me, hit me, push me,” she lamented.

Still, she tries to get every job she can. And the bulk of whatever she earns a month, usually a few hundred, go to her children in the Philippines. She only sets aside $200 a month to pay for renting a cramped room inside her landlord’s garage and $20 for her monthly allowance.

She missed her children. But she said she would rather be away from them…if she knows she can support them financially.

“I hope they value the money I send them, every cent…because it’s not easy making it. Sometimes, I even don’t buy my own food, because I would rather send the money to them,” she said.

Capili is just among close to ten million overseas Filipinos who send money to their families and loved-ones in the Philippines through remittances.

There are two kinds of overseas Filipinos. Overseas Filipino Workers or OFW’s are Filipinos working abroad for a limited period of time and are expected to return to the Philippines at the end of the their work contract. Balikabayans are Filipinos who have become permanent residents or citizens of another country, and mostly return to the Philippines to visit or for retirement.

Terry Valen, chair of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns said as many as 4,500 Filipinos leave the Philippines everyday to search for better opportunities for themselves and for their families and loved-ones.

“When Filipinos go abroad, many of them end up getting the dirtiest, most dangerous, most demeaning jobs.
In the Middle East, Filipinos work in oil and construction. In the U.S. and in Europe, and even in Asia, they work as caregivers and domestic workers,” said Valen.

But while they are struggling to earn abroad, OFW’s and balikbayans continue to regularly send remittances to the Philippines, which hit a record high of $21 billion in 2012.

Next to China, India and Mexico, the Philippines is the fourth highest recipient of remittances in the world. It represents 13.5% of the country’s gross domestic product or GDP. GDP represents the total dollar value of all goods and services produced over a period of time, and determines the health of the country’s economy.

World Bank consultant Victor Barrios said overseas Filipinos are truly heroes, in the sense, that they are the growth engine of the Philippines. “Without them, the growth will plummet, government finances will be difficult and poverty will be deepened,” he said.

Besides stabilizing the peso, remittances from overseas Filipinos boost the Philippine economy, because the recipients of remittances become consumers who buy goods and spend on services.

“The consumer expenditures of the families of overseas Filipinos drive the economic activity. If you look at official figures, ¾ of the country’s gross domestic product is made up of consumer expenditures. A major proportion of that comes from expenditures fueled by remittances,” said Barrios.

Even with the global economic crisis, remittances to the Philippines remain steady and even manage to increase year after year. But community advocates said the Philippine government should not rely on remittances from overseas Filipinos to sustain the country.

“Remittances being sent home, keeping the economy afloat, is just a symptom of underdevelopment in the
Philippines. The forced migration of Filipinos outside of their own home country because we cannot sustain our people and economy, is a way to further create more dependence on international institutions, on foreign countries for our ability to survive as a country. This is fundamentally wrong,” Valen pointed out.

Valen said the government’s notion that Filipinos go abroad to acquire skills, and then come home to apply them in the Philippines, is wishful thinking.

“People learning skills abroad are not bringing those home. Brain drain is rampant. Our best health professionals, our best educators, our best engineers, are going abroad because they cannot find these kinds of jobs in the Philippines,” Valen said.

The Philippines’ unemployment rate rose to 7.3% in July, compared to 7% a year ago. More than three million Filipinos are now looking for jobs.

For community advocates, the government that fails to give people jobs at home, should at least make sure the families of those who leave abroad are being taken care of, through education, livelihood and basic social services.

They said the government should also look after the welfare of overseas Filipinos, not only by identifying the countries that meet Philippine standards on the protection of its workers, but by going after illegal recruiters and abusive employers.

For overseas Filipinos like Capili, the best way for the government to honor them — the so-called “bagong bayani” or “new heroes”, is to work harder at improving the country’s economy…so they never have to be forced to leave the country they love and the families and loved-ones they can’t live without.

For more information, you may contact Henni Espinosa at

4 Comments on this post.

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  • delialusional
    7 October 2013 at 10:06 am - Reply

    This is America ! Pantay pantay ang lahat ng tao, kahit mayaman ka may kabagsakan ka rin.. Mayaman o mahirap ka man sa pinanggalingan mo… pagdating dito iisa lang ang tingin sa iyo…

  • Jorge Buesa
    7 October 2013 at 10:50 am - Reply

    The philippines government should pass more of family management class in school ? So that people understand if you can’t feed your kids don’t have kids ? Like china 1 kid to the parents !

  • Roy
    8 October 2013 at 5:37 am - Reply

    Noong bumalik ako sa PH, sinabi ko na may green card na ako..marami sa mga Pinay gustong magpakasal sa akin. Kaya pag ikaw biyodo, matanda, diborsiyado,may asawa(e divorse mona si misis) umuwi ka, at mag asawa uli nang batang batang Pinay. Huwag sa Latina, Puti, o Chikana, ibigay mo na lang ang green card sa Pinay. Mabango pa at araw araw naliligo.

    • paputian ng buhok
      8 October 2013 at 6:35 am - Reply

      Wahahahaha… pinay is the best. Fresh from the ocean.