Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Goodbye Toey!

We friends are holding a despedida of sorts for my high school classmate, Dr. Melinda “Toey” Dimaano-Hernandez. I don’t recall why she was called Toey, but that’s beside the point.

Several months (or was it years?) ago, Toey told me she was quitting her job to take up nursing and look for a better life in the US. I was surprised because she had a good job as an anesthesiologist, owning a six-bed hospital in Valenzuela which she ran together with her gynecologist husband.

Toey was always so easy-go-lucky and content with her lot in life. The fact that she felt she had to go abroad to seek a better life for her five children was very telling of the country’s over-all situation.

This is exactly what the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was warning about when it noted that the ranks of OFWs were swelling.

The ADB warned that the sustained export of skilled Filipino labor could eventually end up discouraging foreign investments if the local talent pool continued to decline.

"Brain drain has an impact on foreign direct investment as capital will flow only into economies with perceived adequate supplies of skilled labor in key sectors," the bank said in a book released last week titled "Converting Migration Drains into Gains."

The 66-nation member organization defines brain drain as a situation when a country's diaspora is disproportionately made up of skilled workers, causing the source country to experience a decline in average-per-worker income. Eventually, educational investments in the source country--such as tuition paid for nursing or computer skills courses in the Philippines--become subsidies for the destination country.

The ADB pointed out that the country's migrant labor force "encompasses a disproportionate share of the most productive age group (those between 25 to 44 years old)," which suggests a loss, even for temporary and limited periods, of "those with the most experience, on-the-job training, and likely supervisory skills."

The group also represents "a disproportionate share of individuals with greater number of years of education, especially those who have completed bachelor's or higher degrees."

"One of the greatest concerns about brain drain is that the continued migration of skilled workers reduces overall productivity," it added.

That the Philippines’ intelligent middle class is disappearing is obvious. Government statistics showed that there were 7.9 million Filipinos overseas as of end-2005, either as contract workers, permanent residents or undocumented migrants.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) says almost 2,000 a day leave the country on a daily basis to find jobs, and better pay, abroad. But this figure does not include those who were directly hired, and these constitute most of the brain drain the country is experiencing.

A case in point is Indonesia where most of the Filipino expatriate community are bankers, businessmen and accountants. Most also have high-paying jobs, jobs for which they would not get the same salary here in the Philippines.

It’s no wonder that people like Toey leave for greener pastures. The fact that she was unfazed about having to go all the way to Guam for her nursing licensure exams (NCLEX and CGFNS) only highlighted the fact that a practicing doctor like her lowered herself to study nursing and go abroad.

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