Remittances Up

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Remittances from overseas Filipino workers--a major force that has been sustaining the country's economy--may surge to a new high of $14.1 billion next year, or 5 percent higher than the $13.4 billion seen to pour in this year, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' projection.

Citing preliminary estimates for next year, BSP Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said the projected level would include all the OFWs' cash transfers, whether coursed through the banking system or informal channels.

Guinigundo said that remittances flowing through the banking system are expected to grow by another 10 percent in 2007 over this year, albeit slower than the 15-percent growth seen for 2006.

The 5-percent growth in overall remittances projected for 2007 will also be lower than the 9.1-percent expansion seen this year.

The BSP estimated that of the total inflows, $13.5 billion would be coursed through the banking system next year. This year, about $12.3 billion are seen to flow in through banks.

The projections on higher OFW inflows for next year were anchored on expectations of higher income levels rather than sustained double-digit increases in the deployment of workers abroad.

"The outlook is, there will be some slowdown in the global economy, which means it is possible that there may be an (adverse) effect on demand for Philippine labor," Guinigundo said.

"Our level of deployment is already high as it is, so we can't sustain the double-digit growth that we have experienced in the past. What will continue to sustain the high level of remittances will be the high level of average income from skilled workers, such as medical workers and engineers."

At the same time, he said, the decision of most OFWs to shift from informal channels--due to the steady decline in remittance fees charged by banks--will increase the inflows coursed through the banking system.

In 2005, the BSP assumed in its balance of payments computation that 20 percent of OFW inflows were not coursed through the banking system, flowing instead through informal channels, defined as unlicensed or unregulated operations, such as through friends, acquaintances or other travelers.

This so-called leakage in the OFW remittance flow has gone down to 10 percent this year and is expected to further decline to 5 percent by next year, based on the BSP's latest estimates.

An earlier study on the Mexican experience showed that remittances held as deposits in the banking system would yield a beneficial multiplier effect of between two to three times. The study indicated that the deposits are mostly invested in small and micro businesses. The BSP has since been promoting the use of formal banking channels as a safer and more productive cash remittance system for millions of Filipinos working abroad.

The Philippines is also seen to be sitting on a potential gold mine with its large pool of expatriates who intend to settle back in the country and may thus become a significant economic force in the future.

In a study made for the Ayala group entitled, "OFW Remittances: Patterns, Impact, Sustainability," former Finance Undesecretary Romeo Bernardo said favorable global demographics would likely sustain the strong inflows of OFW remittances to the country in the years ahead.

"What [OFWs] choose to do when they come back can be an important driver of future economic growth," said Bernardo, a director of Bank of the Philippine Islands. "This is the good news. When they come back, they bring us not only money but skills to fuel the economy. [The may] contribute to better governance and public life since they have seen best practices abroad."

BPI this year launched BPI Direct, a new thrift bank subsidiary that focuses on OFWs.

Through the years, OFW remittances have made the Philippine economy more resilient to shocks that could otherwise affect growth, inflation, external accounts and employment.

From the Inquirer, dated November 20, 2006
By Doris Dumlao


Call Center Jobs: Hope for the Unemployed?

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Tom (not his real name), 27, has applied in four call center companies since November. The response of call centers, he told Bulatlat in an interview in Filipino, has been the same: “Wait for our call.” But there were no calls.

One of the call centers he applied at, says Tom, required skills not only in English proficiency but also in typing, data encoding, and written composition. But all companies, he said, place a prime on English proficiency. Interviews, he added, were conducted entirely in English.

A former trainer for call center applicants said that it merely takes a seven-minute interview for a company to determine whether to accept or reject an applicant. This is not an exaggeration, Tom said. “There was one instance when I spent more time waiting for the interviewer than the interview itself,” he said.

Tom lives with his mother and brother in a rented room in Sampaloc, Manila. He went to public schools for his grade school and high school education. For college he studied in a private non-sectarian school as a scholar. When he lost his scholarship, he transferred to another school and took up only the number of units that his mother could afford – which was always less than the regular load. He was not able to complete his course because of financial difficulties.

His mother, a secretary at a motor-bearing shop, is the sole breadwinner. His brother, a journalism graduate from a state university in 2004, worked as a contractual employee in a library and later on as clerk in a company. He is currently jobless. Tom’s father died when he was in grade school.

Asked how he assesses himself in terms of English-speaking skills, Tom says he is not able to sustain a conversation in English.


Good pay, relatively

The reason he has been struggling mightily to get into call centers, Tom said, is the relatively high starting pay that these companies offer.

Call centers usually pay their agents P13,000 ($254.27 based on a $1:P51.125 exchange rate) a month, industry insiders say. This translates to P433.33 ($8.47) a day.

Based on data from the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC), the national average family living wage for a six-member family – the average Filipino family – is P657.13 ($12.85) as of February 2006. Conversely, the daily minimum wage is presently pegged at a national average of P237.56 ($4.64) as of March 2006, with the highest being that in the National Capital Region (NCR) which stands at P325 ($6.35), NWPC data further show.

Because of the relatively high salaries that agents in call centers get, these companies are widely perceived in the Philippines as the gateways to gainful employment. And the government encourages this view, portraying the call center as a sort of Mecca for college graduates, and even undergraduates in need of jobs.


Not that rosy

But the real picture is not quite as rosy. Data recently released to media by the John F. Kennedy Center Foundation-Philippines, which designs training programs for call centers in the Philippines and seeks to “revolutionize” the Philippine call center industry by “establishing centers of excellence,” show that only 11,526 applicants on the average are hired as call center agents in the country yearly. This is equivalent to only about 2 percent of all applicants annually, the data further show.

“Most fail because they fail to understand the requirement of global job interviews, testing and process,” Jim Santiago, president and chief executive officer of the John F. Kennedy Center Foundation-Philippines, told media in a recent interview. “Secondly, the spoken English becomes a challenge, in terms of conversational fluency, tone and accent.”

In a separate interview, Karl Mark (not his real name), who has been working in a call center since 2003, said that those who get accepted to work as call center agents tend to come from the middle to upper strata of the middle classes. They usually come from expensive private schools known for their good English training – most notably the Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University and other similar schools which cater to the more affluent classes. A student in Ateneo will spend around P100, 000 ($1,955) per year. De La Salle charges from P42, 000-P53, 000 ($821-$1036) each semester or around P120, 000 – P159, 000 ($2347-$3110) for a trimester. These schools are inaccessible to the ordinary Filipino.

Karl Mark confirmed that call centers indeed place a premium on oral English proficiency.

This was especially true, he says, in the earlier years of the call center industry in the Philippines. Call centers began operating in the Philippines in 2000, he says. “During those days they had really high standards for accepting applicants,” he says. “You had to be a college graduate and fluent in spoken English, otherwise they wouldn’t take you in.”

While the requirements have been eased somewhat, owing to the increasing needs of call centers, applicants who are good English speakers still have the advantage. They now accept college undergraduates – something Tom has been banking on in his hope to get in – but the stress on oral English skills is still there.

Most call centers now accept applicants who speak with heavy accents but with the correct grammar. But they have to undergo 80-hour training in American accent and culture, Karl Mark says.

In most call centers, newly-hired employees undergoing training are not paid, he further discloses. Only the large call centers like Convergys, Sykes, and and E-Telecare pay trainees, he says.

Good English speakers, mostly coming from expensive private schools, still have the edge as they usually do not have to go through the lengthy training, he added – they make money right away.


Underpaid too

Call center agents receive relatively high pay compared to rank and file employees and workers of most companies. But these are inadequate if one has a family or is not living with their parents. Karl Mark says. “Many of my officemates and even my friends who work in other call centers have been asking for wage increases,” he says. “They find it increasingly difficult to cope with inflation and additional taxes.”

In a March 30 statement, Prestoline Suyat, spokesperson of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement), said call center agents in the Philippines earn way below what their counterparts in the U.S. get.

“The minimum wage in the U.S. is $4 an hour,” Suyat told Bulatlat in a follow-up interview. “That is equivalent to roughly P40, 000 ($782) a month, which means call center agents in the U.S. could actually be earning more than that.”

Aside from the increasingly inadequate pay, Karl Mark says call center agents are actually overqualified considering their educational background.

“Many call center agents are actually graduates of courses like engineering, computer science, nursing, pre-law, psychology and other – who got into this line of work because they could find no other jobs,” he says. “Their potentials are not maximized because their work is focused on customer service, which is not what most of them studied during their four or five years in college.”

Verbal abuse is also staple fare for them, he admits. “Everyday you have to talk to foreigners who think nothing of hurling invectives at you for what they perceive as poor service,” he explains.


“The best” at present

“It is sad that the best our government can offer right now are jobs at call centers,” he added.
Despite all these, Tom still hopes to get a shot at a call center job. “That still turns out to be the best option right now for people like me,” he says. “I hope I get hired soon.”


This article was written by ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO of Bulatlat.



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If given another chance to take the UPCAT…

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This entry is from a friend.
If given another chance to retake the UPCAT (UP College Admissions Test), I would probably choose Architecture or Fine Arts as my 1st and 2nd choices. That’s way too far from what I’m mastering at now – Medicine. It took me a long time to realize the things I’m good at, the things I love to do, and would love doing for the rest of my life. Ironically, Medicine helped me figured that out.

Me too. I should’ve put there Landscape Architecture. How about you? If given a chance to repeat college and take the college entrance examination again, what would you pick?


New Rules at Work

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In Game K N Ba this weekend, Kris had this question for Bianca Gonzales and her opponent regarding a book of a certain Alexander Ledesma Lacson. The question was "According to Alexander Ledesma Lacson, what are the Twelve (12) things every Filipino can do to help our country?" Bianca got 2 answers correctly which made her the winner. Aside from getting glued to the TV screen and starstrucked by the lovely face of Bianca, I was also moved by the message Lacson wanted as to realize. The 12 things are really simple ones. If we can follow at least 5 of these, the Philippines will probably be a better place.

Here it is.
  1. Follow traffic rules.
  2. Whenever you buy or pay for anything, always ask for an official receipt.
  3. Do not buy smuggled goods. Buy local. Buy Filipino.
  4. When you talk to others, especially to foreigners, speak positively of our race and our country.
  5. Respect your traffic officer soldier and other public servants.
  6. Do not litter. Dispose your garbage properly. Segregate. Recycle. Conserve.
  7. Support your church (or charitable/civic organizations)
  8. During elections, do your solemn duty.
  9. Pay your employees well.
  10. Pay your taxes.
  11. Adopt a scholar or adopt a poor child.
  12. Be a good parent. Teach your kids to follow the law and to love our country.


Odd Job: Bird Nest Gatherer

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You probably have watched them in one of the episode of a late night documentary show. Men, without any harness or protective implements, climbing steep caves gathering bird’s nests. It is probably one of the most risky jobs in the world. Using only makeshift scaffolding made from bamboo and clinging from vine to vine, they endanger their lives as they collect these edible nests.

This is a common job among the native Tagbanuas of Northern Palawan in the Philippines. They collect this nest and sell it to middlemen who would, in turn, trade it to Chinese restaurants in Manila.

Yes, it is edible. The nest is that of a swiftlet, that builds it with white cement from its salivary gland. This cement is the one use in Chinese cuisine to make the Edible Nest Soup or Nido Soup. The Weirdfood.com listed it as one of the “weirdest food” on earth.

I don’t know how much these Bird’s Nest Gatherers get from a kilo of the edible nest. I hope they are compensated fairly, considering that the soup is really expensive. I have tasted one. It’s good, but overrated. Knorr, the maker of spices and instant Chinese soups, did a good job with its Nido Soup imitation.


Summer Jobs for Students

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This year, the Department of Labor and Employment is helping around 57,000 students nationwide with its Special Program for Employment of Students. The structure of the program is to absorb temporarily students by various local government units and even private companies across the country this summer, from March 27 to May 31. The money that they will earn from this, as the article reports, can help them pay their tuition and other school expenses this coming school year.

As far as I know, this program has been running since I was in high school. I remember during those times some of my friends worked in the city hall of my hometown. I had wished to do the same, but my parents didn’t allow me. They just obliged us to work in our family business during those summers.

In the news article, acting DOLE Secretary Danilo Cruz sounded like he was romanticizing the SPES. Just like any government program, it is not without flaw. Ok, it might be true that it had benefited almost a million students since it was instituted in 1995. He said that it can help them pay their tuition. However, my classmates that time had been whining for it was already August when they received the pay vouchers. Pay the tuition, huh! Pay for next sem’s tuition?
It is also stated in the news article that in order to qualify, the student’s parents' combined incomes must not exceed P36, 000 per annum. Hello? My friend’s dad is like the Provincial Treasurer. Again, just like any government program, nepotism and “pakikisama” still apply.

That was before.
Now? I don’t know.


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