Impossible Mission?

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The Challenge of Informed Decision-Making on International Migration

771b62e4c2469a6b4cc541ea0dcdd300Since the 1970s, millions of Filipinos have gone abroad in search of better job opportunities. For a growing number of Filipino families, overseas labor migration has become the only option to escape poverty. A substantial portion of these overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are women who take on jobs primarily in the services sector as factory workers, entertainers, nurses, and so on.

These OFWs are celebrated as modern-day heroes (bagong bayani) in recognition of all the sacrifices they have made and endured for the sake of their families. They have also made tremendous contributions to the Philippine economy through their income remittances. The instrumental role of the national government in managing international migration has become more and more evident and institutionalized over the last four and a half decades. The Philippines has been acknowledged globally as a labor-sending country par excellence with its highly developed and specialized labor migration management system. Yet, ironically, international migration does not seem to be on the minds of our development planners and policy-makers.

Information is a basic requirement to effective policy-making. Any decision made by government must be based on hard evidence. Informed decision-making is no longer just a principle to pay lip-service to but a real prerequisite for good government. Sadly, while much is known about migration in the popular discourse, very little is acknowledged on the development planning side. While our Philippine Development Plans (PDPs) have made passing mention of migration from time to time, there is no substantial and decisive treatment of the role that international migration plays in development planning precisely because no significant information about migration is conveyed. This is not to say that migration ought to play a central role in the country’s development plans. Rather, our development planners must stop pretending that the phenomenon of overseas labor migration does not even exist.

The need for evidence-based decision-making on migration, however, is not entirely lost on our development planners. The Migrant Workers Act of 1995 (RA 8042) provides for the establishment of a Shared Government Information System for Migration (SGISM) to be initially composed of the harmonized databases of over a dozen different government agencies. But over the last 20 years the country has yet to have a real (much less, functional) shared government information system on migration.

1The updated 2011-2016 Philippine Development Plan makes a passing mention (once again) of the importance of generating and consolidating migration information when it stated that “administrative and field data of various government agencies on international migration will be harmonized for evidence-based policymaking and planning” and “the Shared Government Information System on Migration (SGISM) will be operationalized in response to the challenges and opportunities of migration” (p. 162). Unfortunately, there is no further discussion on a specific timeline for the establishment of such a shared information system or of how this is to be achieved in concrete terms. Is this simply a pipe dream?

The next political administration must be sensitive to this glaring need. The next president must be mindful of the necessity to get this information system off the ground. Understandably, a major challenge is for those different government agencies to overcome their sense of turf. This strong sense of bureaucratic selfishness can undermine any effort to share and consolidate migration data for sound development decision-making purposes. Any political capital that the next president will acquire can be utilized to overcome this turfing problem.

The next administration would do well to tap the resources already at its disposal willing to contribute its fair share to national development. One such resource is the country’s academic institutions. In many cases, information is generated, consolidated, analyzed by universities and other similar academic institutions or intelligence agencies. Universities represent the think tanks for the larger society and polity. These universities can be mandated to provide the impetus for the systematic and comprehensive study of migration and its impact on development. As its only national university, UP can play a role in making sure that a shared government information system on migration does not remain a pipe dream for long.

Professor Jorge Villamor Tigno is currently the Chairperson of the Department of Political Science and Secretary-General of the Philippine Migration Research Network (PMRN). He has a doctorate in public administration from the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG).