Oct 242014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2006-02-15 07:06
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #0695/01 0460706
R 150706Z FEB 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 000695




E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/15/2016

REF: A. 05 MANILA 4639
¶B. 05 MANILA 5734

Classified By: Acting Pol/C Joseph L. Novak for reasons
1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Summary: The over eight million Overseas Filipino
Workers (OFWs) already have an important and growing role as
an economic force, sending roughly USD 10 billion worth of
remittances home each year. On the political side, however,
OFWs were not granted the right to vote in absentia until
2004 and are only now becoming more of a force. Given their
numbers — and the wealth they are bringing the country —
OFWs look poised to become steadily more important on the
political stage, including via single-issue lobbying. End

OFWs: Already a Key Force in the Economy

¶2. (SBU) OFWs, numbering over eight million, already play a
vital role in the Philippine economy. Through remittances,
OFWs — who represent roughly one quarter of the country’s
labor force and one-tenth of the population — provide more
than 11 percent of the country’s USD 85 billion gross
domestic product (much of it in hard currency). Poverty,
high under-employment and unemployment, and low wages at home
drive these Filipinos to seek work abroad in increasing
numbers. In the first 11 months of 2005, a record 900,000
Filipinos (more than 2,500 per day) left for jobs overseas,
an increase of 3.9 percent from 2004. (Note: For further
background on OFWs and their economic impact — see Ref A.
End Note.)
¶3. (SBU) So important are OFWs to the national economy that
the GRP has established a large bureaucratic network led by
the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to
assist them. While some OFWs never return to the
Philippines, most do — and virtually all continue to send
money home for as long as they are away. Many Filipino
families rely on these remittances for the income they
provide. The relatives of OFWs also often stand out on their
city block or in their village due to their ability to buy
consumer products or the nicest residences.

Not Traditionally a Political Force

¶4. (SBU) Despite their importance on the economic side, OFWs
have not traditionally been much of a political force. For
years, they were not allowed to vote due to Philippine
electoral laws which did not allow overseas ballots to be
cast. OFWs off-and-on have become the subject of political
controversy, however, especially when they were allegedly
mistreated by foreign governments, employers or in some other
way. For example, the execution in 1995 of Filipina maid
Flor Contemplacion in Singapore for allegedly killing two
people raised howls of protest in the Philippines. In fact,
the foreign and labor secretaries at the time were forced to
step down. Such was the mytholigizing of the OFW as “the
lone worker selflessly helping his or her country” that
subsequent governments have been very careful to be seen as
taking steps to protect Filipinos abroad. (Note: In 2004,
for example, the GRP — in reaction to some protests at home
— pulled its small military contingent out of Iraq when a
Filipino worker was held hostage there. He was subsequently
released unharmed. End Note.)

¶5. (SBU) After much debate in which those who spoke out for
the OFW as “the soul of the nation” won out, the Overseas
Absentee Voting Law was passed in 2003. This act allowed
OFWs to register and vote at 85 embassies and consulates
worldwide. Implemented by the Commission on Elections
(COMELEC), the country’s independent electoral body, the law
was first put into practice for the May 2004 national
elections, which included presidential, senatorial and House
races. In the months prior to the election, COMELEC — in
cooperation with the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs
— registered more than 350,000 OFW voters. The largest
contingents registered in Saudi Arabia, followed by Hong Kong
and Singapore. Registering to vote was a cumbersome process,
requiring several steps (in place, the GRP says, to prevent
fraud). All in all, most OFWs had to make three separate
trips to their embassy or consulate in order to cast a
ballot. Not surprisingly given the stringent registration
requirements, only 233,000 OFWs — 2/3’s of those who
registered and roughly three percent of the total number of
OFWs — actually voted on election day in May 2004.

MANILA 00000695 002 OF 002

Becoming More Involved Politically

¶6. (C) In the end, OFWs were not a significant force in the
May 2004 elections. Philippine political parties, however,
continue to try to recruit OFWs and to register them to vote
(in spite of the fact that all registration is done on a
non-party basis in the Philippines). Left-wing parties, such
as Bayan Muna and Migrante (a leftist group focused on OFW
issues), are said to be particularly active in this regard.
Congressman Teodoro Casino of Bayan Muna has told us that his
party has representatives in all the key places where OFWs
are located, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Hong Kong.
These representatives are active in trying to bring workers
into the fold and Casino claimed that Bayan Muna was having
some success. Migrante, in the meantime, has member
organizations in 22 countries.

¶7. (C) Other parties also have representatives overseas,
including Lakas (President Arroyo’s party) and the Liberal
Party (a party split between those who support President
Arroyo and those who oppose her). Many of the OFWs who voted
in 2004 reportedly voted for President Arroyo and candidates
supported by her, and most OFWs — of those who are even
interested in politics — appear to support mainstream
parties, as opposed to the left. Congressman Gilberto
Teodoro told poloff recently that he thought that the vast
majority of OFWs who are interested in politics are
interested in “middle class politics, such as that engaged in
by President Arroyo, and not revolution.” Teodoro added that
political parties — including his Nationalist People’s
Coalition — have been successful at fund-raising with OFWs
and their families at home.

¶8. (SBU) All that said, political parties appear to have had
only a modicum of success thus far in recruiting OFWs. Many
OFWs are said to be much more interested in making money and
sending it home than politics. In addition, many OFWs are
working in relatively isolated locales in the Middle East
(employees of oil and gas companies, for example) and are not
exposed to or involved in day-to-day Philippine politics.

¶9. (SBU) Organizations that lobby for various matters
involving OFWs are also quite active. Groups such as the
United Filipino Seafarers (the Philippines has hundreds of
thousands of mariners — see ref A), the Overseas Performing
Artists Group, and the Association of Relatives of OFWs lobby
for economic and travel benefits with Malacanang and with
Congress. Many OFWs and their families appear to be more
involved in these single-issue organizations than day-to-day


¶10. (C) Given their numbers — and the wealth they are
bringing the country — OFWs look poised to become steadily
more important on the political stage. Remittances, no
doubt, have an impact of their own, with millions of families
in the Philippines receiving an income they would not
otherwise receive. This, in turn, probably lessens societal
frustrations and helps keep people off the streets in “People
Power”-type protests. In terms of politics, OFWs do not seem
to be straying away from mainstream parties despite the
left’s best efforts. Single-issue lobbying by OFWs and their
families also is an important factor, including as a
consideration in Philippine foreign policy.

Visit Embassy Manila’s Classified SIPRNET website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/manila/index. cfm

You can also access this site through the State Department’s
Classified SIPRNET website:




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