Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"No lack of work in RP only job-skill mismatch"

MANILA, Philippines -- Asserting that there is no lack of jobs in the Philippines but only a job-skill mismatch, the Department of Labor and Employment has listed down 29 hard-to-fill jobs in eight sectors.

At the National Human Resource Conference at the Manila Hotel Wednesday, the labor department said jobs that had vacancies but were difficult to fill were those for: geologists, mining engineers, and metallurgical engineers in the mining sector; cooks, tour guides, reservations officers for hotels and travel agencies, butlers, and baristas in the hotel and restaurant sector; welders, fabricators, pipe fitters, marine electricians, and all other jobs related to shipbuilding sector; entrepreneurs for the agribusiness sector; marine officers, seafarers, and culinary chefs for the maritime sector;

Doctors, nurses, massage therapists, and spa therapists in the health, wellness, and medical tourism sector; architects, engineers, heavy equipment mechanics, and other allied workers in the construction sector; engineers, accountants, animators, programmers, contact center agents, and medical transcribers and editors in the cyber services sector.

At the same time, Labor Secretary Arturo Brion said a total of nine million jobs -- four million in the country and five million abroad -- were available from 2006 to 2010.

"One of the most pressing social issues in the country is the outcry for jobs. Media and social discourse can make us believe that there are no more jobs left in the country. The reality, however, is that there are plenty of jobs waiting to be filled up by qualified workers," he said.

"What we found out is that there are sectors that are in need of workers who possess the critical skills required by the respective industries," he added.

In its presentation, DoLE defined hard-to-fill jobs as those that were "highly demanded and emerging jobs where supply shortages occur based on recruitment and hiring experiences of the key informants."

The labor department sourced the mismatch problem principally to low enrolment in the courses for these jobs due to lack of interest, high cost and long duration of training, lack of higher education and technical-vocational institutions that offer these programs, lack of qualified faculty and trainers, and lack of or inadequate training facilities.

These result in the poor performance in licensure exams, especially in the engineering and medical professions.

To address this problem, the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority agreed to implement several interventions this year and next: to reintegrate skills courses in basic education; add language and information technology units in higher education; and adopt uniform international standards for accreditation.

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

World-Class Filipinos

by Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star)

A Filipina graced the cover of the New York Times magazine last weekend. No, she isn't a supermodel or a celebrity. She is much better than that. She is an OFW. Rosalie Comodas Villanueva, who grew up in the tough neighborhood of Leveriza, is a nurse at Al Rahba Hospital in Abu Dhabi. She makes $24,000 a year — compared to the $1,200 she made while working here at home. Her parents have been taking care of her two children for years. The lengthy feature honors OFW sagas, Rosalie's, her family's and many others like her.

There is no more doubt that our OFWs are now a world class phenomenon. Nearly 10% of our 89 million people live abroad. About 3.6 million are OFWs, another 3.2 million have migrated permanently, largely to the United States, and 1.3 million more are thought to be overseas illegally. There are a million OFWs in Saudi Arabia alone, followed by Japan , Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan. OFWs are in at least 170 countries, and about a quarter of the world's sailors come from the Philippines. They send home $15 billion a year, saving not just the economy but a succession of governments from a rebellion by the jobless and hungry poor.

I once made the joke that there is no need for our people to learn English because in a few more years, the world will understand Tagalog. Imagine all the Filipina nannies from Hong Kong to Rome to Toronto and London and who's going to say they aren't teaching more than a word of Tagalog to the young children they are taking care of. I think it was writer Jessica Zafra who once declared that we will one day conquer the world: today their bedrooms and bathrooms but tomorrow, the world!

Indeed, as Jason DeParle, the author of the lengthy NYT magazine article observed, the Philippines has exported labor for at least 100 years. The pineapple plantation workers of Hawaii, who left the Philippines in the early 1900s come to mind. Greg Macabenta traced an early colony of Filipinos in the New Orleans area, descendants of Filipinos who might have jumped ship during the Galleon trade between Acapulco and Manila.

This modern migration we are seeing today took shape 30 years ago under Ferdinand Marcos. And we were not alone. A number of Asian and Latin American countries were sending migrants abroad for the same reasons. A growing number of economists see migrants, and the money they send home, DeParle wrote, as a part of the solution to global poverty.

This view of effectively making the poor pay for development is distasteful. "It risks obscuring the personal price that migrants and their families pay. It could be used to gloss over, or even justify, the exploitation of workers. And it could offer rich countries an excuse for cutting foreign aid and other development efforts," DeParle wrote.

The worse part is how the phenomenon makes it easy for governments to develop a dependence on worker remittances. Migrants all over the world, according to DeParle, sent home some $300 billion last year. In contrast, the world spent $104 billion on foreign aid.

According to DeParle, the Philippines, which received $15 billion in formal remittances in 2006, ranked fourth among developing countries behind India ($25 billion), China ($24 billion) and Mexico ($24 billion). "Remittances make up three percent of the GDP in Mexico but 14% in the Philippines.

DeParle continues: "Despite fears that the money goes to waste, a growing literature shows positive effects. Remittances cut the poverty rate by 11% in Uganda and six percent in Bangladesh, according to studies cited by the World Bank, and raised education levels in El Salvador and the Philippines.

"Being private, the money is less susceptible to corruption than foreign aid; it is also better aimed at the needy and 'countercyclical' — it rises in response to slumps and natural disasters. Remittances help reduce government borrowing costs, saving the Philippines about half a billion dollars in interest each year… And consumption among the poor is hardly a bad thing."

The downside, DeParle writes, "is the risk of dependency, among individuals waiting for a check or for rulers (like Marcos) who use the money to avoid economic reforms… No country has escaped poverty with remittances alone. 'Remittances can't solve structural problems,' said Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington research group. 'Remittances can't compensate for corrupt governments, nepotism, incompetence or communal conflict…'"

Then… there are the social costs. "Among the biggest worries, in the Philippines and beyond, are the 'left behind' kids, who are alternately portrayed as dangerous hoodlums and consumerist brats. Some people fear that their gadgets and clothes, sent from guilty parents abroad, corrupt village values."

Still, studies have found out that overall, "the migrants' kids did better in school, had better physical health, experienced less anxiety and were more likely to attend church…one theory is that remittances compensate for the missing parent's care. The study found migrants' kids taller and heavier than their counterparts, suggesting higher caloric intake, and much more likely to attend private school… There is no doubt that migration has costs… The point is that not migrating has costs, too — the cost of wrenching poverty."

The growth in migration, DeParle admits, "has roiled the West, but demographic logic suggests it will only continue. Aging industrial economies need workers. People in poor countries need jobs. Transportation and communication have made moving easier. And the potential economic gains are at record highs… with about one Filipino worker in seven abroad at any given time, migration is to the Philippines what cars once were to Detroit: its civil religion. A million Overseas Filipino Workers left last year, enough to fill six 747s a day."

This is why for me, the OFW phenomenon is a source of hope for the future. As I told a group of foreign businessmen last week, " with all our negatives in factors of production important to investors, it seems our real plus factor lies with our human resource. I am banking my hope in that large population of OFWs who will one day come home with new ideas, new dreams and a stronger determination to make political leaders accountable."

The world knows from first hand experience with our OFWs that we are good workers and top notch professionals, making them the best incentive to come here and invest. And one of these days, their talents would be used to bring to the motherland the economic gains they helped bring for the countries they worked in.

Summa cum laude

Mikaela Irene Fudolig, a 16-year-old graduated last weekend with a degree in BS Physics and with the highest academic honor of summa cum laude. She has a 1.099 grade point average. She is the youngest student to graduate from the UP in recent years and one of only two admitted to the state university without a high school diploma and without taking the UP College Admission Test, ANC reported.

I am glad there is an early placement program at UP to take care of gifted students like her. She was only 11 when she started taking college level courses at the university. I am sure we have many other students like her whose world class brains are being wasted in an educational system that provide them little challenge.

One other great thing… she isn't taking up nursing to work abroad. She is staying on at UP to teach. My congratulations to her, her parents and the UP professors who conceived and implemented the program! Let us now look for more Mikaelas out there and give them the education that they need.

Little Manila in Stockton

( - STOCKTON -- Most evenings, Stockton's Little Manila bustled. Dance halls hopped. Barbershops buzzed with the banter of young Filipino men, the picture of prosperity in suits and fedoras.

Pool halls crackled with excitement. Card rooms packed them in. Hotels filled with men seeking respite from the crowded barracks in the farm camps and asparagus fields outside town.

Little Manila was roaring.

"There was a pool hall on every block, a barbershop at every corner," said Albert Juanitas, 77, whose father was among the first Filipinos to settle the Central Valley. "There were lots of people hanging out in the street. They'd come dancing. They used to gamble in the basements."

For four decades, beginning in the late 1920s, Little Manila was the center of Filipino life in the Central Valley, its hub at the intersection of El Dorado and Lafayette streets, now on the southern fringe of downtown Stockton.

In May, a 30-minute documentary on KVIE-TV -- "Little Manila: Filipinos in California's Heartland" -- pays homage to Little Manila and the life that was for the manongs -- the term of endearment used by Filipino Americans to describe the forebears who began arriving from across the Pacific a century ago to work in the plantations and canneries of Hawaii, then later to the fields and orchards of California.

Their stories -- of perseverance, ambition, racism and triumphs -- shouldn't be forgotten, said Marissa Aroy, a U.S.-born Filipina from Bakersfield who produced the program.

"No one's telling their story," she said. "They're the ones who sacrificed, who left their families behind" for work in America.

"All these men went to Little Manila just to have fun, to forget about their hardships and their loneliness," said Aroy.

These days, few of the old buildings remain. Some made way for a handful of new businesses. The McArthur Hotel was razed for a fast-food restaurant.

Over the years, others were declared as blight, then demolished. Many parcels remain vacant because of redevelopment battles and unfulfilled ambitions.

Disappearing history

Little Manila's struggles, perhaps, are emblematic of the greater challenges facing the Filipino American community.

Despite being the country's second-largest Asian group, the Filipino community has largely remained invisible, its history at risk of being forgotten, said Dillon Delvo, a filmmaker and director of the Little Manila Foundation. The group hopes to preserve the district's few remaining historical buildings.

"It's one thing to read about history. But it's something else to feel it, to touch it, to have a direct connection to it," said Delvo.

The city designated four blocks as a historic district in 2000, but with no promises of protection. Still, it was hailed by Delvo as important recognition for the preservation movement.

For some communities, it's too late. San Francisco's Manilatown vanished, its 10-block expanse alongside Chinatown fading into the shadows of the financial district's skyscrapers and downtown redevelopment. The Kearny Street corridor had been home to thousands of Filipinos.

In Stockton, the Little Manila Foundation wants to save three buildings in the core of the neighborhood. The foundation bought the Mariposa Hotel, where Filipino farmworkers mapped strategy for some of the state's earliest labor strikes. The foundation has plans for restoring the hotel -- perhaps transforming it into a cultural center -- but has struggled to obtain financial backing.

A vestige of the Rizal Social Club remains, its dance floor empty, its windows boarded, its stuccoed facade wrinkled by peeling paint. The hip-hop group Black Eyed Peas, which counts a Filipino American among its members, used the dance hall as the setting for a video in 2006 to spotlight Little Manila's plight.

The Filipino American National Historical Society, which has a branch in Stockton, wants to establish a museum in one of the historic buildings.

Much of the district is already lost. The Crosstown Freeway, linking Interstate 5 and Highway 99, cut a swath through the district -- uprooting families and adding to the Filipino diaspora.

P360-M Crude Oil Plant in ARMM

(SunStar General Santos) - CRUDE oil processor, Agumil Phils. Inc., is expected to start putting up its P360 million refinery in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) within the year, a senior investments official said.

Agumil, a joint undertaking of Malaysian and Filipino investors, has applied with Armm's Board of Investments in March 2006 and was subsequently issued registration the same year.

Nemesio S. Mana-ay, Armm-BOI technical division chief, said Agumil has now about 600 to 700 hectares of oil palm plantation in Buluan, Maguindanao through an outgrowership planting scheme.

"Based on Agumil's time-table that was submitted to our office, they should be building the processing plant this year also in Buluan town," he said.

At full capacity, the refinery can accommodate about 45 tons per hour of fresh fruit bunches of oil palm, he added.

Mana-ay noted that Agumil's presence in Armm, the nation's poorest region, would boost the oil palm industry in the country considering the shortage of supply.

Agumil also maintains oil palm plantations in neighboring Sultan Kudarat but harvests are brought to Agusan del Sur for processing into palm oil.

The two other palm oil mills in Mindanao are the Kenram Industrial Development, Inc, which is also based in Sultan Kudarat province, and Filipina Palmoil Plantations, Inc. in Agusan del Sur.

Mana-ay pointed out that Agumil's plan to establish a refinery in Buluan would significantly reduced transport costs of farmers contracted by the firm to cultivate oil palm trees.

From Maguindanao to Agusan del Sur, travel time is estimated to be not less than six hours, passing through the Davao region.

Sultan Kudarat Gov. Pax Mangudadatu earlier told reporters that Agumil is bent on constructing a palm oil mill in Buluan town, the next town after President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat.

"There's a 20-hectare lot in Buluan where Agumil would construct its processing plant," he said.

The governor said, however, that Agumil will construct the plant after some 2,000 hectares of oil palm will be planted in Buluan and adjoining areas.

Mangudadatu said that in adjacent Columbio, which is under Sultan Kudarat province, oil palm plantations have been opening up.

The target in Columbio town is 6,000 hectares, with the governor failing to disclose how much has been consumed to date.

Mangudadatu's province is known for its oil palm industry, one of the top priority investment areas pushed by local government leaders.

Palm oil is the processed product of oil palm tree. Palm oil's unique composition makes it versatile in its application in food manufacturing and in the chemical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

In the food industry, palm oil is the choice for manufacturing solid fat products. Palm oil olein and stearin are popularly used worldwide in making margarine, shortenings and confectionery, and in frying snack foods.

Palm oil is also used in the manufacture of soaps, detergents and other surfactants. It is a good raw material for producing oleochemicals, fatty acids, fatty alcohols, glycerol and other derivatives.