The experience of being an OFW increases the discontent with the political performance of the Philippines among returning migrants. Having been exposed to a society with a functioning economy which provides for the material needs of its citizens makes migrants more demanding towards their own political system, regardless of the political system of their host country.
This is one of the main outcomes of the research project “Democratization through Migration?”, presented on Tuesday, July 29, at the Dr. Alfredo J. Ganapin Advocacy Forum, organized by the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), at the Balay Kalinaw, University of the Philippines (UP).
The Project was carried out by the Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institute (ABI), Freiburg, Germany, in cooperation with Social Weather Stations (SWS), with assistance from members of the Political Science Department of UP Diliman and financed by the Foundation for Population, Migration and Environment. In the first half of 2006, a standardized questionnaire was administered in face-to-face interviews with 1,000 OFWS returning from Japan, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Hong Kong, who had worked for at least two years abroad, and had been back for at least one year. Criteria for the selection of destinations were their political system and their relevance as destination for Philippine labor migrants. Additionally, 1000 migrants just about to leave for these destinations and modeled with regard to age group, gender and education after the Return migrants, were asked the questionnaire. Finally, 37 of the returned migrants were interviewed a second time in in-depth-interviews (IDIs).
One outcome of the research was a lesser support for democracy among the Return Migrants when compared to the “First Timers”: 73 percent of the migrants about to leave declared that democracy was always preferable to any other kind of government, but only 65 of the ones that had returned to the Philippines. The ABI researchers, Dr. Christl Kessler and Stefan Rother, M.A., interpret this result as an effect of migrants’ dissatisfaction with democracy in the Philippines, judged against the background of their experiences abroad. This interpretation is backed by the qualitative data which revealed strong discontent with the democratic processes in the Philippines, despite a general defense of democratic rights and freedom. Respondents were deeply disappointed by Philippine democracy and its inability to respond to the needs of ordinary citizens. They felt neglected and discriminated as poor and/or uneducated citizens and experienced the political system as exclusively serving the interests of the elite. Rampant corruption, electoral fraud and the lack of rule of law were major issues voiced by most respondents.
In comparison, the host countries of the migrants fared better in all regards covered in the survey, from economic policy to trust in the local police, regardless of the political system. Authoritarian destinations received lower performance ratings from migrants than democratic host countries. However, the percentage of positive ratings was highest for Hong Kong, higher even than for the democratic countries. This indicates that migrants judge their host destinations less by formal criteria like elections, but by political performance and the provision of rights related to their specific situation like freedom of movement or the right to go on strike. Hong Kong as one of the main sites of OFW activism thus fared especially well.
In light of the ongoing Philippine public discourse about the exploitation and suffering of labor migrants, Return Migrants’ assessments of their experiences abroad as reported in the survey seemed surprisingly positive. To put this finding into perspective, interviews showed that migrants judged the migration experience against their main motive for migration: As most of them were able to earn enough money to support themselves and their families back home, they regarded their time abroad as positive, despite the hardships encountered.
The findings are highly relevant for the potential effects of migration on the democratization process in the Philippines. While the continuous export of labor might ease some of the pressure from high unemployment and sluggish economic growth, dissatisfaction and alienation are rising among those who have returned from abroad. Combined with a widespread sentiment of powerlessness that was conveyed in the interviews, these perceptions have the potential to weaken the diffuse support for democracy. Worse even, in cases like Saudi Arabia where authoritarian regimes seemingly perform better than the democracy at home, migration experiences may lead to an increasing approval of authoritarian forms of government. On the other hand, chances for participation and an active “OFW civil society” independent of the political system of the destination (as in Hong Kong) can have a positive effect on migrants’ sense of agency and political efficacy even after their return to the Philippines. Thus, while only 49 percent of migrants returning from Saudi Arabia declared that democracy was always preferable to any other kind of government, this number rose up to 80 percent among the Hong Kong returnees. ##
The Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institute (ABI) for socio-cultural research is based in Freiburg, Germany. Main areas of activity include: Basic research into fundamental social, cultural and political developments in countries abroad as well as applied research and political consulting. Services include the training of personnel for operations in key scientific and practical sectors in developing countries.
The project „Democratization through Migration?“ was carried out from October 2005 until December 2007. Project leader: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland, Department of International Relations, University of Freiburg. Main Researchers: Dr. Christl Kessler and Stefan Rother, M.A., ABI. in cooperation with Social Weather Stations and members of the Political Science Department, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.
Christl Kessler firstname.lastname@example.org, Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institute
Stefan Rother email@example.com, Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institute,