Clog the Drain

Last week the Philippines’ flagship carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL) had to ground some of its flights. Engine troubles? Weather disturbances? Not quite. The problem identified was pilot shortage.

Twenty-five Airbus A320 pilots resigned last July 31, citing reasons such as the low salaries and little benefits they get from PAL. In addition to this, a lot of high-paying jobs await for them abroad. This is another case of the so-called “brain drain” problem that is becoming a big problem to our country.

Crowded scenes are common in POEA agencies.

About ten percent of our country’s 90 million population live and work abroad, sending money back home which acts as the bloodline for our country’s economy. In exchange for foreign currency, the Filipinos left back home are made to deal with lacklustre services. Don’t get me wrong, the workforce that is left behind in the Philippines still carry a vast amount of quality. However, the reality is that some (if not most) overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have a potential to provide service to the country that would prove to be vital to our economy.

The trend started with labourers emigrating to the Middle East in the 1970s. Then the exodus later comprised of professionals as well such as nurses, teachers and now, pilots. Their main reason for leaving is because of the high-paying jobs that await them abroad, in addition to the better living conditions and numerous benefits offered to them as well. Eventually, the effects of this “brain drain” manifested in hospitals and schools. A ratio of students per teacher in public schools were usually 40:1. Hundreds of hospitals and health spots had to close due to a lack of qualified physicians and nurses.

Now, the effects of brain drain are hitting the airline industry — hard. In 2005, Air India has a job opening for 1,000 pilots. No statistics have been posted as to whether or not they met their number but a recroutment agency in the Philippines was tapped as a prime source to fill the gap for 1,000 pilots.

Obviously, the wages Filipinos get here are nowhere compared to the wages of countries in the Middle East, the United States, Europe or even Oceania. Not to mention the added benefits they get from the government of that country. As a departing retired soldier once said before he boarded his flight to the US, “What I made here in the Philippines in my ten years in service, I could make in the US in just a single year”. And this is no exaggeration,  wages offered abroad are often thrice or twice more than that of our country.

We may not be able to compete financially with other countries. However, money isn’t the only issue OFWs have. The high cost of goods and services, even the most basic such as electricity and water drive them to work abroad. Surely the government can do something to improve that?

Another factor that burden Filipinos is the never ending political turmoil in our country. If these so-called “public servants” who were put in office to alleviate the country’s conditions, find a way to agree with themselves and stop making our country a laughing stock of the global community, surely a great number of Filipinos would opt to remain in the country.

The government should also think of ways to cushion the impacts of “brain drain” and make a profit out of it.

In the 1990’s, the government of Corazon Aquino tried took advantage of the huge overseas presence by starting the Balikbayan (returning Filipinos) program which encouraged overseas Filipinos to return home as free-spending tourists.

The Arroyo government, in response to the rapid departure of professionals in 2006, tried to persuade skilled Filipinos to stay by tweaking the wages for government workers and providing better social security to them. However, whether this was a success or not is debatable however as although the number (of filipinos migrating) were reduced the year after, it had increased again the year after that.

Imagine a swimming pool being drained, if its not clogged in time all of the water may be gone. The reality is the same for “brain drain”; the government, if not all the people, must clog it up in time before the country loses all of its skill.

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