By Shannen Liz Carreon | Issue 23
As a full-time employee with side hustles and a graduate student in a third-world country, I have often daydreamed about the prospect of relocating abroad. This dream isn’t just about seeking better education and career opportunities, it is about carving out a more flexible lifestyle; all without the challenges posed by a developing nation such as low-income constraints and poor transportation systems. It’s heartbreaking that we find ourselves compelled to consider migration from the country we cherish, all because of the political and social landscape designed by authoritarians like the Marcoses, who prioritise their interests over ours. If only they would place our needs at the forefront, we wouldn’t need to contemplate leaving the place we call home.
Whenever we discuss Filipino migration, one often begins by examining the colonial relationships between countries (e.g. Spain and the United States), which are deeply rooted in unequal power relations. However, I would like to delve deeper and uncover the underlying reasons for the inequality faced by Filipino migrants. This inequality is largely a result of the prolonged rule of the Marcos family’s dictatorship that spanned over two decades. Typically, when we also think about the reasons behind the inequality among migrants, our focus tends to centre on various systemic and discriminatory factors within the receiving country. This perspective dominates migration research today. However, I want to address the gap in the existing literature by shifting our focus to the migrant-sending country itself. In this article, I will explore how political dynasties, corruption, and weak governance serve as the fundamental drivers of migrant inequality.
While Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s rule did not directly cause emigration, his administration created a foundation of inequality for migrant workers due to various instances. First and foremost, Marcos Sr.’s administration actively promoted labour export as an economic strategy in support of his industrialization projects, leading to waves of Filipino migration to the Middle East in the 1970s. For example, Marcos Sr. tried to mimic the South Korean construction industry with his “corporate export strategy” and while it increased the demand for skilled labour, it also made the country more dependent on remittances (Selberg, 2023). Most importantly, it exposed Filipino migrants to limited labour protections, low wages, and poor working conditions. These inequalities were exacerbated by the gross wealth disparity, with Marcos’ cronies diverting the funds intended for migrant welfare since these families often control key industries and sectors in the country. Succinctly, his economic policies and the country’s reliance on remittances led to unsustainable development and income disparities.
Considering his authoritarian rule, it is expected that he would also suppress dissent and weaken civil society organisations advocating for migrant rights. This lack of political freedoms hindered the development of a robust labour movement, making it difficult for migrants to collectively demand better conditions. All of these factors highlight how a concentration of political power can reinforce socioeconomic inequalities, particularly when the elites prioritise their interests over those of the broader population. Furthermore, this weak governance not only leads to the misallocation of resources but also hinders equitable development. When examining the impact of these dynamics on migrant inequality, it becomes evident that political decisions and governance shortcomings can exacerbate the challenges faced by Filipino migrants, perpetuating their unequal status.
With Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s recent election, the question arises: will his administration continue the legacy of inequality and corruption that has shaped migrant experiences? It is a concern for many as we still grapple with the aftermath of Marcos Sr.’s reign. So when Marcos Jr. won the Philippine Presidential Election last year, Time Magazine brought to the world’s attention why we should all be deeply concerned about the apparent victory of a dictator’s son. This concern is well-founded, given the numerous unfavourable and questionable developments that have transpired in the first year of Marcos Jr.’s presidency.
For starters, he has already elevated the Philippines to become the World Bank’s fifth-largest borrower in fiscal year 2023 with a total of $2.336 bn in approved loans across six projects. Despite borrowed money, the country is still experiencing a job crisis. For every 100 so-called employed, 73 are informal workers and recently, it has been revealed that an increasing number of discouraged workers are dropping out of the labour force due to the inability of the economy to create meaningful jobs, as evident by 2.8m decrease in employment. Despite this substantial borrowing, the country is still grappling with a severe job crisis.
Furthermore, recent findings indicate an increasing number of discouraged workers who are dropping out of the labour force due to the economy’s inability to generate meaningful employment opportunities, as evidenced by a significant 2.8 million decrease in employment. Above all, Marcos Jr. decreased the 2024 Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) budget from 16 bn to 15.5 bn. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) budget only received a 1.7% increase, from 11.7 bn to 11.9 bn.
As they return to power, many Filipinos will keep seeking better prospects abroad, hoping to escape the challenges faced in the Philippines, especially during the Marcos family’s rule. Going back to my daydream, I often envision a Philippines without the Marcoses—what it could be and its potential. One thing is certain: it would have been a better nation, alleviating the necessity for Filipinos to leave their beloved homeland.
Shannen Liz Carreon holds an undergraduate degree in BS in Legal Management from the San Beda University, Manila. Currently, she is working on her Master’s Thesis in Sociology, with a particular focus on social movements, volunteering, and political sociology at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She serves as the Senior Program Associate at an NGO advocating for good governance in the Philippines and is also a freelance debate coach. She also loves studying and talking about gender and migration. Shannen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org