Philippines dependent on overseas remittances: Arroyo
Agence France Presse
August 26, 2001

THE Philippine economy will remain heavily dependent on Filipino overseas workers sending home some eight billion US dollars annually, President Gloria Arroyo said here August 26.

Ending a three-day state visit overshadowed by the country's image as a kidnap-prone area, Arroyo also urged Filipinos working abroad to act as individual ambassadors promoting the country as a safe tourism and investment destination.

"The Philippine economy will be, for the forseeable future, heavily dependent still on overseas workers' remittances," said Arroyo, a US-trained economist swept to power in January following the ouster of Joseph Estrada in an army-backed popular uprising.

More than seven million Filipinos, many driven by poverty and lack of jobs at home, work as professionals, seafarers, nurses, entertainers and maids abroad and send back an average eight billion US dollars a year.

Their remittances have for years helped prop up the Philippine economy in times of crises, the most recent of which was the Asian financial meltdown in 1997 and 1998. Overseas workers are referred to as the country's modern-day "heroes".

"We will strengthen bilateral relations with countries hosting large numbers of Filipinos," Arroyo said told more than 1000 Filipino workers waving miniature Philippine flags at a hotel ballroom here.

On another front, Manila will also campaign for the ratification of the 1999 UN Convention on the Protection of Rights of Migrant Workers and their families and the adoption of a UN resolution for the protection of female migrant workers.

The diminutive Arroyo, wearing a purple suit, was mobbed by adoring fans, some of whom attempted to have their pictures taken with her -- reflecting her popularity at home which she has parlayed into electoral victories for the Senate and the vice presidency.

Arroyo has often been compared as a look alike of Filipino movie star Nora Aunor, whose appeal caters to the masses.

The president, who departed for Manila later August 26, said she would work for the passage of a bill allowing overseas Filipinos to be able to vote, and stoked the nationalist fire in her nationals working abroad.

"Now is the time to prove our mettle as a nation and as a people and we can start our economic rebirth wherever we are by thinking Filipino, buying Filipino and investing Filipino," she said.

Arroyo arrived here August 24 on the second leg of a Southeast Asian swing that also took her to Brunei, where she held talks with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

She held meetings with Singapore President S.R. Nathan, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and influential Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and witnessed the signing of 20 agreements, covering tourism, information and communications, air traffic and labour.

During her trip, Arroyo, her economic team and a 50-member delegation that included the country's top business leaders, appealed for Singapore investments to help lift the economy.

She also sought to dispel the Philippines' image as unsafe for tourists and businessmen because of the spate of kidnappings for ransom.

Bandits of the Abu Sayyaf still hold several hostages, including two Americans, in the southern island of Basilan. A Chinese national is being held by another group of Muslim gunmen also in the south.

Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon said the kidnappings are isolated only in parts of the southern island of Mindanao, noting that the archipelago has more than 7000 islands.

A kidnap gang victimising Singaporeans in Manila has been crushed and its masterminds -- also Singaporeans -- have been arrested, he said.

Only 1.8 million tourists visited the Philippines least year, compared to Thailand with 7.5 million visitors and Malaysia with 10 million arrivals.