Townmates abroad watching over hometowns, local governments want to be invo

MANILA — ON the second decade of a landmark Philippine law granting local autonomy to cities, provinces and municipalities, constituents who became overseas Filipinos are watching over how their places of birth are governed.

That is why all the more these overseas-based townmates shouldn’t be brushed aside in achieving good local governance, a recently-released policy brief by a nonprofit thinktank wrote.

The remittance incomes alone that these overseas Filipinos send to their hometown-based families is already one of the biggest sources of income locally, said the Institute for Migration and Development Issues (IMDI), citing estimates from government-produced data.

This is not to mention that even while overseas townmates are away, hometown involvement is there.

Given the massive flooding brought about by typhoon Pedring some days ago, an association of domestic workers in Hong Kong shipped balikbayan boxes of in-kind donations to the members’ home province of Nueva Vizcaya yesterday (Oct. 9).

Overseas Filipinos are “a legitimate stakeholder in hometown development,” the Institute wrote in a policy brief titled Improved Hometowns may Attract Overseas Pinoy Townmates to Help Birthplaces.

In estimates done by the Institute, the remittance incomes of overseas migrant families coming from 60 of 77 Philippine provinces are more than the incomes of provincial local government units [see Table].

The role of these overseas-based townmates comes at a time when the nation celebrates the passage of the 1991 Local Government Code (Republic Act 7160) exactly two decades ago.

However, even some local government advocates admit it will take time for good local governance to be achieved by many of the country’s 80 provinces, 138 cities, 1,496 municipalities and 42,026 barangays.

These hometowns, especially in depressed areas of the country, are lacking in jobs and income opportunities — realities that have pushed some residents to go to other areas of the country and to overseas lands.

While local politics may remain to be a disincentive for these overseas-based townmates to go back home, some overseas Filipinos persist in getting themselves involved.

In Bicolano language, a Facebook page is serving as an “online watchdog group” for the fifth-class municipality of Magarao, Camarines Sur: “Bantay Magarao.” Both Magarao- and overseas-based residents are members of the said group.

And if the local government is handling the affairs of the hometown well, and visibly the economic and investment environments are favorable, the hometown itself can be a magnet for constituents based outside of that hometown to invest —and to be involved, IMDI wrote.

“If these local governments would want to tap into this resource from abroad… the overall way the hometown is governed and run may need to be the magnet to attract overseas and Philippine- and hometown-based townmates back,” IMDI’s executive director Jeremaiah Opiniano wrote in the policy brief.

A corollary strategy here is that these hometowns have programs and services for their overseas-based constituency —from economic services to social protection programs, IMDI added.

Table 2: Remittances versus incomes of provincial local government units (in Philippine pesos)
2006 2009
No. of provinces with more remittances than provincial LGU incomes
Total remittances of migrant households (n=77 provinces)
Total incomes of provincial local government units (n=77 provinces)
55 of 77
60 of 77
Total incomes of provinces with more remittance incomes (PhP)
* Remittance incomes
* Provincial LGUs’ incomes
Total incomes of provinces with more provincial LGU incomes (PhP)
* Remittance incomes
* Provincial LGUs’ incomes
Sources of data: Estimates on remittances per region coming from the Family Income and Expenditures Survey (2003 and 2006), and income data from the Bureau of Local Government Finance (2003 and 2006)Estimates of remittances to the provinces done by economist Alvin Ang of UST, and were published in the Institute’s First Philippine Migration and Development Statistical Almanac (December 2008).