Imelda Nicolas: Leading Diaspora to Development
Secretary Imelda Nicolas of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (left). She joins President Aquino and Secretary Albert del Rosario of the Department of Foreign Affairs as they award Antonio Fernando III, a Filipino doctor based in New Zealand, at the 2012 Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas.
MANILA, Philippines - As a businesswoman, Nicolas was vice president for Development of TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., a New York-based multinational company, as well as chair of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines. She is also an advocate for women’s rights and good governance.
Indeed, her background has helped her to hit the ground running with a pro-active approach to leading the CFO. “I was a little over a month in office and barely had I warmed my seat as chair of the Commission when CFO already positioned itself at the forefront of the Philippine government’s more strategic engagement with international migration,” she shares on the commission’s achievements so far.
In 2010 the CFO hosted Vision 2020: Responding to the Challenges of Migration and Development, a conference which gathered the many stakeholders involved in migration, from government and civil sectors to the business and private sectors.
“This conference led to the inclusion of more than 60 provisions on migration and development in seven out of 10 chapters of the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016, the blueprint of the national government in attaining inclusive growth and the full human development of all our people,” Nicolas shares, adding that this is a notable milestone for the CFO since migration is very seldom brought up in the PDPs, and usually only in terms of remittances and deployment for overseas employment.
“CFO has provided the mechanisms for Filipinos overseas to more actively re-engage with the Motherland,” says Nicolas.
The CFO chair’s flagship program is Diaspora to Development (D2D), which concentrates on ten areas of engagement wherein the Philippine diaspora can become partners for the country’s development: business advisory circle, Alay Dunong program, diaspora philanthropy, diaspora investment, educational exchange, tourism initiatives, Global Legal Assistance and Advocacy program, medical mission coordination, arts and culture exchange, and return and reintegration.
The Philippines has over a century of international migration history… From the first batch of Filipino workers from Ilocos to the current figure of 10.46 million Filipinos overseas as of December 2011,” says Nicolas on why migration and diaspora has been such a persistent concern in the Philippines – an issue inextricably linked to the country’s development.
“International migration has for the past four decades been a defining and life-changing experience for many Filipinos and the families they leave behind,” she adds. Addressing the needs of this constantly growing group of Filipinos overseas, the 2nd Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora was held early this year, bringing together over 500 Filipinos overseas, government agencies, and civil society organizations. Hosted by the CFO together with the Global Filipino Diaspora Council, the US Pinoys for Good Governance, and the Youth Leaders in Diaspora, the conference aimed to track the progress and highlight best practices of Filipino diaspora engagement since the launch of the Diaspora to Development initiatives during the First Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora in September 2011.
“In between these global summits, we have the regional conferences of Filipinos in the Diaspora… in 2012, the first Regional Conference of Filipinos in Europe was held in Rome,” Nicolas adds. “In 2014, the first Regional Conference of Filipinos in the Middle East and Africa will be held in Abu Dhabi.” On the effects of the massive migration phenomenon, Nicolas sees both positive and negative effects: “The accumulated impact of the more than century-long Filipinos overseas can be seen in improved quality of lives for many Filipino migrant families in terms of housing, education, access to health services, as well as contributions to hometowns and community development projects such as infrastructure support, educational assistance, and health services, among others.” On the other hand, “the other side of the phenomenon, however, paints a picture of unfulfilled dreams or unmet expectations, of strained family relations, the strengthening of consumerism, the so-called culture of migration and the over-dependence on remittances, as increased incomes took precedence over working together towards the realization of shared dreams, of high hopes for an improved quality of life and for many of them, of return and reintegration into Philippine society, economically secure in the fold of their family and community,” she says. “In addition, given the continuing trend of feminization of the country’s migration, our Filipino women migrant workers who are usually employed in the lower-skill category of work, are most vulnerable to violence, abuse, and sexual exploitation.” Nicolas says, “We are still short of knowing for sure how much international migration has had an impact on our country’s development beyond the general sense that overseas Filipinos are today’s modern-day heroes who time and again have helped save the Philippine economy from one crisis after another.”
It is the goal of the CFO to address the negative issues of migration and assist those affected towards a more positive outcome for the individuals as well as the country’s development. “The Commission can be a powerful instrument in re-imagining and re-shaping the direction of Philippine migration,” says Nicolas. “Thus, CFO defined its new mission, which is to be the Philippines’ premier institution in promoting policies, programs, and projects with Migration and Development as a framework for the strengthening and empowerment of the Filipino overseas community.” To support the advocacies of the CFO, Nicolas urges everyone to check out the commission’s website. “With many Filipino households now becoming a migrant household, I am sure there is something in our website that you will find interesting and worthy of your time, skills, and talents.” She adds that it is important for Filipinos who live and work overseas to become aware of what the government is doing in terms of “maximizing the gains and benefits of migration and in seriously addressing the social costs.”
Finally, Nicolas reminds us to show appreciation for our fellow Filipinos overseas. “Their sacrifices should be measured not just by the amount of remittances they send, but by how wisely and productively we utilize these not just for consumption but towards sustained and sustainable development of our families, communities, and our Motherland.” My hope is that international migration will really become a genuine choice for Filipinos, an exercise of one’s right to mobility and not as a result of an economy that does not provide many choices for our people to lead good quality and productive lives in our Motherland,” Nicolas says of how migration will develop in the near future. “Perhaps it is time for us to develop a sunset provision or an exit strategy on this massive migration phenomenon,” she says. “We can start by working on transforming a critical mass of migrant households from consumer units to production units, from a pattern and behavior of income/remittance utilization that goes to sustaining basic daily needs… to a mindset of production/investment in viable economic initiatives anchored on local development plans towards wealth generation and jobs creation.” Nicolas remains positive of reaching this goal. “This is not an impossible dream, not if we work together towards this common vision and march to the same beat of inclusive growth and full human development.”