On Migration from the Igorotland – Past, Present and Future: An Igorot Migrant’s Perspective

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 by Conchita Pooten

The issue of migration is a topic of enormous debate, which can be looked upon in a variety of different ways. Therefore I wish to focus my topic in this instance by opening a forum of debate that we can reflect and hopefully build during this consultation.

From the outset I would point out that in respect of the research statistics collated, I have made no distinction as to the percentages of immigrants that migrated due to nursing or other such professions or vocations nor have I identified the statistics of those Filipinos that were Igorot. Therefore qualifications would need to be added to my discussion.

It would be interesting to discuss the reasons why Filipinos, more specifically Igorots are forced to migrate. What gains does the Igorotland obtain from migrants that have left and in turn what loss does it encounter? Among Igorot migrants, what aspect of development is most affected? More interestingly how could we, the Igorot migrants in Europe, as a body address these concerns? What actual actions could we declare in the form of a binding Igorot Declaration and Program of Action (IDPA) to address the issue on migration?

As a starting point, migration is the progressive and continuing movement of people. A recent United Nations (UN) publication estimated a figure that nearly 175 million people (approximately 3% of the world's population) are now living outside of the country of where they were born, a figure that has doubled since 19751.

International migration statistics in 2002 established that Europe played a major host recipient in the movement of migrants in the region of 56 million people; this was closely followed by Asia with 50 million and North America with 41 million. While almost 10% of those living in developed countries are considered migrants, only 1 in 70 of people living in these developing countries are considered migrant. These figures suggest that around 60% of migrants reside in developed countries.

During the late 20th century, the Philippines experienced a phenomenal/stark rise in the growth of its international migration. The outward migration of immigrants from the Philippines saw a movement spanning a wide range of continents of the globe such as Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, North America and Australia. Such migration has been made up of skilled workers that include domestic workers, technicians, navy personnel, professionals that include nurses alike, engineers, business people, students, refugees, asylum seekers and family members. For the most part the majority of such people have been motivated by financial reasons.

A view shared by the United Nations is that migration is both a result and a cause of development (United Nations, 1998)2. The underlying effect of migration is that it amounts to social and cultural change in both the home and receiving countries alike.

Philippine media in recent times has highlighted the migration issue in terms of having contributed to the country's evident 'brain drain' particularly amongst its skilled populace, which in turn has surmounted to a disadvantage to the country. On the other hand it can be argued that the exportation of human resources is vividly contributing to the country's income. Similarly the receiving developed country has the benefit of a diverse cultural addition.

The Philippines is indicative of a country that heavily relies on the exportation of its labor workforce. Recent statistics have shown that the Philippines has more than one tenth of its people living abroad. The financial contribution of the export of labor has proven essential to the Philippine economy.

"It has been estimated that unemployment levels would be 40 per cent higher without labor migration. Official remittances from migrants in 1994 were US$2.94 billion, which assisted in financing 50% of the Philippines' external trade deficit (Amjad, 1996). According to (Go, 1998) workers remitted a total of US$23.4 billion between 1975 and 1995, with the largest source country being the USA. By the early 1990s, 16 per cent of households in the Philippines were receiving remittances from abroad (Saith, 1997)3.”

More significantly as can be seen from recent Igorot International Consultations, and Grand Kanyaws alike of which we are participants here today, it is evident that Igorot migrants have excelled in the diverse areas of work and endeavours sought.

From a personal perspective I was a nursing student of 18 when I immigrated to the United Kingdom in search of pastures new. It was 1975, a year in which I recall the Marcos regime actively advocating the promotion in the exportation labour. This coincided with the immigration policy of the then receiving Labor government of the UK, which duly released open its doors to the East that included the Philippines.

I would submit that back then for most of us Filipino immigrants, sentiments that echo true in today's climate, migration was simply a logical response to the country's inability to generate employment.

The findings of leading academics in this area that have compiled research into the movement of Filipino immigrants to put forward the idea that:

"The Filipino family has become 'transnational' in an effort to protect itself from declining real incomes and standards of living, and to achieve family aims for investment in education and the acquisition of other productive assets including land and housing. “(Abella, 1993)4.

This would appear true that we, and by "we" I am referring to those of us immigrants with families that have permanently settled outside of the Philippines. The contention that our families have become transnational is a further area of debate however it is one that I shall take allegiance with right now.

An issue that I wish to address is that of our indigenous elders, more significantly the protection of any aged Igorot elderly migrant who needs assistance. I refer in particular to the first batch of nurses, workers, immigrants that migrated from the Philippines in the 1970s, a decade which (I myself was part of) to the UK. It is these first timers that we have witnessed take retirement and become 'our first batch of the elderly'. More so, it is a concern for some of us that will reach the age of retirement in some 5-10 years or so.

Fortunately, the UK operates on the basis of a welfare state system. The idea of which those who have contributed to the welfare of society, i.e., the government by way of income tax contributions during employment will be entitled to statutory pension provisions. Moreover those who elected to supplement their pensions with private pension schemes or investments have been and will be fortunate to avail themselves of the 'riches' they have earned.

Moving on then, this financial advantage can be strengthened by the kinship of our immediate families, our spouses, children and other extended family members. However unfortunate to say there are those who are not in such a position. I speak primarily of those members of our elderly who did not get married and settle with children, those of our elderly that arrived to the UK to work on the premise to maintain just that - work. Work to send money 'back home.' Now that work has ceased many of them retired what has become of those that decided to stay and not return 'back home.' It is these members of our community that I wish to foremost address.


1 UN Publication, Go Between no. 94, October – November 2002

2 „The new economics of labor migration and the role of remittance in the migration process”. International Migration 37: 63-88, United Nations, 1998.

3 "Migration as a factor in social transformation in East Asia." Stephen Castles, 2002.

4 Ibid.



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