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Transnational Governance And Overseas Filipino Workers Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 5418 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In an era of increased globalization, different countries turn to different national strategies in order to maintain a competitive edge in the global market. For many developing countries, the labor force that they possess is a significant resource that may be utilized in order to pursue economic and social growth and development within their countries. The Philippines is one of the major countries that rely heavily on its workforce for economic stability and social advancement. Indeed, the Philippine experience of Diaspora is a sad and happy story to tell. The fact is that Filipinos working outside of the country brings the bacon home-the dollars that supports the economic activities in the country.

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However, the Philippine government is faced with this dilemma: how do they make sure that these Filipinos outside of the country maintain their links to the country. The fact that they send money back to the Philippines is not enough. They have to make sure that these Filipinos remain connected to their homeland lest they might lose them someday. A stronger sense of identity, solidarity and nationalism will ensure that these Filipinos will participate in the affairs of the country which will then ensure continued support from them in terms of financial matters. In order to induce such participation, the government should cross borders and exert re-territorialization and extra-territorial jurisdiction efforts-the government now faces the issue of transnational governance. These integration mechanisms to induce participation from Filipinos abroad is an effort that should be carried out by the Philippine government to make sure that Filipinos abroad remain connected to their home country.

Research Questions

What difference did the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 (RA9189) made in terms of the political participation of OFWs in national and local elections in the Philippines?

How does RA 9189 function as a tool of transnational governance for the Philippine government?

Why is it important for the Philippine government to re-territorialize OFWs all over the world and encourage them to participate in the political processes of the country?

What are the measures that the Philippine government has to take in order to secure transnational governance on OFWs all over the world?

Independent Variable: RA 9189 or The Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 as a tool of transnational governance for the Philippine government

Dependent Variables: The transnational connection between OFWs and the Philippine government as seen through the exercise of the voting rights of OFWs and its subsequent effects on the domestic politics of the Philippines; The sense of identity, solidarity, and nationalism of OFWs as the basis for their corresponding political representation and participation; The efforts of the Philippine government to seek re-territorialization and establish extra-territorial jurisdiction (through RA 9198) as a political integration mechanism

As such, the aim of this study is to be able to look at RA 9189 as a tool employed by the Philippine government as a political integration mechanism to address the much larger and broader issue of transnational governance which is brought about by the increasing interaction between the economic, social, and political forces at play in the global arena and their respective counterparts from a state-level perspective.

II. Significance/Importance of the Study

A Brief History of Filipino Migration

The migration of Filipinos to foreign lands has a long history in modern times. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 eased Filipino migration into Europe. By the turn of the 20th century, the growth of nationalist ideas fermented in Europe by Filipino exiles such as Dr. Jose P. Rizal gave birth to the Philippine nation. In the early 1900s, Filipino workers laboured hard in the sugar and pineapple plantations of Hawaii while skilled Filipino labour in the health and tourism sectors helped in the reconstruction of Europe after the devastation of the Second World War.

The post war era also saw many Filipinos joining the US navy for the privilege to petition for residence in the United States and live a better life. The 1970s saw the massive importation of Filipino construction workers to the Middle East where petrodollars were readily available. By the 1980s and the 1990s, there were Filipino doctors and physical therapists in the United States, Filipino nurses in the United Kingdom, Filipino secretaries in the UN headquarters in Geneva, Vienna and New York, Filipino engineers and teachers in Africa and Asia, Filipino au pairs in Scandinavia, domestic workers in Italy and Hong Kong, and seamen in Greece. Filipino migration has spread to other continents and by the 2nd millennium continues unabated. Filipinos are the second largest migrant population in the world (Hoegsholm, 2007).

Current Trends and Situation

The Philippines is one of the major countries that rely on its labor force for the support of its economy. Of the 80 million people in the country, approximately 10 percent is outside of the country working permanently or temporarily and because of this massive diaspora, Filipino migration continues to be a major concern for the Philippine government. However, one aspect of this issue that remains unexplored or altogether ignored is the fact that these Filipino migrants can be significant political forces that may influence the political situation in the country. The political system in the Philippines is one that needs reforms and transformations. As a democratic country, the electoral process of the country provides for an opportunity for the people to choose representatives that will empower them.

However, time and time again, corruption and bureaucracy over rules democracy-the voice of the people through electoral votes is not entirely reflective of the political change so long desired by the Filipinos. Perhaps it is a lack of the participation from the middle class of the country; perhaps it is a result of the indifference of the average citizen of the country; and perhaps many people do not see why they should be clamouring for change in the government when clearly the government has nothing to do with their economic survival anymore.

Such is the case of the many Filipinos living and working outside of the country, and such political outlook may be shared by their families in the Philippines as well. Seeing as the Filipinos outside of the country may be a significant political force that can initiate changes in the political system of the country, there is a need to understand how to tap these political forces that might serve the interest of the Filipino nation in general.

Table 1. Estimate of Overseas Filipinos, Commission on Filipinos Overseas (2009)

Commission on Filipinos Overseas


As of December 2009








Table 2. No. of Overseas Registered Voters, Commission on Elections, COF (2009)

Overseas Absentee Voting

2009 Statistics on Number of Registered Voters

Summary per continent and seafarers


DELETED (Failed to vote twice)

Asia Pacific



North & South Africa






Middle East & Africas



Total Landbased








Comparing tables 1 and 2, we can see that of the more than 8 million Filipinos abroad, only a little over 500,000 people are registered voters. These numbers are strikingly significant if we are to consider Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) as political forces that may serve as an avenue of the much needed political change in the Philippines.

Literature Review

On Transnational Governance and Nationalism: The Issue of Transnationalism

In a very relevant study concerning the issue of the nationalism of Filipino migrants and the transnational governance efforts of the Philippine government, Rodriguez (2002) argued that “citizenship, and the obligations attached to it, is used as a state strategy for income generation for the Philippine government. Further, citizenship has become a means by which the Philippine state disciplines migrants as cheap workers for the global economic order…transformations in notions of Filipino nationalism and citizenship have given rise to new kinds of transnational citizenship struggles allowing Filipino migrant workers to demand economic, political and cultural rights of the Philippine state wherever they may be.” Rodriguez also explored the idea that Filipino migrants nowadays offer alternative nationalisms that challenge the constraints imposed by the governance efforts of the Philippine government.

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This study is important mainly because it pointed out that transnationalism may be looked at from two perspectives: that of the government and that of the Filipino migrant workers and their advocates. When looking from the point of view of the government, Filipino migrants are transnational citizens that can serve the best interest of their homeland. For instance, in recognizing that overseas Filipino workers are the “new or modern-day heroes” of the country, the Philippine government explicitly commits itself to ensuring that the welfare rights of these migrant workers are protected beyond the territorial boundaries of their country.

As the ‘heroes’ of Philippine society, migrants are extended limited rights and privileges. Yet ultimately, as citizens, Filipino migrants are expected and indeed forced to comply with particular obligations to their home state that ultimately serve the interests of global capital (Rodriguez, 2002). On the other hand, Rodriguez also explored the idea of alternative nationalism pursued by migrant advocates such as the group Migrante International. According to this idea, the Philippine state owe it to the Filipinos abroad to secure their rights in their host countries and ultimately lead them back to the Philippines. However, when this study was conducted, only the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 or RA 8042 was in effect. The Overseas Absentee Voting Act or RA 9189 was passed into law in 2003; a year after Rodriguez’s study was published. Since then, a lot of changes in the political strategies of the government in terms of addressing the issues of transnationalism among Filipino migrant workers all over the globe have taken place.

RA 9189 – Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003: Causes, Roots, and Implications

Concerning the issue as to why RA 9189 was not enacted as a law earlier, Moon (2009) argued that the passage of RA 9189 was a product of the dynamic interaction between external (the presidential support in mid-term legislative elections, the emergence of a sectoral party Akbayan in the House of Representatives since 1998, the Asian economic crisis, and the advent of the Internet in the late 1990s) and internal factors (International Coalition for Overseas Filipinos’ Voting Rights [ICOFVR] and the increasing grievances of overseas Filipinos towards the Philippine government). According to this study the “[e]nactment of RA 9189 was neither a sole decision of the political elite such as the president and legislators, nor a consequence purely of overseas Filipinos’ avid lobby campaigns for their voting rights” (Moon, 2009). Instead, the author believes that the factors in the political system of the country and the growing activism of Filipino migrant workers led to the successful passage of the Absentee Voting Act of 2003.

RA 9189 is clearly an effort by the Philippine state to re-territorialize Filipinos all over the world mainly for economic reasons but it also reflects the initiative of the state to respond to the needs of the millions of Filipinos overseas intertwined in the increasing globalization of labor. As Bach & Solomon (2008) have pointed out in their study, “the urge to re-territorialize is partly about maintaining state legitimacy through the identification and participation of its citizens, partly about exercising sovereign power over extra-territorial flows, and partly an attempt to secure sources of state revenue as wealth becomes located outside the country.” Furthermore, these authors have argued that “[g]lobalization leads not always to decentralization but also to significant state efforts in building centrally controlled administrative structures; the transnational migrant worker shapes new articulations of belonging and political membership, and as such migrant populations function as agents of social change; and the formalization of trans-nationalism among migrants points to new, institutionalized mechanisms through which nation-states with large migrant populations manage, channel and forge political action and subjectivity” (Bach & Solomon, 2008).

Such arguments are very important in because it illustrates the issue of transnational governance that is faced by almost all every state in the context of globalization. Indeed, there is an immediate need for states to figure out how transnational governance works if at all for the benefit of the millions of migrant workers around the globe. Furthermore, their study has pointed out another important issue: that globalization and the need for extra-territorial governance are dynamic factors that influence one another which constantly evolve through the increasing interdependence of states arising from the situation in the contemporary global order. Therefore, there is an immediate need for political actors and academics alike to put forth more effort in understanding the political integration mechanisms that is likely to come out of transnational governance concerns.

Transnationalism, Transnational Governance, Extra-territorial Jurisdiction: Concepts and Issues

With regards to transnationalism, transnational governance, extra-territorial jurisdiction, and re-territorialization-the most important challenge for nation states that seek to address these transnational issues is to acknowledge the fact that they have no effectively employ governance strategies within an anarchic system. In a study by Risse (2004), he pointed out that “governance in the global system is about creating social and political order in the absence of modern statehood.” He further adds that “democratic governance beyond the nation-state faces serious hurdles…the main problem of transnational governance concerns the lack of congruence between those who are being governed and those to whom the governing bodies are accountable (Risse, 2004).” The most important reflection from this study is that states have to craft ways to exercise transnational governance in an international realm where transnational accountability and legitimacy remains to be a problem at large.

The Philippine Experience

The Philippines, being one of the very few states that have really dealt with the issue of migration in a head-on manner, has a lot of experiences to draw up decisions from. Hence, in an era where transnational governance seems to be an option to maintain a steady hold on its nationals in the increasing wave of transnationalism and globalization. In fact, one of the many advantages of the Philippine government is that one of the distinctive traits of Filipinos is that they are deeply attached to their familial roots-there will always be a sense of wanting to belong to something that could connect them from where they came from. This innate characteristic may not be reflected yet in the political sense, but it is certainly is seen in terms of the economic and social support of Filipino migrants to their homeland. As Bach & Solomon (2008) pointed out, “in the Philippines, a sense of solidarity latent among countrymen and women abroad was skilfully mobilized in order to capitalize on three things: the desire of Filipinos to make money abroad to support family back home; the desire of Filipinos abroad to consider themselves part of their nation; an appeal to pride in order to raise the skill-level and market niches of the migrant workers.” Hence, the Philippine government could use this to their advantage when coming up with political integration mechanisms to employ transnational governance over the millions of Filipinos overseas.

Although a lot of Filipinos feel resentment to the very government that pushed them out of their homeland and nationalism and identity may not be as strong as compared to other sending countries and may be even scattered at large, there will always be that invisible connection to their mother country which arises from the fact that as human beings we would always desire to belong and identify ourselves unto something. Capitalizing on this, the Philippine government should be able to employ effective transnational governance mechanisms. Of course, there will always be domestic issues that will hinder the state in maximizing the potential of the government to exercise transnational governance, some would even reject the idea that such kind of mechanism should be employed, instead, Filipinos all over the world should be encouraged to return back to the Philippines. However, the contemporary situation requires for political actions otherwise: the world is becoming increasingly interdependent, globalization is true, and transnational political action is needed-fast.

The Research Gap in Existing Literature

The literature about transnational governance, its advantages and disadvantages, is not lacking. There are also debates as to whether such mechanism is even needed or not. Furthermore, the discussion of the merits and demerits of capitalizing on Filipino nationalism, culture, and solidarity in applying transnational governance efforts by the Philippine government is also abundant. There is also an expansive literature about the role of governments in facilitating the whole migration process. However, there is a research gap in terms of recognizing the political impact that overseas Filipinos could make on the country if the government would be able to employ effective and efficient political integration mechanisms. This study will aim to fill the missing link between the importance of mobilizing the political capacity of migrant Filipinos and its implications on the political dynamics of the Philippines. Furthermore, this study will seek to explain why and how the Philippine government should be bolder in pursuing transnational governance mechanisms and develop an understanding as to how the dynamics between migrant workers and the government could be fully utilized.

III. Research Framework, Concepts, Theories, and Propositions

Research Framework

This framework shows the concepts and issues that are needed to be addressed in terms of using transnational governance as the connecting link that will bridge the gap between OFWs and the Philippine government. Specifically, this framework is meant to explore the case of RA 9198 as a tool of transnational governance that can strengthen the participation of OFWs in the political outcomes of the country through electoral votes and representation. The political interaction between the OFWs and the government may be bridged through the employment of transnational governance on the part of the government and the corresponding participation by the OFWs. The broken lines represent the possibility of bridging this political gap through the employment of transnational governance mechanisms although the maximum potential of such connection is yet to be explored. Meanwhile, the solid lines represent the concepts which are to be explored using the perspective of either the OFWs or the Philippine government. Hence, the concepts of identity, solidarity, nationalism, and political representation and participation should be tackled from the point of view of OFWs; whereas the concepts of extra-territorial jurisdiction, re-territorialization, and political integration mechanisms concern the Philippine government. Meanwhile, the dotted lines connect the factors that are likely to influence one another. For instance, the concepts of identity, solidarity, and nationalism among OFWs may be used by the Philippine government as the founding blocks of re-territorialization efforts on their part and in return these efforts by the government may induce more solidarity and a further sense of nationalism on the part of OFWs. Furthermore, political representation and participation from the OFWs may be used by the government as a platform for integration mechanism between the politics in the host country and the homeland, and in return such integration efforts from the government may encourage OFWs to participate in the political processes of their homeland. Taken together, these concepts create a model of transnational governance for the Philippine government in terms of dealing with Filipino migrants at least in the sense that OFWs are seen as a significant political force that may contribute to the growth and development of the polity in the Philippines in the long run.

Concepts, Theories, and Propositions

Time and again, OFWs all over the globe have proven their invaluable economic contributions to the Philippines by bringing in millions of dollars in the country that supports the economy at large. These economic contributions have been translated into social contributions by ensuring that households receiving remittances are investing more in education and health. Overall, receiving households have been experiencing an increase in the quality of life because of the stability brought about by the monthly remittances from family members working abroad. As a result of this new economic and social empowerment the so-called “middle class” of the Philippine society are increasing in number. However, the political contribution of this newly emerging middle class if mobilized to its maximum potential is something that political scientists and social researchers should further explore.

The concept that OFWs are untapped political forces that could introduce drastic political changes in the Philippines would only be possible if the Philippine government itself would be able to realize the political value held by the millions of Filipinos working and residing overseas. If the government would be able to employ effective and efficient measures of transnational governance that will reach the Filipino workforce outside of the country then they will be able to exercise their maximum potential as transnational citizens of the country.


The argument of this study is three-fold: one is that Filipino migrant workers all over the world have become distant not only from the Philippine government itself but from the very political processes of the state as well; the second is that the government is not utilizing the maximum potential of OFWs as agents of political change; finally, this study asserts that if the government would be able to tap the capacity of OFWs as political forces then it will invoke the political participation of the middle class in the Philippines which will eventually lead to a radical change in the polity of the country.

Going the Distance: The Lack of Political Participation from OFWs

It is known that millions of Filipinos abroad rarely participate in the political processes of their homeland in its most general sense, particularly in the electoral processes of the country. The lack of participation from OFWs may be attributed to a number of reasons. First, there is the problem of logistics. Many of the Filipino workers would have to travel long distances in order for them to register as absentee votes to be able to participate in the national elections of the country. In addition, they would have to allocate time and resources on their own. This would include getting off from work in a day or two which means they would have to forego of their salary during those times. Some Filipino workers reside and work far away from Philippine embassies or voting posts and as such participating in the electoral process would require so much of their time and financial resources. Given these things, they would undoubtedly consider if it is well worth it to exercise their voting rights. Some of them just regard the situation as given and that they could not do anything about it at all. If given the choice between working and participating in the electoral process, a lot of them would just choose the former, because it is much more convenient for them to stay out of the entire process. Another reason is that, a lot of the Filipino workers are very distant with the Philippine government because they remain distrustful of the very government that could not support them in their own country. Furthermore, they do not see the reason as to why they should be caring for the needs of the government when in fact they do not rely much on the government for support. In other words, they do not depend on the government for financial support because they earn their living from outside of the country. As such, OFWs feel very little attachment to the government and they remain sceptical of the government in terms of the growth and development that it can provide for the Filipino nation in general.

This attitude of indifference is a result of the thinking that there is no hope left for a change within the political system of the country. Hence, the “why-bother-attitude” remains prevalent in the way that the millions of overseas Filipino workers think. Moreover, the lack of motivation among OFWs in terms of participating in the political processes of the country remains to be an acceptable norm and so it creates a feeling of mutuality among those who live and work abroad. Such indifference, is not just evident in the voters’ turnout during electoral processes, but could also be seen in the civic and political participation of these OFWs when they are abroad. A relatively small number of OFWs are active in pursuing their rights and welfares both in their home country but in their host country as well. This general feeling of indifference remains to be a big disadvantage and a hindrance to the relative growth and development of the civic and political participation of OFWs all over the world-one which is an unhealthy shortcoming that is very much reflected in the domestic politics of the Philippines.

Governing from Across Borders: The Necessity of Transnational Governance Mechanisms

On the one hand, there is a large and significant number of OFWs all over the world that remains very indifferent to the political affairs of the country. On the other hand, there is the Philippine government who does not seem to exert as much effort as it should have been doing in order to induce political participation from its nationals who are residing and working in many different parts of the world. Obviously, the government is aware of these untapped political forces but the question remains as to why there is not enough effort from its part in order to encourage such political participation. In answer to this question, a number of reasons come to mind. First is that in order to induce a full-scale participation from its overseas nationals, the government has to invest a significant amount of money to facilitate electoral processes from outside its national borders. For instance, the government and its corresponding offices, agencies, or posts would have to ensure that the Filipinos migrant workers would have to sacrifice less of their time and resources in order to participate in the electoral processes of the country. For instance, more voting posts would have to be established and then the government should also provide more incentives to those who are willing to take a day off from work in order to participate in the voting processes. This requires additional financial and manpower resources and since Philippine embassies abroad only have a few employees, ensuring an efficient and effective program to encourage more people to vote would not be an easy task to carry out. Furthermore, considering that a lot of these embassies operate under a limited budget, it would require a lot of bureaucratic and legislative work in order to arrive at certain programs that will promote and encourage participation from OFWs.

Another reason that comes to mind is that there may be certain individuals in governmental posts or interest groups that may be preventing the government from pursuing an all-out policy to support the participation of OFWs in the political processes of the nation. There may be some politicians who are afraid of the capabilities of OFWs as a coherent political force and as such they may be preventing measures in order to fully realize such capabilities. These are all political concerns and strategies at the local and national level which hinders the empowerment of the many OFWs who are residing and working outside of the territorial boundaries of the Philippines. Nevertheless, the government itself may be largely at fault in terms of the not-so satisfying political participation that it gets from its citizens from scattered all over the world. Without a strong political will to carry out the tasks of promoting and encouraging more political participation from OFWs little results are likely to be achieved both in the short and long run.

In this regard, the government is missing on a lot of the political tools that is available at its disposal in order to carry out such strategies. For instance, it does not utilize RA 9189 as a powerful tool of transnational governance mechanism. If the government would be able to capitalize on the inherent nationalist sentiments and connections of the overseas Filipinos to their homeland and combine it an efficient utilization of the RA 9189 as a tool of transnational governance then acceptable political results may follow.

OFWs as Untapped Agents of Political Change

Ultimately, however, the right steer of leadership and a healthy dose of political will may lead to a successful realization of the potential capacity of OFWs as political forces that may be crucial in determining the future course of the political systems in the country. For instance, if OFWs all over the world would be able to participate in the political processes of the country then they could largely influence their families and relatives to do as well back in the Philippines. This may well be the start of the awakening of the middle class in Philippine society which has long been pointed out as the missing link that could eventually lead to the much needed change in the political change in the country. Furthermore, if the political participation of OFWs all over the world can trigger middle class participation back in the Philippines, significant changes could happen not just in the governmental system of the country but in the general context of the society in general as well. Indeed, the full-scale participation of the middle class in Philippine political context is a much anticipated change because this means that those who remain very indifferent to the political processes of the country would have their voices heard and would then eventually lead to radical political changes not just within the territorial boundaries of the country but well without its borders as well.

If the Philippine government and its designated agencies in and out of the country can maximize and fully utilize the implementation of RA 9189, then Filipinos all over the globe could actively participate in the political processes of the country and hence radic


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