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ASEAN market integration seen to exacerbate PH brain drain – ECOP

Manila Bulletin (online), 20 May 2016 - The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community (AEC) is not expected to provide relief to Filipinos seeking jobs overseas, but rather exacerbate the drain of the remaining highly-skilled Filipino professionals in the country, the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) said.

Donald Dee, acting president of the ECOP, stressed that the ASEAN’s Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) on Skills Mobility covering eight services will only exacerbate the drain of Filipino professionals, technicians and other skilled labor to the more developed nations in need of their services.

These MRAs are engineering services, nursing, architectural, framework for surveying qualifications, medical practitioners, dental practitioners, accounting services, and tourism professionals.

To date, Dee said, some 1,252 engineers are recorded within the ASEAN Chartered Professional Engineers Register, together with 284 architects on the ASEAN Architect Register.

“It is evident from these mutual regional arrangements on skills mobility that ASEAN integration does not open a gateway for the free flow of the Philippine workforce to the other nations. But there will be an inflow of workers from the other nations,” Dee said.

Dee explained that the overall structure of ASEAN economies has changed since the adoption of the AEC Blueprint in 2007 with the growing importance of the services sector. The share of the services sector in the economy steadily increased to reach 50 percent in 2014 while both the industry and the agriculture sector’s share declined and stood at 38 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

Thus, the services sector now accounts for the largest share of the region’s economy and equally is the biggest recipient of FDI inflows. Services market integration is currently pursued under the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS).

Regional competitiveness and productivity in services market integration are further boosted by skills mobility which is sought to be achieved through MRAs of select sectors. The MRAs are suppose to facilitate the free flow of skilled labor in ASEAN while taking into account relevant domestic regulations and market demand conditions.

But the services sectors covered by the MRAs are also the weakest links in the country’s job market.

Aside from the eight enumerated skills, Filipinos seeking work in the rest of the ASEAN must first be recruited for job openings needed by a particular ASEAN country and subject as usual to the issuance of a working permit or visa.

Dee cited official figures which showed that as of 2014, there were a little over 200,000 OFWS deployed to the eight ASEAN countries with Singapore accepting the highest number at 140,205, mostly domestic helpers.

“ASEAN integration would hardly change these numbers, give or take a few thousands of the eight categories of professional and technical OWFS recruited pursuant to the Mutual Regional Arrangement on skills mobility,” he said.

“The ASEAN integration would hardly provide an employment relief to the teeming millions of unemployed and underemployed Filipinos,” Dee said.

The AEC Blueprint is built on four interrelated and mutually-reinforcing pillars: The single market and Production Base; the competitive economic region; equitable economic Development; and ASEAN’s Integration into the global economy.

As such, the region is expected to attract more foreign direct investments into the region, but Dee stressed that the ability of each member country to attract FDIs would depend on each country’s economic and political state.

ECOP said the Philippines is likely to once again miss the boat because of its poor infrastructure.

“The single biggest disadvantage of the Philippines versus its ASEAN-5 counterparts is its poor state of public infrastructure,” Dee said.

Compared to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam – there’s no sense comparing the Philippines with Singapore – the Philippines has the second worst overall infrastructure, Dee said.

In terms of port infrastructure and air transport infrastructure, he said,  the Philippines has the worst public infrastructure. This is tragic since the country is archipelagic, with more than 7,200 islands, making efficient and reliable sea travel extremely necessary.

Costly and unreliable power supply is a major constraint to the development of manufacturing and tourism sectors. But energy capacities can’t be built overnight.

In the past, the Philippines’ record in attracting FDIs had been dismal. Among the ASEAN-5 peers, it has received the least FDIs.

With its poor infrastructure, the Philippines has yet to really move up higher in the global competitiveness index.


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