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The Middle East @ Work

Filipino worker longs for Dubai

Scott Tong Mar 11, 2008
The Middle East @ Work

Filipino worker longs for Dubai

Scott Tong Mar 11, 2008


KAI RYSSDAL: The fact is that for every Indian or Pakistani who decides to leave Dubai, for every Bangladeshi who figures, as Stephen said, that their opportunities will be better at home, there are dozens or hundreds of others who will gladly replace them here. Marketplace’s Scott Tong met one of them in Manila.

SCOTT TONG: Step inside Jose Garcia’s house and you hear this:


Many locals say that’s the sign of a true Filipino: chuckle on the outside, even if you’re desperate inside. 43 year-old Garcia chats up his wife and two kids and then shuffles across the room, alone. He’s worried.

Jose Garcia: I want money to support my family. Only support my family.

Garcia is a carpenter, like his father. He can only find temp jobs in Manila, so he’s underemployed, along with 20 percent of the country’s 90 million people. So next month Garcia plans to leave for Dubai, to help build a shopping mall, and double his monthly salary.

Jose Garcia: My salary here not enough because one month almost $200. So abroad, two times, double.

That $400 a month plus free room and board in Dubai. He plans to send half of it home, so his daughter Jana can start college. She’s been waiting.

Jose Garcia’s daughter: Two years. Or almost three years, because I graduated in high school in 2005.

This will be her dad’s second tour of the Middle East. He moved to Saudi Arabia when she was five, and came back to see her turn 13.

Garcia’s overseas wages bought everything in this modest concrete house: the tv, the couch, the house itself.


Even his son Mark’s basketball. He’s tearing around with some 20 cousins.

And that’s part of the problem in the Philippines: too many people chasing not enough jobs. So every year, the country exports one million workers. Economist Ernesto Pernia of the University of the Philippines says remittances prop up the nation’s economy. But at huge cost.

Ernesto Pernia: The country cannot continue to educate its citizens, and then just supply them to overseas market. They are also needed here.

The thing is, there just aren’t enough domestic jobs to keep them. If Filippinos are being pushed overseas, countries like Dubai are pulling them. At this Manila job fair, mechanical engineer Roy Montalbo considers it his choice destination.

Roy Montalbo: If I want to go Middle East, only Dubai, UAE united Arab Emirates place only. Other than that, no.

Dubai’s image is good jobs, lax immigration laws, and a good lifestyle. Unlike say Saudi Arabia, Filipinos can attend mass in Dubai, and drink booze.

Victor Fernandez: There are even prostitutes.

That’s overseas recruiter Victor Fernandez.

Fernandez: Of course it is not allowed. But they just become callous to it. And it seems like Los Angeles.

MOVIE: Raffy here. Babe! How’s my baby doing?

There’s even a trendy Filipino film about the experience. Naturally it’s called Dubai. But the movie also highlights the risk of broken relationships for couples who spend years apart.

Recruiter Fernandez says there are other dangers, like human trafficking and withheld wages. But he says Filipinos tend ignore them.

Fernandez: There are a lot of Filipinos still working in Iraq. And they will say “this will not happen to me.” But when you try to ask them why don’t you go leave, because there is now danger there? They will say “do you have a job for me in Manila? Because if not, I would rather take my risks here.”

Carpenter Jose Garcia plans to take his chances, too and leave his neighborhood once again.

Garcia: Maybe not paid. But I am not afraid, I will try.

The next day, though, he gets a text message from his recruiter. He failed his physical. Jose’s chest x-ray showed inflammation from an old bout with TB.

No Dubai, no college for his kids. His son now wants his Dad to Middle East illegally.

It’s risky. But he thinks it’s the only hope for a decent paycheck.

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