Not in Honky-Tonk Type Places

There’s a decent-ish article in the NY Times this week on Filipino musicians working abroad.

In 2002 alone, more than 40,000 entertainers left the Philippines to work overseas, primarily in Japan. After allegations of prostitution among some entertainers, however, the Japanese government found that many of the female musicians could not actually play a musical instrument, and that many of the vocalists did not have much of a voice.

After the crackdown, the number of performers who left the Philippines to work overseas dropped to 4,050 in 2006, from 43,818 in 2004. The figure now hovers around 1,500 to 2,000 a year, government statistics show, with Japan remaining the top destination, followed by Malaysia, South Korea and China.

“We only allow musicians and entertainers to work in legitimate establishments such as cruise ships and major hotels,” said Yolanda E. Paragua, a senior official with thePhilippine Overseas Employment Administration. “Not in honky-tonk type places.”

In the past, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration held auditions to verify the legitimacy of musicians seeking to work overseas, said Celso J. Hernandez, the head of the agency’s operations and surveillance division.

After the Japanese crackdown, however, the Philippine government discontinued the practice. These days, the government relies on vetting by licensed recruitment agencies, although it still examines the musicians’ paperwork.

I would have thought that Hong Kong would figure prominently in the article given the number of Filipino musicians and bands appearing nightly here in hotels and bars (and, um, honky-tonks). But it would seem that in terms of the numbers, other countries import more than HK does.

The article does get into the whole thing about Filipinos working abroad and how it has become a necessary component of their economy.  There are no statistics about the total number of people living abroad (and supporting the economy by sending chunks of their income home to families) but there are some recent numbers.

According to the employment agency, about 1.6 million people left the Philippines in 2011 to work overseas. About 369,000 of them went to work on ships, with the remainder employed in a range of fields, including as nurses, waiters, welders, plumbers and caregivers.

But the sector that draws the most people from the Philippines overseas is, by far, household services. In 2011, 142,486 people left the country to work as domestic helpers. Nurses made up the second-largest group, at 17,198.

The Philippine government began helping workers go abroad as a stopgap measure to address high unemployment in the 1970s. Today, it continues to say that the phenomenon is a temporary one. “We are not promoting overseas employment. We are managing it,” Mrs. Paragua said. “It would be best if workers could just stay here and earn a good salary.”

As with most so-called “stopgap measures,” once started it’s hard to stop.  And while the Philippines’ economy has been on the upswing in the past few years, it still has a long way to go before humans stop becoming one of their biggest exports.