OFWs are harassed — Jessica got jail time — over loans they’re forced to make to get jobs abroad

PCIJ’s investigation underscores the urgency of a comprehensive government solution to address the rampant fleecing by recruitment agencies of Filipinos who are desperate to find overseas jobs amid lack of opportunities in the country.

BY CHERRY SALAZAR / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

(First of two parts)

In 2022, Jessica* tried to apply for a local job and went to a police station to request a clearance certifying she has no criminal record. But she was arrested and thrown in jail right then and there. 

She had no idea she was facing charges over a loan she had taken out over a decade ago, and that a warrant had been issued for her arrest. 

Iyak ako nang iyak. First time kong pumasok sa kulungan (I cried and cried. It was my first time to be jailed),” she told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). She was released after posting bail. 

In 2010, she took out a P80,000 loan from money lender Nittan Capital Finance, Inc. (NCFI), a company referred to her by the recruitment agency when she applied for work as a domestic helper in Hong Kong. She needed the money to pay for the job requirements.  

Hong Kong didn’t work out. She was terminated after 10 days. “Walang explanation (There was no explanation),” she told PCIJ. 

She later found another job in Taiwan and worked there as a domestic helper for two years, which helped her pay off the bulk of her Hong Kong loan. 

Initially, she managed to pay P60,000 or 75 percent of the entire loan before interest. Then, she stopped paying and then totally forgot about it — until that day she was arrested.

Jessica’s story is a cautionary tale for Filipino overseas workers, who are forced into debt even before they leave the country.    

It’s a problem crying for a comprehensive government solution. It demands the attention of the year-old administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., according to migrant workers’ groups, who are banking on his promise to protect migrant workers.

“Workers should not be required to take on debt to secure their job placement, as these fees are the responsibility of the employer, who should cover these costs,” said Migrasia, a Hong Kong-based non-governmental organization which has helped migrant workers file complaints and seek legal recourse against possible exploitation. 

 Forced to issue post-dated checks 

Failure to pay a debt is not a crime. But, like Jessica, one can land in jail for issuing post-dated checks.  

Jessica had a standing arrest warrant for five counts of alleged violation of the Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 (B.P. 22), or the Anti-Bouncing Checks Law. She said she was not aware of the charges and did not receive court summons. The law, enacted in 1979, penalizes a person who issues a check knowing that the bank account has insufficient funds to cover the amount. 

Some workers sign blank checks without reading them, while others are coerced by their recruiters and lenders into doing so, according to migrant workers’ groups. 

Forcing workers to issue post-dated checks for loan payments, “either personally or through a guarantor or accommodation party,” is prohibited under Republic Act 10022, which amended the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act.

But the recruiters and some lenders know the law more than the workers, and have used it to their advantage.  

So when the workers fail to meet monthly payments, they are brought to court for violation of B.P. 22. Even their family members, who are their co-borrowers, are also charged in court.  

“It definitely is a tool that is very intimidating for migrant workers. Would agencies and lenders find some other way to intimidate clients if they couldn’t use B.P. 22? Probably,’’ Migrasia told PCIJ.

“But it’s an effective tool that benefits lenders and agencies, who are well resourced and understand the legal system better than the migrant workers they are intimidating,” it added.

In her case, Jessica said she didn’t know Nittan Capital filed a case against her in court. She missed notices of court hearings and skipped them, leading the court to issue a warrant for her arrest. 

Nittan is a subsidiary of Nittan Capital Holding Company Limited Hong Kong. The Hong Kong-based firm is part of a group operated by Central Tanshi Company Limited, a financing company in Japan.

PCIJ reached out to Nittan Capital, but the money lending company refused to be interviewed. Apart from Jesscia, PCIJ confirmed at least three other OFWs who faced B.P. 22 charges filed by Nittan. 

 Predatory lending and labor abuse 

A comprehensive government solution is needed to address why Filipino overseas workers are forced into debt in the first place. 

A placement fee equivalent to a month’s worth of salary may be charged against an OFW. But in 2006, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) resolved to make an exception for domestic workers “in recognition of the nature of their work and their vulnerability to exploitation and abuses.” 

POEA is a government agency that monitors and regulates overseas employment of Filipinos. It has now been absorbed by the new Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).

There are recruiters, however, that circumvent POEA policy by lumping the placement fee with payments for training center and medical clinics, according to Ellene Sana, executive director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), a Quezon City-based nonprofit promoting the welfare of OFWs and their families.

The acceptable training fee is around P11,000, but many OFWs are being charged between P80,000 and P90,000, she said.

“It’s very common for OFWs to think that training is required because that’s what they’re told in the Philippines. It’s important to know that payment for training is where the majority of debt comes from, so OFWs should know whether it’s actually required in the first place,’’ Migrasia said. 

“For example, if migrant domestic workers are required to take training, their employer or agency is supposed to pay for it, which rarely happens. It’s frustrating that so much of the debt originates from a service that often isn’t required, and is something OFWs aren’t supposed to be paying for,” it added.

Two in five OFWs reported “either feeling that they had no choice at all or were pressured” to use a medical clinic, training center, or lending firm, according to Migrasia data.

“OFWs go abroad wanting the best for their families, and often are willing to do whatever it takes to care for them. The agencies who are supposed to help them take advantage of that, and make them pay,” Migrasia said.

In many cases, the workers are aware of the agency’s illegal requirements, but still go ahead because they believe “there’s no other way for them to migrate,’’ it added.

A 2022 Migrasia study showed that four out of every five surveyed OFWs, or 80.5 percent, went into debt to finance their job placement abroad. 

“Although the recruitment fees or placement fees specifically were banned in 2006, there was really a shift in fees from agencies to other migration intermediaries like training centers. Migrant workers are required by the agencies to go to specific training centers and medical clinics, who charge fees that far exceed what those services should cost, and which are often unnecessary in the first place,” Migrasia said.

“Even though the Philippines government outlawed most recruitment fees many years ago, OFWs are being required to pay to migrate. To finance these illegal fees they are referred to money lenders who grant excessive interest loans. When they are unable to repay these loans, workers and their families face all forms of harassment from both Philippines and Hong Kong money lenders, and collection agencies. In the most egregious cases on the Philippines side, we’ll see migrant workers that are directed by the agency and money lender to a bank, required to open a bank account and sign a number of blank checks, which will be held over their head as a threat — to be cashed with the intention of triggering a B.P. 22 violation — if they’re unable to pay back an installment of their loan.”

The same study stated that a third of them “took on debt that was larger than their annual household income.” 

A substantial part of this debt, it read, went to training and medical examination fees. Training fees contributed to more than half of the debt incurred by OFWs, according to the study.

OFWs surveyed by Migrasia also reported being “required” by recruiters to get services from preferred facilities. Their study found that 44 percent of OFWs reported being mandated to use a specific training center, while 53 percent reported the same for the medical clinic.

The imposition of “a compulsory and exclusive arrangement” requiring OFWs to avail of a loan, undergo health examinations, and join training is prohibited under the POEA rules.  

Even so, the prevailing overseas employment system traps OFWs in debt before they even depart for their work abroad.  

 Drowning in debt 

Jessica was released from jail after her husband posted P12,500 bail, an amount that her family borrowed and that exceeded her gross monthly income. 

She’s now forced to make monthly payments or risk future jail time. 

Her case is pending in court. For the arraignment in May, Jessica had to travel more than 22 hours by sea from Leyte, a province about 1,000 kilometers south of the Philippine capital. She had to borrow money for her fare. 

Lugging one suitcase, one duffel bag, and a backpack, Jessica was in tears as she walked along the hallways of the court in Pasig City. The rain did not let up that afternoon, as if to sympathize with the 41-year-old mother of five. 

She knew no one in the city. She came without any means of going back home.

This has been a familiar scene in courts.  END

*Not her real name

= = = = =

This story was produced as part of the Trafficking Inc. investigation by journalists from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Washington Post, NBC, WGBH Boston, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley.

This new PCIJ series follows a two-part report on the fight of Filipino migrant workers for equal pay abroad. 

Filipino groups in US hold People’s SONA protest

By Nuel M. Bacarra

Filipino workers, students, community members and solidarity partners in the Washington DC-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) region in the United States of America (USA) held a protest action last Sunday, July 23, in front of the Philippine Embassy ahead of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Manila.

Calling for wage increases and decreases in the prices of commodities in their home country, the protesters criticized deplorable economic condition of Filipinos both in the US and the Philippines.

Migrante USA and BAYAN USA assailed the signing of the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) Law that established a corporation where the board members are all Marcos Jr.’ appointees.

“[The MIF is] a sovereign wealth fund that is supposed to come from the surplus of the government, but which will actual dip into the national coffers, the people’s money, our families’ pensions and will only be used for more patronage politics and shady corrupt deals,” BAYAN DMV said.

The organizations debunked government claims that MIF will stimulate economic growth and create jobs for people in the Philippines.

They said says it will further bury the country in deeper debt that will force many Filipinos to seek for better jobs abroad.

Protest action at the Philippine Consulate in Washington DC, USA. (BAYAN USA photo)

Plight of migrant workers in the US

Lily Guzman, worker-leader of PAWIS (Pilipino Association of Workers and Immigrants of South Bay), said migrant workers experience low wages and overwork because of continuing labor export programs under the Marcos Jr. government.

“When I was a live-in caregiver, I was working for 24 hours a day with a wage of only $1,200 per month,” Guzman said.

Undocumented workers are also often replaced by employers at a whim or, worst, reported to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for deportation, Guzman added.

Philippine consulates  do not offer protection to Filipinos in the USA, the groups complained.

Nerissa Roque, a victim of an Asian hate crime in the USA, related: “When we visited the Philippine consulate in Los Angeles to ask for assistance, we were told the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) had a budget of 1 billion pesos for all overseas Filipinos, and that it was not readily accessible at that time,” she said.

Roque also said they were subjected to surveillance and their meeting at the consulate was in the presence of a Philippine National Police attaché.

Increased labor export

These complaints are different from Marcos Jr.’s rosy reports on the state of migrant workers in his SONA, however.

“We are engaging with our partners in the international community to ensure a safe working environment for our countrymen. As we do so, we are also putting in place responsive mechanisms for the social welfare, repatriation, and reintegration of our returning OFWs into the Philippine economy,” Marcos Jr. said Monday.

In his second address before Congress, Marcos Jr. praised the policy that first became a government program under his late father’s government.

“With the reopening of global economies post pandemic, the country has recorded an increase of migrant workers deployed abroad in 2022. They have contributed 32.5 billion dollars, or roughly 1.8 trillion pesos, to the Philippine economy,” he said.

Bayan USA however pointed out that things are not as well as as Marcos Jr.’s SONA makes it appear, citing a campaign launched by terminated workers of Jollibee in Journal Square, New Jersey who complain of “unfair and illegal labor practices the Philippine-based corporation practices abroad, including wage theft, chronic understaffing, and mistreatment of workers.”

“[W]e must also put pressure on the multinational corporations like Jollibee that continue to exploit the people. Both of them (Jollibee and Marcos) go hand-in-hand in furthering the suffering of the Filipino people,” Anakbayan Montgomery County (Maryland) said. #

Migrante International to gov’t: Help OFWs sent home by Kuwait

Migrante International (MI) called on the Philippine government to provide immediate assistance to overseas workers sent back by Kuwait resulting from the ongoing dispute between the two governments.

MI reported that many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been offloaded from their flights while others have been repatriated since the emirate halted the issuance of entry and labor visas to Filipinos effective May 10.

Since May 12, 78 OFWs have been repatriated and a reported 130 OFWs are stranded daily, MI said.

“Not allowed to enter Kuwait, they will not earn the salary that they would have sent to their families or used to start paying their debts,” MI said in a statement.

“We condemn the Kuwait government for sending back OFWs because it sees the Philippine government as abetting violations of labor agreements by providing shelters to distressed OFWs,” it added.

Kuwait’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Talaal Al Khalid issued a circular May 10 announcing the ban and accusing the Philippines of failing to comply with a labor agreement between the two countries.

The 2020 agreement was signed after an OFW deployment ban to Kuwait was issued by the Philippine government after the deaths of domestic workers Joanna Demafelis and Jeanelyn Villaverde in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

The agreement commits both governments to ensuring the protection and welfare of Filipino workers.

According to media reports, Kuwait specifically complains of the existence of Philippine government-maintained shelters for “runaway OFWs.”

Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Eduardo de Vega told reporters that if the shelters are the issue, “…[T]hen it would be non-negotiable for the Philippines because we will not close down our shelters there since it is required under our law.”

MI said it agrees with the Philippine government in maintaining the shelters and should in fact expand the program.

“Domestic workers, who comprise a big chunk of OFWs in Kuwait, are most vulnerable to labor exploitation and sexual abuse and violence, especially in foreign lands,” MI said.

The group added that the Philippine government must also oppose the emirate’s kafala system that makes employers’ control over OFWs nearly absolute in order to uphold workers’ and migrants’ rights. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups protest in US and HK on Women’s Day

Women’s organizations held a protest march against “imperialism, militarism and exploitation” at the World Bank and the White House in Washington DC days before International Women’s Day last Saturday, March 4.

Led by the International Women’s Alliance (IWA) and grassroots Filipino group Gabriela-USA, hundreds of protesters called to place “women over profit” and to expose the “continuing impact of US imperialism on the Filipino people.”

The protesters began their rally before the World Bank, accusing the international organization of aiding “global suppression through foreign aid that perpetuates national debts.”

Before the White House, the protesters demanded the end of US intervention in countries abroad such as the Philippines, accusing its government of funding militarism abroad instead of social services such as education.

“This country claims to be a beacon of freedom and democracy, while locking children in cages and forcing families to be separated!” Gabriela-USA said.

IWA’s Katie Comfort said the situation of women throughout the world calls for their unity of women, urging their ranks to organize further.

“Women are uniting around the world against US imperialism and [women in the] the US [have] to be a part of that movement,” Comfort said.  

Also on Saturday, IWA launched its campaign “Meet Women’s Needs; Stop Corporate Greed” in a conference that seeks to address the failings of the US government to meet the needs of women and their families. 

The march was also participated in by Terrapin Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (TerpCHRP) Palestinian Youth Movement, Katarungan DC, CODEPINK, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), Committee in Solidarity of the People of El Salvador (CISPES), Anti-Imperialist Action at University of Maryland Baltimore County, International League of Peoples Struggles (ILPS), African National Women’s Organization, and Resist U.S. Led War.

Gabriela-HK calls for protection of OFWs

In Hong Kong, Gabriela’s chapter in the Chinese territory protested against the Philippine government’s continuing labor export program on International Women’s Day 2023.

“Instead of creating decent jobs with living wages in the Philippines as a solution to the worsening poverty we experience, the Marcos Jr-Duterte administration only intensifies the peddling of our Filipino women and men as cheap labor commodities overseas,” Gabriela Hong Kong chairperson Shiela Tebia-Bonifacio said in a statement.

Bonifacio said the Philippine government refuses to learn from a growing number of violations committed against the rights, dignity and lives of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) despite incidents such as the gruesome death of Jullebee Ranaro in Kuwait earlier this year.

“While it was forced to respond to the demands for justice for Ranaro’s death, the Philippine government remains lacking when it comes to championing OFW rights, welfare and dignity,” Bonifacio said.

Bonifacio also cited the non-response of the Philippine government and even the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong over the racist comment of Hong Kong legislator Elizabeth Quat describing women migrant domestic workers as a mere “product”.

Gabriela Hong Kong also condemned the government for attacking and labelling as terrorists the many migrant organizations and leaders critical of the government’s programs.
“Clearly, the current regime of President Marcos only aims to continue the legacy left by his father, the ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos – ensuring the suffering of the Filipino women and men through its exploitative and oppressive policies,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Coronavirus effect: Hundreds of Filipinos in the UAE want to go back home

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai: A few hundred Filipino expats are seeking to be repatriated soon, a source within the Filipino diplomatic community said Saturday, March 11.

Flights to Manila from this city, however, are still suspended, following the Philippine government’s directive on extending the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) and budget airline, Cebu Pacific – have also extended the suspension of all flight operations between Dubai and Manila until April 30.

Moreover, the decision to suspend passenger and transit flights to and from the UAE – as a preventive measure to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) – is still in effect.

Meanwhile, around 200 seafarers have been repatriated to the Philippines on Saturday.

The repatriation of the stranded Filipino crew members, who are not UAE residents, was coordinated with UAE authorities who allowed them to disembark and take a chartered flight arranged by their employers through local manning agencies.

In an earlier Gulf News report, Marford Angeles, Consul-General and Deputy Head of Mission at the Philippine Embassy, said they have been working on the repatriation of Filipino crew members stranded in various ports in the UAE.

The Filipino diplomat also clarified, as per POLO-OWWA (Philippine Overseas Labor Office – Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), “employers are responsible for their employees’ repatriation, based on their contract.”

Angeles added the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi has been closely coordinating with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs on cases of stranded Filipino nationals. “These cases are subject to compliance with both Philippine and UAE laws and regulations, including a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival in the Philippines being coordinated with the Philippine Department of Health and OWWA,” he earlier told Gulf News.

Angeles also clarified the Embassy’s programme of repatriating those with visa problems and immigration offences and victims illegal recruitment is still on hold due to the suspension of exit pass processing and suspension of UAE flights.

“This programme is also subject to availability of funds. Those who need help with their exit pass processing may call +971508584968 or +971508963089, or email [email protected] for proper advice,” he added. #

(This article originally appeared on Gulf News.)

152 OFWs get Dubai exit pass; 88 home by August 15

By Angel Tesorero in Dubai / Raymund B. Villanueva in Manila

Dubai, UAE – A total of 152 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were given an exit pass in the first three working days (August 1, 2 and 5) of the 90-day immigration amnesty program, Philippine consul-general to Dubai Paul Raymund Cortes said Tuesday.

An estimated hundreds of thousand dirhams of overstaying fines were waived by the UAE government while the Philippine Consulate paid for the exit permits, including the Dh221 for an outpass and Dh521 fee for lifting of the absconding case to clear the name of the overstaying expat from the immigration list and letting the person return to the UAE without travel ban.

The Philippine Consulate also booked one-way tickets (DXB-MNL) for the returning Filipinos.

“Out of the 152 amnesty-seekers, 93 were given free tickets; the rest were not aware that we are providing them with free tickets. Some of them have both tickets a month before. Unfortunately, we cannot refund the fare due to restrictions in the Philippine government auditing rules,” Cortes said.

He explained that booking should be done by the Philippine Consulate.

OFW Fernando Pacheho holding his UAE exit pass. (Photo by Angel L. Tesorero)

Cortes added that out of the 93 who were given free tickets, five are minors who will travel with their respective guardians and the travel expenses of the guardians will also be shouldered by the Philippine government.

The first batch of 88 returning Filipinos will fly out of Dubai on August 15 via Philippine Airlines flight PR 659 which will take off from DXB Terminal 1 at 7:35pm and arrive 8.15am the following day (Manila time) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2, where they will be met by officials from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Cortes pegged the cost of sending home an overstaying Filipino at Dh2,200 each, including the cost of air fare and exit permits.

Dubai newspaper Khaleej Times earlier reported that, according to a source at the Philippine Consulate, around 5,000 overstaying Filipinos are expected to avail of the amnesty program and would probably go back home.

At a cost of Dh2,200 (fees and plane ticket) per person, the Philippine government is set to shell out at least Dh11m, which will be taken from the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) funds.

Cortes added that an undisclosed amount of welfare assistance will be provided to the returning Filipinos while the DFA officials in Manila will assist them in their travel from the airport to their respective hometowns or provinces.

“We are glad that the first of batch of Filipinos are finally going home and will be reunited with their loved ones and respective families. We are very happy that the UAE government has given them a chance to return to the Philippines through the amnesty program by waiving the overstaying fees. We at the Philippine Consulate are also happy to be part of bringing our kababayans (compatriots) back home through the DFA funding,” Cortes said.

He added: “We want to assure our kababayans that all assistance will be given to them to the fullest extent. And for those who will prefer to stay in the country and rectify their residency status, we will also provide them with utmost assistance in the documentation of their papers. But we would like to remind them to fulfill the necessary documents such as birth certificate to get a passport.”

PH government welcomes amnesty

In Manila, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) claimed 100,000 overseas Filipino workers would benefit from UAE’s amnesty declaration for overstaying foreign workers.

An expected 87,706 undocumented and overstaying Filipino workers are expected to apply for amnesty in Abu Dhabi and around 14,400 in Dubai, DOLE reported.

The amnesty program is effective from August to the end of October.

Those who wish to rectify their illegal status may be given assistance at the Philippine Embassy in the UAE as well as at Philippine Overseas Labor Offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, DOLE said.

DOLE said there are 646,258 documented OFWs in UAE, 224,572 of whom are in Abu Dhabi while 421,686 are in Dubai.

In light with this, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III called on overstaying as well as beleaguered OFWs to rectify their status in the Emirates or seek voluntary repatriation back to the Philippines.

“Our government is ready to help them if they wish to go back home,” Bello said.

OFWs who will seek voluntary repatriation will receive assistance from Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), including airport at cash assistance as well as overseas or local employment referral, livelihood assistance, legal at conciliation service, competency assessment at training assistance under DOLE’s Assist WELL (Welfare, Employment, Legal and Livelihood) Program. # (Photo by AL Tesorero)

Changing face, fortunes of Filipinos in the UAE

By Angel L. Tesorero of Khaleej Times for Kodao Productions

DUBAI, UAE—Filipinos have helped shape the UAE for years now. A vital force in nation-building, their presence can be found across almost all industries – from the service sector to construction, health, education, media, entertainment, and so on.

As of last year, around 620,000 Filipinos were living and working in the UAE, up from 525,000 at the end of 2013. According to official figures provided by the Philippines Consulate in Dubai, around 12 to 15 per cent of Filipinos in Dubai and the northern emirates belong to the professional sectors. These include doctors, nurses, architects, engineers, accountants, and others.

Some 45 to 50 per cent are semi-skilled, working as office and administrative assistants, sales and retail personnel, hotel staff and in other related industries. The rest of the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) in the UAE belong to the low-skilled category, such as household service workers, nannies, and cleaning personnel.

But the image of a migrant Filipino is constantly changing – from doing household chores to making their marks as competent professionals. Moreover, an increasing number of Filipinos are now running their own businesses. “A growing number of Filipinos are into the creative industries business. These include fashion designers, artists, musicians, web designers, animators, and the like,” Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes said.

“The growing number of Filipino professionals in the UAE is definitely a reflection of the trust and confidence of the UAE business community in their skills and expertise. Construction companies, trading offices, financial operations, and many other Dubai-based companies increasingly rely on the expertise and work ethic of the Filipino,” he adds.

Another growing segment is human resources professionals. The Filipino talent and skill in managing human resources is legendary, Cortes notes.

However, despite their large numbers here and their famous hardworking image, big establishments owned by Filipinos are a rarity in the UAE.

Filipino education consultant Dr Rex Bacarra says: “It is unfortunate that despite our talents and potential, we (Filipinos) are mostly related to and known for only the hospitality/service sectors. We are capable of becoming captains of the industry.”

One Filipino tech entrepreneur has shown that Filipinos are not only labour exporters. Mannix Pabalan, CEO of Hashtag Digital FZ LLC is a pioneer in digital commerce, one of fastest rising industries in the world, particularly in the Middle East.

He says: “There is an unprecedented growth of digital marketing in the region, but there are only a few professionals who can claim expertise in the wide spectrum of digital commerce, so we decided to penetrate the GCC market in 2014 and put up our digital marketing firm.”

Another burgeoning industry that Filipinos are making their mark in is education, according to Bacarra. “The Filipino diaspora make up a sizeable number of teachers and professors in the UAE,” he says.

“I can think of three reasons why Filipino educators are – or strive to be – excellent. Firstly, there is the drive to succeed. An innate desire to prove that being away from our own country means avoiding failure at all costs. As professors, we look at the classroom as the core and an extension of this desire to succeed, so we innovate in our teaching styles and find ways to connect with students.

“Secondly, we have very good foundations in the Philippines. We were taught that teaching is not just a profession, but a vocation. As educators, we went through rigorous trainings on the philosophy and principles of genuine education. We were taught that we are forming the young and we need heart to understand the full extent of that responsibility. Money is secondary; the genuine love for the future of the young generation is a priority.

“Thirdly, we are Filipinos, and we proudly wear that badge which we swore to uphold. We have values that we impart. In the Philippines, we consider students as our own children, and we impart to them the same values we give our own kids.”

Filipinos also love food. In fact, they have helped changed the gustatory landscape in Dubai, where we see many Filipino restaurants sprouting left and right.

One ‘hot’ Filipino restaurant right now is Hot Palayok in Karama, an area once dominated by Indian and Pakistani restaurants. It’s just one of the many Filipino restaurants in the area that are doing well.

“I think it’s not just for tastes of home or nostalgia that people come here, because we have customers from other nationalities as well,” says Hot Palayok chef de cuisine Michael delos Santos. “In fact, we have customers coming in from all over the UAE – from Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Al Ain.

“Other nationalities are also now being introduced to Filipino cuisine and this is a big market,” he adds. # (Originally published in The Khaleej Times)