By The OFW Journalism Consortium Apr 13 2018


ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—Disasters are a great equalizer.

Even families with relatives working overseas and have sent money to loved ones in disaster-stricken areas don’t have the edge compared to fellow survivors, or victims, in a disaster such as the super-typhoon Yolanda.

So says Yvonne Su and Filipino political scientist Ladylyn Mangada said in a recently-published study.

Filipino families with overseas members don’t automatically recover immediately when a natural disaster strikes, Su and Mangada wrote in the January 2018 printed edition of the journal “Critical Asian Studies.”

The authors said the situation depends on migration demographics: the income level of the affected household, access to remittance channels and amounts, and the immigration and work status of the overseas breadwinner or relative.

Su is a student of the University of Guelph in Canada while Mangada is from the University of the Philippines Visayas-Tacloban College. They surveyed some 507 migrant households in three barangays that were washed out by the storm surge (dulok, in Waray) that fateful day, November 8, 2013. The wrath of Yolanda on those three barangays may logically lead to increased remittances from kin abroad afterwards.

“It is dangerous to assume,” the authors contend, “that households (with) access to remittances have a higher capacity to cope with and recover from disasters because this excludes vulnerable households from receiving much-needed assistance.”


One-shot aid

THE study titled “A tide that does not lift all boats: The surge of remittances in post-disaster recovery in Tacloban City, Philippines” surveyed migrant households who are both middle-income (N=106, earning P15,001-P50,000 monthly) and low-income earners (N=401, earning below P15,000 monthly).

Su and Mangada found that “a great many households [surveyed] that report having a relative working or living abroad do not have the ability to mobilize those ties into regular remittances…  [which] is even more important during times of disaster.”

Among middle-income households surveyed with access to remittances, only 74 percent (N=44) of them got financial assistance but only 48 percent (N=46) of low-income households with remittance access got assisted financially by kin abroad right after Yolanda. Those relatives abroad who assisted affected these 90 middle-and-low-income families in Tacloban City only did so once.

They’re “one-shot assistance,” respondents to Su and Mangada said.

And during the recovery period months and years after Yolanda, only ten middle-and-low-income households (five apiece) got financial assistance.

Affected more by the limited assistance are low-income migrant families, many of whom have kin who work in less-skilled occupations abroad like household service or domestic work.

Affected families only had to understand their relatives given the meager incomes they earn overseas. Says one respondent to the study: “Kay it ira suweldo ha abroad gutiay la kay mga domestic helper la hira diri man mga professional. Diri tanan na trabaho ha abroad dako it kita” [The salary they receive is low because they are only domestic helpers, not professionals. Not all who work overseas have high paying salaries].


Four years since supertyphoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda) struck Tacloban City in Leyte province, Leyteños are now
up and about. This includes families with kin working and living abroad. But as a recent study finds, having overseas
relatives and remittances does not mean families left behind can immediately recover such a disaster.
| (photo) Dominic Chavez, World Bank


Structural barriers

GIVEN rural poverty in Leyte, Su and Mangada said there are “structural barriers” to remittances after Yolanda: poverty, social inequalities and class status.

“Lower-class households simply do not have the resources or capacity to send migrants abroad in the same numbers and in the same high-paying professions as those in the middle class and, therefore, lack a migrant network to begin with.”

Reuters reported on Nov. 28, 2013 that remittances can be a safety net for Yolanda-hit families, as the story showed those Leyteños abroad who sent more (being skilled workers) and less (coming from domestic workers).

The 2010 Census of Population and Housing of the Philippine Statistics Authority finds that there are around 2,406 overseas Filipino workers from Tacloban City. Meanwhile, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas registered only 1,194 city residents as emigrants or permanent settlers abroad from the years 2010 to 2015.

Su and Mangada wrote that no matter if the migrant family regularly (i.e. monthly) or irregularly, the situation “does not necessarily translate into the mobilization of cash resource sin the wake of disaster.”

The remittances supposed to hopefully help these migrant households, especially those with low incomes, are not like “the sun that breaks the clouds,” authors contend, given that they have less-paying jobs as domestic workers and construction workers in the Middle East and Asia.

“The already-stretched salaries of migrants often mean they cannot accommodate the extraordinary demands that follow a mega-disaster” like the world’s strongest weather system to make landfall, Su and Mangada wrote.


Cash needs

TACLOBAN City is the capital of the Eastern Visayas region, as the major Philippine banks, money transfer organizations and pawnshops operate in the city. It was said that banks resumed operations 11 days after Yolanda struck (November 19), while smaller banks resumed banking operations months after.

Landbank had to fly in four automated teller machines (two each from Metro Manila and Metro Cebu) via C130 planes to Tacloban City to service households needing cash.

Over-6,000 people were reported to be killed by the typhoon’s wrath in 14 provinces. Yolanda hopped on to several islands beginning from Eastern Samar (particularly the town of Guiuan). Donor aid, including those from numerous Filipino organizations abroad, poured unto typhoon-hit areas like Tacloban City.

The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), since the time of former President Beningo Simeon Aquino III, developed a Yolanda Comprehensive Recovery and Rehabilitation Plan that targeted the provision of 5,855 temporary shelters, 39,978 on-site shelter repairs, and 10,000 new permanent houses in Tacloban City.

The plan said that 34,149 housing units were damaged and estimated total damages were worth P7 billion in Tacloban City.



JEREMAIAH OPINIANO reporting from Adelaide, Australia