Manage Remittances Effectively and Avoid Financial Tragedy


Growing up with an OFW father, my life as a kid was comfortable and easy, especially compared to some of my friends. I always had the nicest toys, the latest and trendiest shoes, clothes, and school supplies. I enjoyed a pseudo-celebrity status inside the classroom. With more than enough allowance to go around, I'd often treat my friends to lunch and merienda, but all of these were short lived. After an emotional roller coaster ride involving pre-marital pregnancy, different sets and combinations of nervous break downs, and verbal confrontations, my dad lost his job.

It wasn’t even a year after when we experienced the difficult changes. We no longer could afford the lifestyle we were used to, but what’s worse is that we continued on living that life. It didn’t take long for us to go under and into debt. We never invested in anything, no property, no insurance, just a promising educational plan. And even that failed to deliver. If you remember the preneed industry collapse of the last 10 years, the company we got the plan from is one of those that closed down. At the turn of the millennium, our family was bankrupt.

Save Now, Not Later

Each year, thousands of Filipinos travel to the US, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and other parts of the world to work. Some end up staying and building a new life while some of them return to the Philippines after their contracts end. Most of these overseas Filipino workers send money back to their families via remittances or bank transfers, and some even send money online.

But did you know that not a lot of these OFWs are able to save money? Despite sending back up to 25 billion USD in remittances, these OFWs, and consequently their families, fail to save or invest as much as we’d think. The Philippine Statistics Authority reports that only two in five overseas Filipino workers are able to save money. So what exactly is going on?

When an OFW sends money back to their family, most of the time, it’s treated as a "monthly allowance" or a means to spend on luxury. Instead of being used to invest, in many families, the money is lavished on goods and services. It’s also a common case for OFWs to be supporting relatives that aren’t necessarily immediate family. Filipinos have the notion that when someone works abroad, he or she is earning dollars and has a lot to share.

There's also the prevailing "mamaya na" attitude where Filipinos put off almost everything for later. This attitude becomes a bad habit that's hard to break, especially if the person or people the OFW sends money to has an existing debt. Carelessly spending money without saving for emergencies or setting aside a small amount to pay off debts will lead to a financial tragedy that can easily be avoided.

As the saying goes, "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today." This very much applies to saving money: the earlier someone starts saving money, the more money is saved.

Communicate Your Concerns and Be Firm

If you are an OFW sending money over to the Philippines, have a hearty discussion with your loved ones on what to do and what not to do with the money. Ask them to give proof that they have indeed placed the money in a savings account and if they fail to do so for one reason or another, it might be time that you start a savings account on your own. This will enforce a little discipline when it comes to saving.

Work with your family on budgeting your finances.  Try methods like the 50/20/30 saving formula whereas, 50% of what you send via remittances should be spent on basic necessities (rent, groceries, education), 20% should go into savings or paying off existing debts, and the remaining 30% is the allowable expenditure for "lifestyle," or spending for luxury goods like gadgets, beach vacations, and the occasional lechon for a celebration or party.

The good thing about this method is that it’s flexible and you can increase your savings or cut back on your lifestyle expenses, depending on your financial goals.

Support Each Other and Work Together

Help your family back in the Philippines manage their remittances. Your family must understand that you’re working in a different country for their sake, so they should not be wasting money. In problematic cases such as relatives feeling resentful if you refuse to let them borrow money, you must know how to set limits or say no if you have to.

Most of those who are OFWs live with the barest necessities because they send most of what they earn back to the Philippines. It’s a huge sacrifice and you need all the support you can get from your family.

Encourage your family to do research in investment options and details or seek a money expert’s advice. Financial literacy advocacy has been gaining grounds in the Philippines. With the wider availability of resources online, people are starting to be more informed and involved in this. Of course, taking part of such activities comes with risk. Study the factors that you need to consider before investing your money. Weigh in the benefits with risk and make educated decisions.

The one working abroad shouldn't be the sole shining beacon of light for the whole family. Every member should pitch in. We treated our dad more as a financer than a member of the family, and that was our mistake. Don’t let your family make the same mistakes that most do. Who knows? With everyone working together and with sound investment plans, you might be on your way to an early and prosperous retirement.

Jeff Lizardo is an entrepreneur and a marketing associate for MoneyMax.PH. Together with his friends, he runs a music bar / venue / café that hosts gigs that feature OPM independent musicians and bands. A former Physics teacher relatively new to blogging, his most common literary works consist of lesson plans, grading sheets, and parent-teacher correspondence letters. He also worked on a variety of love letters as a boy. You can follow him @JeffersonLizard.

Discovering My Story in 'The Journey of a Brown Girl'


I made my way up several flights of stairs, where I was greeted and asked to choose a small stone from a bowl before entering the performance space. Each audience member did the same, and wrote a word or their name on their stones - I elected to scribble down the word “love” in Arabic. We placed them on the altar, located on stage right, and took our seats.

Jana Lynne “JL” Umipig, the director, creator and producer of The Journey of a Brown Girl, explained to the audience that the stones were meant to absorb the positive energy from the show, and that we were free to retrieve our stones at the conclusion of the night’s event.

The energy that flowed through WOW Café Theater that evening was beyond positive. It was also a mix of wonder, anger and passion; wonder – for many of the issues that the piece as a whole raised, all of which sparked curiosity and reflection among the audience; anger – for the many misfortunes and atrocities that fellow Pilipina women have had to endure throughout the course of history; and passion – for the intense level of emotion that each the five characters evoked during the performance.

The Journey of a Brown Girl did not follow a particular storyline. Instead, it was a collective; it was an exploration of Pilipina issues and experiences through varying lenses. Following the opening ritual, the five women gathered for “Ina sa Anak na Babae (Mother to Daughters).” Light, played by Precious Sipin, was the mother figure of the four other elements. Her four daughters were Wind (Renee Rises), Water (Leslie Hubilla), Fire (Vanessa Ramalho) and Earth (Karen Pangantihon). Each of the women in the show used a malong throughout the performance. The malong is defined by Umipig as “a life cloth.” Umipig describes the malongs as garments that:

“… become an extension of the spirits of the wom*n and are used throughout to help them transform into characters and to give to the stories of all the sisters, mothers, wom*n, and girls whose voices fill the piece… From cradle to grave, this is how the malong serves the Maranao. The malong is a tube-like, unisex garment that also symbolizes the Maranao’s artform and culture.”

In a commentary on the Catholic Church, poignantly referred to as “Sit, Stand, Kneel,” Light knelt on stage right, deep in prayer. As they sat, stood, and knelt non-stop, the four daughters began to itch with frustration. They recognized that they had been conditioned to abide by the expectations of the church, regardless of their understanding of faith and spirituality.

“I know Him, but I know the hymn by heart,” one of the daughters stated with discontent.


The wide disconnect between the church and women’s issues as a whole is still evident today. Change, though slow, requires arduous effort. Just this past week in the Philippines, the Supreme Court passed the RH bill, which previously faced much opposition by the Roman Catholic Church.

“The Reproductive Health Law is a historic step forward for all women in the Philippines, empowering them to make their own decisions about their health and families and participate more fully and equally in their society,” states Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Still the church continues to clash with women’s rights, especially in the Philippines and among Catholic women of the Pilipino diaspora.

The performance also presented the modern Pilipina woman as an individual that is often overlooked in society. The performers took turns telling the accounts of OFWs who have become domestic workers after leaving the PI. These portraits explained the trials that domestic workers are subjected to, including receiving little or no pay, enduring physical and sexual abuse, and experiencing the inability to break contract and leave their employer. The piece went on to portray trafficked Pilipinas who have been deceived by recruitment agencies or individuals and forced into sex slavery abroad. The performers took on a different persona, reflective of the women whose stories they were telling. They took turns recounting several interviews and recollections over candlelight. Hearing these chilling tales brought tears to many in the audience, myself included.

The latter half of the piece explored the perception of beauty among Pilipina women. Light encouraged her four daughters to make their skin white by smearing thick layers of lightening cream upon their faces. Watching the women cover up their brown skin was comical at first; they appeared to buy into the acceptable perceptions of beauty (according to their mother and society). Eventually, each of the daughters realized that they were hiding their true selves, and began to wash away their masks.



All I could think of during the performance was how much I understood each of the daughters - and even the mother. The performers portrayed Pilipina women as victims of circumstance. Those circumstances ranged from religious faith and spirituality to colonialism and globalization. However, each of the women also portrayed strength, perseverance and resilience.

After the show, I approached Umipig, and thanked her for such a moving experience.

“It was like you were telling my story,” I admitted to Umipig.

“That’s because it is your story,” she assured me.


Photo credits: Chauncey Velasco

Little Manila, Taipei, Taiwan


I was on the MRT in Taipei on my way to a rock concert when I overheard a few words in Tagalog. Since I’ve arrived in Taiwan, I’ve been swathed in Chinese conversation. Being a long way from home, the familiar accents piqued my homesickness. I slowly worked up the courage to approach these three Pilipino women and as soon as I greeted them, the women started beaming. They introduced themselves, and after a bit of small talk, I asked them: “Do you miss the Philippines?” One of the women bit her lip, looked up at the ceiling on the train and murmured a quiet yes before she quickly changed the topic.

“Do you go to church?” she asked me.

Normally, it would seem a bit brash to hear such a question from a stranger, but it was one of the most Pilipino things I had heard in awhile! I nodded vehemently and said that I would try to go to the one in Little Manila. The women smiled and gave me directions. Soon I was at my stop, so I told the women that I’d see them at church as I scurried out of the MRT.

My first excursion to Little Manila was my first time traveling around Taipei alone. Within an hour, I was overwhelmed by the rain; my phone’s GPS was going haywire. As I was just about to give up, I saw a sign that was unmistakably Pilipino, and in that moment, I swear my heart dropped.

Little Manila is true to its name. With four stores and a church scattered on the corner of two streets, Little Manila was under- and overwhelming at the same time. Having been away from anything remotely Pilipino, I was craving some comfort food. I inched into an empty restaurant and spotted an elderly woman pop out from the kitchen at the back of the restaurant. As I ordered tocino and rice, I kept staring at her with teary eyes, wondering if she was real. She noticed my obvious homesickness and smiled. She chatted with me as I ate, and we discussed our respective homes, our families, the Philippines, etc.

As I was leaving, she told me to come back on Sunday.

“I’m now your lola,” she said, and I beamed back at her, trying not to look like an idiot.

Unfortunately, I didn’t end up seeing those Pilipinas from the MRT when I went to church, but I hope to cross paths with them again soon. According to the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, there are over 90,000 Pilipinos working in Taiwan; they are the third largest minority group in Taiwan. Most Pilipinos, like the ones I met on the MRT, work in factories. With so many overseas Pilipino workers in Taiwan, you would think there would be a larger Little Manila. The impression that I received from the neighborhood was that the Pilipino residents were trying to make do with what they had. The women in the MRT and the lola in the restaurant both spoke about the Philippines with great nostalgia, a little sigh of longing in their voice.

Perhaps the women feel the same as me. As tiny as Little Manila was, it’s big enough to fit the small, homesick hole in my heart.

Pilipinos in Persian Limbo: My Experience with the OFWs of Kish Island


Filipinos stranded on Kish Island, waiting to return to the UAE for work. Author's note: this is the  first, of hopefully several, in a series that provides a glimpse of Pilipino communities around the world through my own travel experiences.

One of my most favorite hobbies out there is to collect stamps. I would travel far and cross countries just to receive an exotic one. I would try to hop around a few nations just so I could help bolster my collection further. Admittedly though, the stamps that I collect aren't ones that you paste into envelopes but are ones that you receive in your passports.

Admittedly, the condition of mine is not at it's best and I've had issues on occasion for it's authenticity (last June I had not one, not two, but five Chinese immigration officers in Shenzen inspect it, much to the annoyance of passengers behind me) but it's almost filled up to the point where I can feel worthy enough to request a replacement. Each stamp inside it can easily evoke memories of trips long past, but there is one that I've valued since receiving it five years ago: the stamp that I received upon entry to Kish Island, Iran. And while the original purpose of my trip was to collect that stamp and say that I visited Iran, I ended up running into a group of overseas Pilipinos who live in legal limbo.

I booked my ticket at a travel agency in the relatively old Bur Dubai district of this otherwise dynamic emirate. An agent greeted me with a "Hello, Kuya. How can I help you?" She is one of the many overseas Filipino workers (OFW) that make up the diverse expatriate population of Dubai - expats make up about 90% of the emirate's population. I proceeded to her desk and joined her friend, a fellow OFW, who was hanging out with her during his break. It was on this day that I made my reservations for a flight to Kish and marks how I found out more of the Filipinos who don't reside, don't work, but wait in that island.

Not wanting to be left behind by the explosive growth going on in the Gulf, the Iranian government designated Kish Island as a free trade zone in hopes of catching some foreign investment flowing into the region. One incentive to encourage growth was that, unlike mainland Iran, Kish didn't have a visa entry requirement. This incentive, however, attracted foreign workers of neighboring countries whose visas were close to expiration. Instead of paying an expensive airfare back to their home countries, they would take a short and cheap flight into Kish, take advantage of the visa waiver, and wait it out until their visas are renewed. Some wait for days, some weeks, and some for months. Ate Travel Agent made sure to emphasize that last point for me when she handed me my ticket:

"Remember, while you may be able to visit for just a day, there are hundreds still waiting to come back to Dubai."

The following morning I found myself in Terminal 2 of Dubai International Airport. Unlike the more glamorous parts of the larger Terminal 1 (along with Terminal 3 which opened after I visited), Terminal 2 was a no-frills building for low-cost carriers and smaller regional carriers that serve destinations I'd typically hear in the news. My most favorite memory out of that place was watching a family with little kids that looked dressed for a day in Disneyland board a flight... to Kabul. The gate of my Kish Island flight was filled with the passengers that make up the demographics of Dubai's working class foreign labor: individuals from Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia were seen. I'd hear dialects that I never heard before, which at times was so overwhelming that I saw comfort when I heard a Tagalog speaker floating in the crowd.

The Kish Airlines Fokker 50 has a colorful history.

Now the flight itself was the epitome of unconventional. While our boarding passes gave us a designated seat assignment, it was apparently thrown out once we entered the cabin in a Southwest Airlines-esque free-for-all for onboard seat selection. The Fokker 50 we were on board certainly had a colorful history: overhead signage was in English and Spanish while parts had a smattering German thrown in for diversity, a prime example of Persian resilience despite trade embargoes, which prevent the likes of it's local aviation industry from acquiring spare parts.

I ended up sitting next to a young Pilipina who was about to join the kababayans in limbo at Kish. She hailed from Cagayan; she had left the comforts and familiarity of her home in order to provide for her parents by becoming one of the many OFWs in the region. OFWs there are not strangers to the difficulty of adjusting to the culture shock, the backbreaking hours put in, the rights that they had (or rather didn't have), the crowded conditions of living with six other OFWs in a studio apartment, and more. The list goes on.

As we were chatting and I learned more of my seat mate's history, I remembered the words that Ate Travel Agent gave me the day before and I suddenly broke into tears. The epiphany of how realizing  much I was blessed with as a Fil-Am became more hard-hitting. It made me realize more how much of a bubble I lived in, more so than from my encounters in the Philippines. Yes, I had heard about other overseas Pilipino communities and occasionally bits on their struggles. But to hear it from themselves was nothing short of powerful.

Now arrival and passport control at Kish was an experience in of itself: as long as the lines were, it nonetheless moved and it moved fast, that is, until I came up. Upon seeing my US passport, I was escorted to the side while the officers took care of the remaining passengers. Eventually, I was all by myself in the immigration hall, growing more concerned, and eventually scared, as the minutes passed. What didn't help was that I was sharing the hall with Iranian soldiers who looked like they were enjoying the fear that I was emanating. Eventually, one of them looked directly at me and hand gestured his index finger, moving it across his neck. I began repeating to myself, "I'm gonna die today, aren't I? Am I going to be the next Robert Levinson?!"

In the end, their shenanigans were in jest, and they eventually came up to me to take a gander at my iPod (which was blasting Return to Innocence to calm my nerves, and whose music video inspired me to do a backtrack on my own life at the same moment) and to pick up a few extra English phrases. Disregarding their dark humor, they ended up being friendlier than most CBP officers I usually have to bear with when returning to the US! I was then ushered to a private room where I was given the Iranian equivalent of CBP's secondary screening. Understandably, it seemed suspicious for an American to stay in Kish for just a day and wanted to verify my intentions before sending me off. WikiTravel didn't exist when I visited but it's Kish entry gives a disclaimer that I wish I had received prior to visiting:

Beware: if you are Western, you may be sternly questioned as to the purpose of your visit.

Eventually I managed to join the rest of the expatriates in the town itself. I wandered around the areas where they would spend their days while waiting to return to their intended workplaces. I heard of a story of two Pilipinas who were unable to have their visas renewed, didn't have enough money for a fare to return to the Philippines, and ended up committing suicide. I never did follow up on it for authenticity, but there was one story that I remember earlier this year where another one did unfortunately choose to take her life.

Biding their time at the billiards in the Farabi Hotel.

Before heading back to the airport, I made a tour around the island which can be easily done within just a few hours. As I was inquiring about doing the tour, I noticed a flyer advertising the services in Tagalog, a break from all the Farsi that I was overwhelmed with. The island itself is beautiful, with peaceful beaches, ancient underground aqueducts, and a slower pace for those that want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Middle Eastern economic growth. But ever since this humbling experience, I'm reminded that it is also an island were many overseas workers still wait for their chance to return to job opportunities in order to provide for their families at homes.


And among those are Pilipinos who are thousands of miles away from home. I only managed to catch a quick glimpse of it, and admittedly it's small compared to what Malou Garcia experienced in her week there, Leah Quilongquilong who spent thirty three days, and the thousands of others who continue to wait in that limbo. Even my own half-brother--estranged until a couple years after my visit--had experienced Kish as an OFW (and admittedly quite frequently which unfortunately raised eyebrows with Israeli immigration officials later on as he went through a land border crossing from Jordan!).

A spring in the Underground City.

As I shake my head, having to work with Argentina's expanded reciprocal fee, waiting for another passport extension at the local office, or having to make a couple trips down to the Chinese consulate to process my visa, I try to remind myself that such inconveniences are petty compared what the Pilipino community in Kish goes through, alongside the greater struggles of millions of OFWs experience.

Seeing a familiar language was a sight for sore eyes, especially when I caught this at the hotel's front desk!

Ate Travel Agent's words still echo through my trips, and have helped me appreciate the freedom and ability that I have to travel. I may have been given an extra treatment by Iranian immigration but it pales to what much of the world has to do to get an American visa, and even then entry into the US is not guaranteed, as what was seen with Carina Yonzon Grande who was denied entry in Seattle by CBP after a longhaul flight from Manila and an extensive secondary screening process that made my 30 minute immigration backroom interview made Iranian officers seem like peanuts. (At least the Iranians were polite and courteous, that is with the joke about cutting my head off notwithstanding.) I was able to essentially go in and out of Kish as I pleased whereas many OFWs still hang in that legal limbo, waiting for the day when they can return to their exhausting jobs and providing valuable remittances that make up ten percent of the Philippine GDP.

And this experience is amongst several that I use encourage fellow Americans, Fil-Am and otherwise--to not only express--but also appreciate that same freedom. Hopefully through such appreciation and expression, we can be inspired to help out and become more involved with issues that involve Pilipinos at home, in the Philippines, and in the many communities across the world.

Photo credit (top photo): Gulf News