The numbers spurt
They now outnumber the 53,000 Eurasians in Singapore and rank as the city's fourth largest foreign group. By Seah Chiang Nee
May 19, 2012

(Synopsis: The chirpy sound of Tagalog echoes round Singapore with the arrival of 180,000 happy-go-lucky Filipinos.)

FILIPINOS are starting to stamp their footprints on Singapore’s fast-changing demography.

Tens of thousands of them – known as among South-East Asia’s most happy-go-lucky people – have flocked here to work, making them the fourth largest migrant nationality.

Although they play second fiddle to Malaysia, China and India in numbers, the Filipinos – totalling 180,000 – are now playing catch-up.

Most came in recent years to work as professionals and domestic maids. This is by no means unique. Singapore is far from being a major recipient.

With 11 million of its people working overseas, the Philippines is the world’s third largest exporter of migrant workers.

Their remittances home are said to amount to 30% of the country’s Gross National Product (GNP).

Foreigners make up 36% of the 5.18 million people here but there is no official breakdown of their nationalities.

It is believed that mainland Chinese – a million strong – and hundreds of thousands of Indians make up the bulk.

(The number of Indian workers doubled in the past two years from 200,000 to 400,000, according to the Indian High Commission. In 2007, some 10,000 professionals came to the island republic.)

Malaysians are generally not classified as foreign workers for historical reasons and many have lived here as permanent residents (PRs) for decades.

A million tourists

In addition, a million Filipino tourists are expected to visit Singapore this year.

Filipino workers are relatively new arrivals here. Professionals soon become PRs and send for their families to live with them here.

Mutual needs have brought together these two contrasting peoples in Singapore.

One is happy-go-lucky (someone said they invented “The Happy Hour”) and the other serious even when planning fun. On weekends, up to a thousand maids hold street parties along Orchard Road.

Yahoo News reporter Faris Mockhtar reported last year: “There’s a new party hotspot at Orchard Road but it’s not a club.”

Before Ion Orchard was built, Filipino maids gathered at this busy junction on Orchard Road and held picnics on the grass patch behind Orchard MRT station, he said.

“Now, the Filipino maids are back with a group bigger and certainly merrier than ever, turning the walkway outside Ion Orchard into a whole new party scene.”

The diaspora has resulted in Tagalog being spoken in more and more parts of the island. Filipino restaurants are sprouting up, some of them owned by the new arrivals.

With 100,000 professionals and executives, many of them tech-savvy, one of the early appearances is several websites, platforms for Filipinos.

If ethnic balance is important, they have another purpose.

Apart from serving as a source of cheap labour for Singapore’s economy, Filipinos also help to dilute the large numbers of mainland Chinese and Indians in Singapore.

They flock to seek employment in hotels, casinos and restaurants sales as well as work as professionals, nurses, computer technicians and seamen.

In addition, about 80,000 work as domestic maids. Their cheerful disposition and sense of humour often stand them in good stead in the hospitality field.

“They make good waiters and hotel staff,” said a human resource manager who planned to recruit a few of them.

Other people who have worked with them say they have another advantage: Filipinos have a culture of working abroad, generally treating overseas work as a career.

The vast majority does not create trouble for the hosts.

For Singaporean employers, however, the biggest advantage is their lower wages compared to their local peers.

This is why the Filipino professionals and executives are viewed as threatening Singaporean jobs and salaries. The Filipinos are getting the backlash of Singaporeans against foreign professionals.

A Yahoo online poll asking “Are Singaporeans becoming anti-foreigner?” produced a strong response, with 79% (6,427 votes) voting yes and the rest in the negative (1,714 votes).

While Singaporeans resent the large-scale intake of Filipino professionals, some 43% of their own people in the Philippines rate the export of talent a major impediment to business expansion.

Since 2000, some 79,000 professional and technical workers – most of them tertiary graduates – take positions overseas each year.

In the past three years, however, the loss of professionals has hit nearly every sector.

Over the past six years, 10,000 nurses have left the country annually for the Middle East, Britain, Ireland, United States and, of course, Singa­pore.

The reason is that salaries are at least four times higher than at home.

But for troubled Singaporeans, wages paid to Filipinos and other foreign professionals are relatively low.

The two governments get blamed by their citizens. In Singapore, the charge is that it looks after foreigners better than locals.

In Manila, it is accused of failure to provide reasonable jobs and forcing many people of talent to work overseas.

By encouraging so many trained nurses to work abroad, a rising number of them are now in Singapore’s hospitals, the Filipino people who need health-care suffer the consequences, said the New York Times.

Online newspaper Temasek Times said recent outpouring of anti-Pinoy comments among Singaporeans in cyberspace has raised some concerns among Filipinos.

One Netizen named “dazen” started a thread in the popular forum, saying that he was feeling uncomfortable with the situation on the ground:

“Some time ago, locals were only venting their frustrations at the mainland Chinese and Indians.

“But now Pinoys are on their hit list as one of the races they think are pests and trash.”

The original version was first published in The Star).

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