Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines on the Occasion of National Migration Day

First Sunday of Lent, February 21, 1988


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Philippines, more than any other country in Asia, has witnessed these past years an unprecedented exodus of its people to all points of the globe.  It is estimated that, at present, there are three million Filipinos abroad:  permanent migrants, overseas workers, seamen, and other kinds of expatriates.  If each belongs to a family of five, then around fifteen million Filipinos are directly affected by migration.

Moved by the pastoral solicitude of the Church, we wish to address to you this message on the occasion of National Migration Day.

The most obvious cause for the big outflow of Filipino workers to other countries is economic.  The search for work and a better standard of living, or even survival, pulls young people and couples from their places of origin.  There is hardly a community or barrio in the country which does not have people abroad.  The official and unofficial repatriation of money (roughly estimated at US$1.5 billion annualy) from Filipino migrants around the globe has sustained families, put children through school and, as the largest dollar earner of the nation, even saved the government during these times of economic crisis.  It is, indeed, an opportune time, during this National Migration Day, to reflect upon the situation of our migrants, overseas workers and other expatriates.

We are aware of the many serious problems of morality, poverty, and injustice that affect people, especially women, who migrate from the provinces to the big cities in our own country.  They are often exploited in the tourism industry.  However, on this occasion we focus our attention on the plight of migrants and overseas workers.

Our reflection moves us, first of all, to thank the Filipinos abroad for the manifold sacrifices they have undertaken for us here at home.  Their endurance in the face of adverse conditions, their determination to turn risks into opportunities, their courage in the face of real physical threats (for example, seamen in the Persian Gulf) and moral dangers are to be admired.  The courage of these migrant workers has shown us how to believe in life and to hope against many odds.

Although much has been done by our priests, religious sisters, and lay faithful, we wish to humbly acknowledge before our migrants and overseas workers the limitations that beset the Philippine Church in its pastoral care for them and their families.  But, as we become more and more a nation of migrants, we are training and assigning more church personnel, clergy as well as laity, to this particular ministry.  We appeal to the Major Superiors of Religious Men and Women to  do likewise.  The need for pastoral care is great and urgent.  Although many good things come from migration, it is also attended by many evils, such as exploitation, broken families, moral degradation, loneliness and other psychological sufferings.

We are particularly concerned about some factors surrounding this massive migration in our midst:

  1. Illegal recruiting agencies have preyed upon the gullibility of people desperate for work and any means of survival.  How can we expect the rights of our Filipino brothers and sisters to be respected abroad if we do not  put  our  house  in  order first?  We urge our government agencies concerned  to  leave no  stone  unturned  in  stopping  these  exploiters  from  the “trading of human beings .”  We encourage our parishes and other local christian communities to inform their people about the official  legal  channels  whereby  inquiries  can be made and job placements obtained.
  2. Over  the  last  year,  we have witnessed not only a record number of  people  leaving  for  work o verseas  but  also  an upsurge of cases of exploitation and abusive treatment of our workers  abroad.  We  earnestly  urge  that  our  government, through its official representatives,  take  stronger and more effective  measures  in  protecting  the  rights  of our Filipino expatriates. We support the decision of Her Excellency, the President to  ban   temporarily  the  deployment  of  Filipina  domestic helpers  abroad  until  protection  for  them  is assured.  This temporary   ban  of  deployment  should  also  apply  to  our Filipina  entertainers  with  regards   to  countries   where   a considerable number of them are subjected to inhuman abuse and exploitation. As far  as  the  countries of destination are concerned, we are mindful of the fact  that  the  quality  of  ancient  and modern  civilizations  is  often  measured  by  the  degree  of tolerance  and  compassion  extended  by  the  people  to  the stranger in their midst.
  3. The  actual  poverty  of  the majority of our people leaves them little choice when faced with the option to migrate.  With the last local election,  the  democratic  structures  have  been fully  restored  in  our  country.  We exhort all our people, in and  out  of  government,  to  pray  and  work   hard  for  the economic recovery of our country so  that  fewer  and  fewer Filipinos  will  be  forced  to  leave  our  country  because  of poverty.

We appeal also to the churches of destination throughout the world to treat with compassion “all strangers in their midst”.  We are both aware and grateful for the fine work that has already been done by many of these local churches.

For every pain, there is also joy. For every sacrifice, there is a corresponding good.  Migration of peoples, in whatever form or for whatever reason, has always foreshadowed the unfolding of greater designs of God.  On May 17, 1987, in his homily during the Mass for Filipinos in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope John Paul II told the Filipino overseas workers:  “Indeed, in Europe you are called to be the new and youthful witness of that very Faith which your country received from Europe so many generations ago.”

We exhort you, our Filipino brothers and sisters abroad, to live your Christian Faith wherever you are.  In that way like St. Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, our migrant Saint, you are giving witness for Christ to all the world.

May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who were migrants in Egypt, bless, protect, and accompany our migrants and their families.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

Archbishop of Caceres
January 29, 1988