With an overseas population believed to number 11 million, Filipinos have long since proven their adeptness at venturing into unfamiliar territories.
“Travel is in our blood, we are an adventurous people,” exclaims Benny Caleda, general director of pharmaceutical company, United Pharma, and chairperson of the Philippine Business Group.
Perhaps such a disposition can be explained by the history of the Philippines, one defined by the intervention of foreign forces dating back to 1521 when explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, claimed the islands for Spain. Since then, both the Japanese and the Americans have left their mark on the archipelago.
For all its many attributes, however, The Philippines remains a desperately poor nation and large swathes of the population seek a better life overseas. Pop across to Hong Kong, Dubai or Singapore and you’ll find huge Pinoy contingents, many of whom work as domestic workers or in the hospitality sector.
A Wealth of Opportunities
Vietnam is a different story altogether, however. Here, a number of Filipinos hold high positions and can command good salaries worthy of their skills, experience and education.
Between 3,000 and 3,500 Filipinos currently reside in Vietnam, with 900 or so working in a various fields including engineering, teaching, entertainment, construction, agriculture and advertising among others.
“Vietnam has greater opportunities than other Asian countries,” says Caleda. “In Hong Kong and Singapore, the government opens its doors to domestic workers and pays a higher salary than back at home. Vietnam opens its doors to skilled workers.”
Honorary consul general for the Philippines, Gerry Paglinawan, agrees and adds, “Filipinos come here to find opportunities. They take advantage of not needing a visa for 21 days.”
Although Paglinawan is honest enough to admit that Vietnam isn’t yet top of the wish list for most Filipinos looking to try their hand overseas, he does believe that its status as one of the region’s fastest-developing countries makes it a particularly attractive option.
“It’s booming,” he adds. “The country is in need of experts and as companies expand, they need specific expertise.”
Presently, it is foreigners that provide this specialist nous. IDG Vietnam is one example of a company that has employed Filipinos from the start to get their music channel, YANTV, off the ground. Edge Pamute, programme director for YANTV, along with a few other Filipinos, was brought in because he had the necessary experience.
“I set up a music channel, Myx, in Manila, the mother company of which is ABS-CBN, one of the biggest networks in Asia,” he states. “At one time, we were more popular than MTV in Manila. One of the Vietnamese partners of YANTV got in touch and asked me to help.”
Pamute and his team, that includes Filipinos, have been instrumental in the set up and continuation of YANTV. It may seem strange to see an exclusively Vietnamese music channel driven forward by Filipinos, but the media business in Vietnam only took off five to seven years ago whereas it has existed in the Philippines for around a century.
Hiep Do, CEO of YANTV recognises this. “We hire Filipinos because of their previous experience and their music knowledge,” he says. “They are diligent, creative and have a good working attitude and are also Asian so, although there are differences, we are fairly similar.”
Shaun Williams, principal of British International School (BIS), also has Filipino members of staff even though the policy is to recruit mainly British teachers.
“Where it is difficult to recruit British teachers, we will recruit native English speakers of other nationalities,” explains Williams. “Filipinos fall under this category because their English is so good.”
At BIS, the Filipino teachers teach the youngest children at the school. In Britain, teachers do not need a degree to teach this age group and so obtaining a work permit from the Vietnamese labour department for them to work here is difficult. The Filipinos recruited by BIS have university degrees in early year education from Miriam College in Manila and BIS trains them to work in the UK system.
Money, Money, Money
Dolev Sadan, executive assistant general manager of Thanh Bac, the fashion company responsible for bringing brands such as Levis and Birkenstock to Vietnam, hires Filipinos for a different reason.
“Honestly, I hire them to save money,” he admits. “Salaries in the Philippines are low whereas in Europe they’re a lot higher. A Filipino has more life experience and experience in the field than the Vietnamese, and they have good English skills and a university degree but they’re still cheaper than Europeans.”
At BIS, the Filipinos are paid 30 percent less than Western teachers, though Shaun says this is not a reason for hiring them.
Hiep at YANTV, meanwhile, pays salaries according to position and contribution.
What’s more, as Hiep says, “I know Vietnamese that are better paid than expats in the same jobs because not only does the Vietnamese person have almost the same professional capacity as the expat but they have a better understanding of local ways.”
An Ever Present Need
There’s no denying that Vietnam still needs foreign expertise. Filipinos not only have the necessary skills and an ability to communicate well in English, but they are geographically close. Within the next five to ten years, however, it seems that the need for them, along with other foreigners, will not be as apparent.
“The education system here is getting better,” says Paglinawan. “The Vietnamese will have the necessary capabilities but they will still need experts from other countries. The more help they get, the more they will advance. There needs to be movement. If that stops, everything will become stagnant and the country won’t develop further.”
Something tells us no one is going to let that happen.