Overseas Philippine workers a typhoon lifeline

Overseas Philippine workers a typhoon lifeline
Residents watch as US troops deliver relief aid from a US Marines Osprey aircraft at Balangiga City, Samar Province on November 16, 2013. Spearheaded by a US aircraft carrier group, foreign relief efforts have stepped up a gear in the storm-devastated Philippines eight days after Super Typhoon Haiyan left thousands dead and millions homeless.

TACLOBAN, Philippines - The Philippines' giant band of overseas workers, already regarded as national heroes for toiling in foreign lands, are coming to the rescue again as they dig deep to send more cash back to their typhoon-hit homeland.

With relief workers overwhelmed by the magnitude of this month's disaster and unable to provide adequate support to the millions of survivors living in flattened towns, Filipinos abroad are proving a crucial, direct lifeline.

In the ruined city of Tacloban, farmer Teudolfo Barmisa queued up at a money transfer outlet on Tuesday and withdrew the equivalent of $600 sent by his daughter who works as a maid in Hong Kong.

"The money will go to buying food first, then other supplies to help us rebuild our home, like plywood and cement," Barmisa told AFP.

Barmisa was among hundreds of people withdrawing cash from financial outlets in Tacloban, many of which had just re-opened more than a fortnight after Super Typhoon killed at least 5,240 people and destroyed or damaged one million homes.

Barmisa's daughter and the other 10 million Filipinos working abroad are commonly referred to at home as "mga bagong bayani", or "new heroes", because of their sacrifices in leaving their families to work abroad.

The number overseas is roughly 10 per cent of the population - with many of them working as domestic helpers, labourers, sailors or in other low-paid professions - and they often send much of their savings back home to relatives.

They are forced overseas because, despite impressive economic growth rates in recent years, the Philippines remains in large part a desperately poor country, and their remittances has long been an important plank for the nation's economy.

The overseas foreign workforce last year sent home $21.39 billion via bank transfers and other official channels, equivalent to nearly 10 per cent of the Philippines' gross domestic product. Even more money arrives unofficially.

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