Family is priority for Muñoz

    The term OFWs, or overseas Filipino workers, is on the lips of government officials in charge of making the economy fire on all cylinders.

     These government officials have inevitably relied on OFWs’ monthly remittances.

    The estimated 1.96 million OFWs remitted US$197.47 billion in April-September 2022, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

    The Filipinos knew that leaving to work in a foreign land was a great sacrifice. Filipino families are closely knit, so for these workers, leaving was like being forced out of their natural habitat.

    That is why newly-arrived  OFWs in the Middle East shout “Mabuhay!” while clapping their hands loudly when their aircraft touches down at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). It expresses their excitement to be home for a vacation after a year or two of working abroad.

    One of those who left the country at a great sacrifice to become an OFW was Romel L. Muñoz, 37, who left for Saudi Arabia on Oct. 19, 2015, to work as a cashier at the Makkah Hypermarket in Riyadh, the Saudi capital’s old trading and commercial district.

    It was his first time away from home in Barangay Patabog, Mulanay, Quezon province, where he lived with his parents, Jose and Teresita, now aged 80 and 79, respectively, and his eight siblings.

    Without batting an eyelash, he could rattle off the names of his brothers and sisters: Teofilo, Jupiter, Caridad, Nancy, Rosita, Domingo, Rosito and Joemel.

    He loves his birthplace as it is the sanctuary of his childhood and ancestors’ memories and because of the familiarity of home.

    It is also there where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Management (BSAM) degree from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Mulanay (PUP Mulanay).

    In a fit of nostalgia, he would recall Mulanay: verdant forests alive with chirping and chattering birds, green rice fields promising sustenance to farmers and their families, and the noise of university students, which slowly died down as Romel thought of the present.

    As a government scholar, he did not have to pay his tuition fee, so his parents did not have to worry about it.

    “Of the nine of us, I was the only one lucky enough to go to college and earn a degree,” Romel said with sadness during an interview at a coffee shop in Cubao, Quezon City.

    But he had to do something to lift his family from poverty. He had worked at the marketing department of a jewelry firm in Novaliches, Quezon City—V Y Domingo— but he felt he was not receiving a salary commensurate to his skills.

    He thought working overseas was the only way. As a key destination among  OFWs, he had Saudi Arabia in mind when he applied at a recruitment agency in Pedro Gil, Manila.

    He signed a contract with a monthly salary of SR1,800 (P27,360) as a cashier at the Makkah Hypermarket in Batha. There were six of them who applied and were hired.

    Landing at the King Khaled International Airport (KKIA)  35 kilometers north of Riyadh,  he was impressed. KKIA was modern, with beautiful architecture designed by the architectural firm HOK and Arabian Bechtel Company Limited.

    He had learned that the airport opened in late 1983.

     He was also impressed as the car they were riding in cruised along the modern highway to the city center.

    His good impression ramped up as they passed the sprawling campus of the imposing Princess Nourah Bint Abdul Rahman University.

    The good things he had seen on arrival made him optimistic regarding his stay in the Kingdom.

    He started his job as a cashier at the Makkah Hypermarket with excitement. Many OFWs were showing up at the hypermarket to buy their basic needs, although there were other shops and food outlets in the area, including the popular Pinoy Supermarket.

    “Seeing me as a compatriot, OFWs talked to me as they paid for their purchases, asked when I arrived, where I came from in the Philippines, and if I planned to stay long in the Kingdom,” Muñoz said.

    Satisfied with his performance, management increased his salary to SR2,300 (P34,160). He could now send more money to his family every month.

   But he was homesick. He decided to go home the following year, 2017.

    “It was a lot easier to earn in Saudi Arabia, and it was probably wrong of me to leave after only two years,” he said.

    Coming home, he needed help to adjust to the local work environment. He was also earning less, which was not enough as he was supporting not only his parents but also relatives who were studying.

    In 2018, he left again out of necessity. He flew to Qatar, another Gulf country, and worked as an assistant cashier in a pharmacy. He stayed there for four years, but because he longed for home, he left for good.

    At present, he multi-tasks to earn as much as he can.

    “I’m connected with an insurance company and sell online jewelry, such as college rings,” he said, adding that he worked hard to keep customers satisfied and meet his financial obligations.

   He also owns and manages a sari-sari store along Sumulong Highway in Antipolo, where he lives.

   He said that sometimes, the advantages of working abroad crossed his mind, but he did not regret coming home for good.

    Asked about his strategy for being competitive in the local market, he said, “I walk the talk.”

    “If I promise something,” he said,  “I make sure that I do it. I also try to be transparent, honest, and reliable.”

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