MANILA — Dolores Gerong's one wish this Christmas is to be back in the Philippines with her three children.She is driven by more than holiday sentiment. Nearly two years ago, she left her country to work as a maid in Hong Kong, becoming one of the millions of Filipino migrant workers scattered around the globe.The three teenage daughters she left behind need her, she says. Her husband cannot help: He has been working as a driver in Saudi Arabia for the past 14 years."I'm worried each time my sister, who lives with them, tells me they often stay out late at night, spending money that I worked hard to earn on frivolous things, and not performing as well as they used to in school," Gerong, 35, said by telephone from Hong Kong. "I need a serious talk with my children."Gerong's anguish is a familiar refrain in the Philippines, where nearly nine million people - 10 percent of the country's population - have left to take jobs overseas. These industrious migrants are willing to endure separation, sometimes for years at a time, to help support families back home.Their contribution is also appreciated by their government. Migrants' remittances, valued by the World Bank at $17 billion last year, are credited for keeping the fragile Philippine economy afloat. In recognition of their value, the government has stepped up vocational training and other programs to enhance Filipino workers' attractiveness on the global market. Concerns have been voiced over how the current financial crisis could affect overseas employment.But questions are increasingly being raised about the social costs of this heavy dependence on absent workers, especially now that the majority are women, most of whom are mothers who have left their children behind.According to several recent studies, the "feminization of migration" is exacting a steep toll.Filipino men have long gone abroad for jobs, mainly in construction and seafaring. But in the past two decades the ever-rising demand in the developed world for English-speaking caretakers - nurses, nannies and domestic servants - has opened the door wide for Filipino women. They are now found in great numbers in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and other parts of Southeast Asia, notably Hong Kong and Singapore.They are increasingly less likely to be found back home in the Philippines, caring for their own families. An estimated six million Philippine children are growing up now with at least one parent absent because of migration.