Philippine Congress moves to create Department for Overseas Filipino Workers

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  • The House of Representatives has initiated the creation of a Department for Overseas Filipino Workers

    (OFWs).

    The new department DOFW is intended to provide prompt, immediate and effective response to the

    problems and needs of OFWs.

    The House’s committees on government reorganization and on overseas workers affairs have jointly

    decided to create a technical working group (TWG) that will consolidate six bills related to this concern.

    In a joint hearing, the committee on government reorganization represented by its vice chairman Rep.

    Virgilio S. Lacson (Party-list, Manila Teachers) and the committee on overseas workers affairs led by its

    chairman Rep. Mariano Michael M. Velarde, Jr. (Party-list, Buhay) approved the motion of Deputy

    Speaker Sharon S. Garin to create the TWG.

    The panels named Rep. Aniceto "John" III D. Bertiz III (Party-list ACTS OFW) the TWG head, with Lacson,

    Reps. Ron P. Salo (Party-list, Kabayan) and Mark Aeron H. Sambar (Party-list, PBA) as members.

    The six proposals to establish a DOFW, defining its powers and functions are: House Bill HB 227

    authored by Deputy Speaker Eric Singson; HB 288 by Rep. Michael Romero (Party-list 1-PACMAN); HB

    543 by Rep. Rose Marie “Baby” Arenas (3rd District, Pangasinan); HB 822 by Rep. Arthur C. Yap (3rd

    District, Bohol); HB 1936 Rep. Mark A. Villar (Lone District, Las Piñas City); and HB 2334 Rep. Carlos O.

    Cojuangco (1st District, Tarlac).

    In his opening remarks, Lacson said the creation of a single entity, the DOFW, is a legislative initiative

    carried out even as early as the 12th Congress. He said the DOFW creation aims to promote the overall

    welfare, rights and needs of OFWs, which is a fitting recognition of the significant contribution of OFWs

    to national economic progress.

    Velarde identified certain issues which need to be considered prior to the consolidation of the bills,

    namely: 1) a provision in Repubic Act 8042, or the Migrant Workers Act, stating that while the State

    recognizes the significant contribution of Filipino migrant workers to the economy, it does not promote

    overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development; 2) the

    source of appropriation for a newly created department should be identified; 3) the fate of the present

    agencies tasked to look after the welfare of the OFWs; and 4) the status of RA 10801, or the Overseas

    Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Charter.

    Arenas said it is about time to create the DOFW that will take full charge of the deployment and

    repatriation of OFWs, when the need arises. “There should be one agency which will be made

    accountable to the OFWs and their families,” said Arenas.

    Based on the December 2013 report of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, Arenas said there are 10

    million Filipinos residing overseas. “There is an urgent need for a single agency that can provide a

    comprehensive and consolidated approach to protect their rights and interests,” said Arenas.

    Arenas also cited a Bangko Sentral report showing that OFWs’ remittances in 2015 alone hit more than

    P1-trillion, or one-third of the total budget for 2016. “This has spared the country’s economy time and

    again from the harsh global economic meltdown experienced in recent years,” she said.

    Romero, in his sponsorship speech, delivered by Bertiz, said despite the significant contributions of

    OFWs, who serve as the nation’s lifeline, there is still no single government agency which attends to

    their needs. Romero cited that about 9.8% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and 8.3% of Gross

    National Income last year alone were contributed by OFWs.

    “It is high time that our OFWs feel the support and protective care of our government by creating the

    DOFW that will specifically cater to their needs,” said Romero. Rep. Winston Castello (2nd District,

    Quezon City) asked the joint committee to give government agencies 10 days to submit their position

    papers on the DOFW creation. Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III manifested that

    they have already started streamlining OFW-related processes and services with the establishment of a

    one-stop shop in several venues, and have put up a 24/7 hotline (1349) for all workers, especially those

    abroad.

    Meanwhile, the two committees also tackled HB 192 authored by Bertiz and HB 3255 by Rep. Emmeline

    Aglipay-Villar (Party-list, DIWA), both seeking to create the Department of Migration and Development

    (DMD), which shall among others, recommend and implement the government’s policies and programs

    to promote the protection, safety, development, support of and for Filipino migrants and families.

    Bertiz said while the present bureaucracy serving the OFW sector is mainly focused on Filipino migrants’

    departure, the DMD seeks a full migration cycle in promoting migrants rights, from pre-employment to

    on-site services.

    “The purpose of the DMD is not to push people out, that will always be their personal choice, but to

    make sure that while they are out there working, the support system until they return is cohesive,

    developmental in approach and protective in nature,” said Bertiz.

    Bertiz said the DMD shall also address the social cause of migration and shall minimize, if not totally

    eliminate, the “turf” problems especially in times of crisis. He cited that during the Saudi Arabia crisis,

    agencies concerned under officials of the previous administration just kept on finger-pointing on who is

    responsible for the welfare of thousands of stranded OFWs.

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