The first collaboration between President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go in the 18th Congress will be the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW) which both officials yesterday said will be a priority.
Mr. Duterte wanted a December deadline for the establishment of the DOFW which is expected to dramatically reduce if not totally eradicate abuses against migrant workers.
Speaking before an OFW group which gathered at the grandstand of Camp Aguinaldo last Friday night, the President said one problem the proposed office will solve is the illegal deployment of Filipinos abroad.
Recruitment of workers for abroad will pass through the proposed agency. “I have banned recruitment from overseas. If they want, it should be under the supervision of government and horrendous charges should be avoided. I will not allow it,” the President said.
To address this issue, Go cited that one of the first Senate Bills he filed was SB 202 or the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2019 that seeks to create the agency to specifically address issues and concerns of Filipinos abroad and their families, to afford them full protection, promote just employment, mitigate the social costs back home and serve as a channel to address OFW issues and grievances.
Only hiring from Phl
“I will fast-track the Department of OFW,” Mr. Duterte added. “By December. This would be for the entire country. I have restricted recruitment from abroad. OFW should deal with the agency, there’s a list there. Just choose the employment agency that you want and I have the power to do that because that kind of mechanism of recruiting Filipino workers abroad has been abused repeatedly,” said the President.
Go echoed the President’s sentiment, citing that many OFW continue to seek assistance after being victimized by illegal recruiters.
“The President only wanted to prevent illegal recruitment. Many victims approach both of us. Illegal recruitment should stop,” Go said in an interview.
Go added that many Filipinos continue to fall prey to the illegal firms which impose excessive fees over false promises of employment abroad, sometimes resulting to victims becoming trapped as they get saddled with debts and even have their passports confiscated while employed abroad.
“Recruitment from abroad will no longer be allowed. If they want, they can put their table there, under the supervision of government, so there will be no more horrendous charges,” the President said.
Mr. Duterte assailed exorbitant recruitment fees and other charges imposed by agencies which he said “are what burdens many Filipino migrant workers.”
The Chief Executive said he would also assign police attachés to countries with a big population of OFW.
Distressed Filipino migrant workers may then seek the assistance of the police attachés for the speedy resolution of their concerns.
“The police attaché will connect you to us here in the Philippines, for you to relay your problem. They will be trained to help you in legal matters of how to do it in the meantime that you are not here to solve the problem,” he stated.
Meanwhile, for repatriated Filipino workers with medical issues, Mr. Duterte vowed to provide state-of-the-art medical equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans at a hospital being built solely for OFW in Nueva Ecija.
“Most of you are nurses. You will have the MRI, CT scan… Just like what I did to the military hospitals,” the Chief Executive relayed.
OFW Malasakit Centers
“It is painful to behold Filipinos who leave the country and family just to find work. Let us reciprocate their sacrifices through innovative ways to improve government services to them and their family,” Mr. Duterte added.
Once passed into law, the functions of Philippine Overseas and Employment Agency, OWWA, Department of Foreign Affairs — Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, Commission on Filipinos Overseas and the International Labor Affairs Bureau will be all rolled into the department.
A parallel measure is the creation of an Overseas Filipinos Assistance Fund to provide financial support to Filipino migrants in distress, including funds for repatriation and emergency situations.
The bill also mandates the creation of “OFW Malasakit Centers” in all provinces and major cities to ensure prompt and efficient provision of services to OFW and their families such as acquisition of government permits, validation of overseas job offers, grievance and complaints desks and reintegration services.
Go emphasized the need to streamline services for migrant workers. “The OFW should not be passed around for their needs. The process for government service should be simple. One body should take care of all their needs,” he said.
Currently, OFW need to go to different government agencies to secure their needed documents and present other concerns such as employment and technical education.
When asked about the likelihood of the proposed measure passing, Go has high hopes that President Rodrigo Duterte will certify the OFW Department Bill as “urgent” to get it passed into law before the year ends.
Providing livelihood to returning OFW is also a priority for the Duterte administration.
“Equally important is the availability of livelihood and entrepreneurship opportunities for returning OFW. We have that. MSME,” he said.
“You will be trained. Or if you want to learn a new skill with good potentials of employment, seek training from Sid (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority chief Isidro Lapeña). That’s free.”