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Department for OFW

Jess Varela

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A number of bills to create the Department of OFW are being lodged before both houses of Congress in a desire to address the seeming difficulties and alleged abuses suffered by our overseas workers.

“ The requirements are tedious, the documents from birth, diploma, school and medical certifications that are notarized, verified and authenticated from a notary public.

What seems to be the problem? Are the existing agencies tasked to provide the services for OFW ineffective? Are issues on coordination continue to be a challenge? Is this all about turf issue on the domestic front? The overseas employment program has been with us in the past decades, why are there still many duped in exorbitant placement fees that no less than the President of the Republic told all and sundry of his desire to put a stop the business of recruitment and for government to take over this activity? How about the challenges in the work places? Are the officials incapable of performing their jobs when it comes to problems raised before the embassies and consulates that there’s a need to deploy police attaches?
OFW have always been close to the heart of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. After all, together with their families back home, they have steadfastly supported the President to this day. The President in many instances has shown his concern for the sacrifices of these modern-day heroes whose remittances have significantly kept the economy afloat. He also deems it appropriate to have a department that will focus on nothing else but OFW concerns.

Indeed, a creation of a Department for OFW may be a brilliant political move. It sends the right signal that government is serious in grappling the bull by its horns when it comes to OFW concerns. But as in many proposals and establishment of offices, the question that begs an answer is what happens next? Will a new body bring fundamental changes for the betterment of OFW?

The proposal merges government bodies that have functions related to OFW. Thus, we will see nor hear no more of Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, Overseas Workers Welfare Authority, International Labor Affairs Bureau, Commission on Filipinos Overseas and Office of Migrant Affairs. Instead, we will have the Department for OFW.

What are the issues that need to be addressed to ensure the appreciation of the new department?

First and foremost, there is need to review and simplify the processes of getting the final go-ahead for an OFW to fly out. The requirements are tedious, the documents from birth, diploma, school and medical certifications that are notarized, verified and authenticated from a notary public, the Office of the President and all the way to the Department of Foreign Affairs are cumbersome. When a process is difficult, the chances of those offering services for facilitation is certain. Equipped with little or no info on such matters, these prospective workers consider such services as complimentary, notwithstanding the fees involved.

Inasmuch as most of the documents are government, can the new department, upon the application of a prospective worker, require Philippine Statistics Authority and other institutions to submit to the department said documents electronically and consider them authenticated once released to the OFW or some other agency? The use of e-commerce will eliminate brokers as a prospective worker deals only with the new department.

Will recruitment be taken over by government as announced by the President? (While this is possible should government insist, it may eliminate a healthy partnership from the private sector who does management, marketing or problem solving and emergency response in cases of employer-employee issues). With a government takeover, however, no placement or any service fee will be charged to an applicant, neither will there be any salary deduction.

Today’s technology will make it easier for exchange of information and validation of documents. Government will assume all functions of the private recruitment agencies including their responsibilities and liabilities.

On preemployment and predeparture orientation seminars, no agency or association of agencies or any party of interest should be allowed to conduct such seminars as a requirement for deployment. It has been proven that a good seminar solves at least 60 percent of would-be problems of OFW who become more knowledgeable and empowered with the information he or she acquires. The new department may now hire the academic, religious and other professionals who are not parties of interest in the industry to craft, conduct and periodically update a comprehensive country-specific seminar at no cost to a pre-departing OFW.

As the new department finds its ways in the domestic front, it will face some challenges in work places. Full coordination with the DFA, its embassies and consulates is imperative. The documentation of principals at foreign posts need to be streamlined, too. Once again, the use of technology is critical in accelerating the process of verification and authentication. More important is the verification of the worthiness of an employer.

Likewise, the installation of a technological platform in every foreign post should be made to allow a free and seamless communication between and among the embassy/consulate, the OFW, the new department or even their families. And should no laws will be violated, the government may consider the coding of each and every OFW through their passports and/or ID cards allowing traceability of their whereabouts. This will put an end to the perennial problem of locating thousands of missing workers that the government painstakingly try to locate to allay fears of their loved ones back home.

Will all the personnel of the aforementioned agencies that will fold up be absorbed by the new department? Every reorganization requires streamlining of functions, and in the case of OFW concerns, a simplification of processes and requirements, a blending of the experienced with the infusion of new and younger blood, and a “minimalization” of the bureaucracy may be imperative. Hence, early retirement and separation pays will have to be readied to those who won’t be able to join the new department. Savings incurred should be rechanneled to overseas operations. Also, there’s a need to shift mindsets of foreign service personnel where their diplomatic caps should be taken off from time to time as they get down their pedestals to meet at eye level OFW who shun persons, wittingly or unwittingly, perceived as elitists.

It should be understood that migration is a phenomenon. It is dictated by the forces of economy. Economies with a comparative disadvantage in human resources will continue to attract those whose economies have a comparative advantage in manpower. The idea is to manage rather than overregulate. Should this be achieved by the new department, then we will see much, much less of corruption, the elimination of unscrupulous brokers and a happier OFW.

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