Currently, government bodies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Department of Labor and Employment along with Philippine Embassies available in almost all countries are the ones handling concerns and complaints as well as emergencies from Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) which is why backlash from the observant masses was rampant when then-senatorial candidate Imee Marcos announced her plan to have a department of OFWs be established by law. Though many thought it would not pass, recent actions have proven otherwise, starting with Senator Cynthia Villar who has filed Senate Bill 141.
The bill hopes to establish, the Department of Migration and Development (DMD) to look after the welfare of 12 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Yet to undergo Senate approval, the bill hopes to be more submerged in the lives of OFWs as to say more involved in matters other departments cannot reach.
“It is appropriate to create a government agency in the Executive department, which shall have the exclusive function of protecting and enforcing the welfare and rights of Filipinos overseas. We need an empowered agency that will adequately support and give assistance to them,” Villar said.
The lawmaker said remittances from OFWs — which amount to $28.94 billion sent through formal channels and $32.21 billion personal remittances, based on Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas records in 2018 — were considered significant contributors to the country’s gross domestic product that keep the Philippine economy buoyant.
The DMD is envisioned to develop, implement and improve coordination with other countries with the presence of Filipinos, and monitor foreign developments to ensure the most reasonable working conditions for OFWs.
It is seen to create a proactive approach in providing assistance to OFWs, especially in times of war and civil unrest, whether potential or apparent.
The department will also promote, develop and monitor the continuing education, training and qualification, availability and deployment of OFWs, and coordinate with concerned agencies in the training of overseas Filipinos to improve their competitiveness globally, Villar explained.
She noted that despite the presence of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA), even taking into account the assistance provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs, many Filipino overseas see that they were being neglected by the government.
“There are reports of numerous complaints and resentment towards government harbored by overseas Filipino workers, apparently brought about by the government’s delayed and inadequate support and assistance while they are facing difficult predicaments abroad,” she said.
Under the bill, the POEA and OWWA will be attached to the department for policy and program coordination.
The bill seeks to create the P1-billion Special Assistance Revolving Fund for Filipino Migrants, including both documented and undocumented.
The fund will be used for emergency repatriation; medical expenses; immigration penalties; legal assistance; payment of blood money; humanitarian assistance to families left behind; scholarships for children of Filipinos overseas; and maintenance and operational expenses, including capital outlay for the establishment of one-stop migrant processing and assistance centers.
The bill also seeks to create an inter-agency coordinating Council on Migration and Development, which will handle death row cases involving blood money, terrorism, drug-trafficking, human trafficking, as well as large-scale illegal recruitment cases involving Filipino workers, and urgent cases involving overseas or their families left behind that require humanitarian assistance.