Economic team cool to bigger agencies for disaster response, OFWs
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) as well as the finance and budget departments voiced out concerns over bills establishing separate Cabinet level agencies for disaster resilience and overseas Filipino workers concerns. These measures passed the Lower House, but remain pending at varying levels at the Senate.
Edd Gumban, file
Economic team cool to bigger agencies for disaster response, OFWs
Ramon Royandoyan (Philstar.com) - November 16, 2020 - 5:05pm

MANILA, Philippines — Economic managers officially expressed reservations on priority proposals to establish new government agencies as the pandemic preoccupied policymakers with an unprecedented crisis.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) as well as the finance and budget departments voiced out concerns over bills establishing separate Cabinet level agencies for disaster resilience and overseas Filipino workers concerns. These measures passed the Lower House, but remain pending at varying levels at the Senate.

“NEDA is of the view in the near future, that we should focus on the COVID-(19) response,” Senator Edgardo Angara Jr., senate finance committee chair, said in a budget hearing on Monday.

No less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself has pressed the upper chamber to establish the departments supposedly to streamline functions of numerous existing agencies. For the disaster resilience department, the recent devastation of typhoon Ulysses brought to the fore the supposed need for a stronger agency, while Duterte renewed his push for the OFW department in a recent speech.

While NEDA voiced support to the former, given proper timing, the agency wants a careful “cost-benefit analysis” as far as the OFW department is concerned. If and when legislators decided to push through with the measure however, the socioeconomic planning agency the office should not be made permanent, a position that reflected an ultimate goal adopted by each administration to get Filipinos back home. 

“The OFW department may be a step backward. It sends the wrong signal by institutionalizing what should just be a stop-gap jobs measure,” Sonny Africa, executive director of IBON Foundation Inc., a think tank said.

“OFWs can be helped by increasing the budgets of POEA, OWWA and DFA to expand the services they provide here and abroad,” he said in a text message.

The OFW agency has several versions at the Senate, the latest of which was Senate Bill 1848 authored by Senator Joel Villanueva, chair of the labor committee. It transfers the overseas functions of labor department to the new agency, but keeps Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) as attached agencies.

The disaster resilience bill is a similar case. While originally the concept was to restructure the existing National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) into a bigger agency, most of the 10 Senate bills retain NDRRMC as a branch of the larger Cabinet office. 

“We have to improve our disaster response, and get consensus. Definitely business-as-usual in rescue relief efforts is a disaster in itself,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, which authored one of the legislation, said.

Overhead costs a concern

With more offices running once bills are passed, the budget and finance departments said personnel costs would inevitably increase because of additional hiring. This, in turn, would directly go against the eseence of another priority measure— that which shrinks the bureaucracy to remove overlapping and unneeded functions.

“The DOF supports the intention of the measures but with reservations on the creation of a new office considering there are proposals on right sizing,” Angara said. 

The bills got stalled at the upper house even though the president had put his political weight on them and in the hearing, senators appeared inclined to delay the proposals further while awaiting more guidance from Malacanang. “We wanted to support intention of the president, we want a department for OFWs but we are getting mixed signals. I just hope it would be clearer on what we need to do,” Villanueva told the hearing. 

Sought for comment, Ronald Mendoza, dean of Ateneo School of Government said, creating new line agencies is not a permanent fix to old problems without good people in charge.

“The appointees to man these agencies should be of exceptional caliber. So far, I do not see this reassurance in the way appointments have been pushed in this area,” Mendoza said in an e-mail.

DISASTER RESILIENCE DEPARMENT BILL NOVEL CORONA VIRUS OFW DEPARTMENT
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