Duterte wants Department of OFWs up by December

Edith Regalado - The Philippine Star
Duterte wants Department of OFWs up by December
President Duterte greets guests during the ‘Araw ng Pasasalamat’ for overseas Filipino workers held at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City the other day.

MANILA, Philippines — A separate Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) should be established within six months to address the persistent woes of OFWs with regard to illegal recruiters and other labor malpractices, according to President Duterte.

The proposed department will ban recruitment of OFWs abroad and will put Philippine-based recruitment agencies under strict government regulation.

“Kaya apurahin ko ‘yang Department of OFW. Bawal na ang recruitment sa abroad... sa labas. So, under the supervision of government at walang horrendous charges. By December… buong Pilipinas ‘to (I will fasttrack that Department of OFWs. Outside recruitment will be banned. So, under the supervision of the government and with no horrendous charges. This will be in the entire Philippines by December),” Duterte said during the Araw ng Pasasalamat for OFWs ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo last Friday.

The President further warned illegal and abusive recruiters that their days are numbered, as they could no longer operate without direct government supervision. He urged those who want to work abroad to engage the services of legal recruiters.

Former presidential aide and current Senator Bong Go supported Duterte’s proposal by filing Senate Bill 202, or the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2019.

“The President wants OFWs to avoid illegal recruiters. Many of their victims have approached us. This has to stop,” Go said in Filipino.

The senator’s measure proposes the establishment of a Department of Overseas Filipinos to serve as the umbrella agency to address all the issues and concerns of Filipinos abroad.

Once passed into law, the functions of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas and the International Labor Affairs Bureau will be transferred to this department.

Currently, OFWs need to go to different government agencies to secure needed documents and present other concerns such as employment and technical education.

Go emphasized the need to streamline services for migrant workers. “They shouldn’t be passed around from one agency to the next. They don’t have to go through confusing government processes. One department will answer all of their needs.”

Balanga, Bataan Bishop Ruperto Santos of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People (CBCP-ECMI), echoed Go, saying the proposal of the President to set up a Department of OFWs intends to create a “one-stop shop” that would spare those planning to work abroad from going to several government offices at different locations.

“We at CBCP-ECMI support and encourage the creation of an OFW Department,” said Bishop Santos.

The measure further creates an Overseas Filipinos Assistance Fund to provide financial support to Filipino migrants in distress, inclusive of repatriation and provisions for life-saving funds in times of great emergency or distress, and provides training and livelihood loans to OFWs returning to the Philippines for good.

Go added that 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 OFWs and their families such as acquisition of government permits, validation of overseas job offers, grievance and complaints desks and reintegration services.

Duterte instructed Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to coordinate with lawmakers and immediately work on the requirements for the establishment of the said OFW department, which he wants done by December.

The President also mulled the creation of a separate department for maritime workers as they have also been abused by their recruiters and managements.

Duterte revealed other plans towards OFW welfare, including deploying more police attachés to countries with a huge number of Filipino workers. He said OFWs can approach the police attachés if they encounter abuses or security concerns abroad.

The President further added he would provide a budget to equip a hospital intended for OFWs, located in Nueva Ecija, with state-of-the-art medical equipment such as MRI and CT Scan machines.

When asked about the likelihood of the proposed measure passing, Go had high hopes that the President will certify the OFW Department Bill as urgent to get it passed into law before the year ends. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Christina Mendez, Evelyn Macairan

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