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Opinion

Wanted: A separate department for OFWs

DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT - Atty Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

The current imbroglio involving alleged sex for flight, and other shenanigans in government's management of labor migration underscores, once again, the imperative need to create a separate Cabinet portfolio that shall focus on caring for the 12 million Filipino migrant workers in 200 countries all over the world. We cannot allow this recurrent finger-pointing between the elements of DOLE and DFA on the ground, in all countries of destination for our migrant workers, as well as the simulated cooperation between labor and foreign officials, which leave a lot to be desired, and usually result to abuses and ineptitude. If the government is serious in its avowed concern for our migrant workers, then the creation of a separate department is a great idea whose time has come.

The problem with government is that it is always reactive. This hullabaloo could have been anticipated and could very well be avoided, if there is an officialdom that does nothing else but manage the Philippine labor migration. The DOLE is overwhelmed with too many responsibilities, ranging from addressing the unemployment problem, the wage formulation and the management of labor standards, the inspection of establishments to make sure that labor standard laws are enforced, the problems on child labor and violations of health, safety and welfare laws, the maintenance of industrial peace, conciliation, mediation and arbitration of labor and industrial disputes, and many other things. Overseas employment is a major concern that deserves a specialized agency.

The DFA should focus on political and economic diplomacy and should leave the protection of our nationals to experts. Labor migration is a special field and our corps of diplomats have not been adequately trained for this specialized area of international diplomacy. There are no labor experts among our ambassadors, except perhaps in the case of Ambassador Jose Brillantes, who used to be acting DOLE Secretary before he was appointed as our envoy to Malaysia and Canada, respectively, and Pedro Chan, who was my contemporary in DOLE in the mid-seventies. We used to have ambassadors Roy Seneres, now a party-list representative, Akmad Sakkam, now a peace process advisor, and the late Boy Parungao who was sent to Iraq. These ambassadors were former labor attachés. They were all Ople boys and did sterling jobs in the Middle East.

What we are saying here is simple: Labor migration, being a major area of modern diplomacy, must be assigned to experts who have specialized training and special skills. The DOLE should focus on solving the domestic unemployment problem, the maintenance of industrial peace and the promotion of productivity as our competitive edge in a globalized economy, as well as on workers' protection in the local scene. There must be a top man of Cabinet rank who shall be responsible directly to the President on all matters pertaining to deployment of and caring for Filipino migrant workers. There are only few who can qualify to do this highly delicate job. The DFA should focus on diplomacy for the protection of the integrity of the Philippine territory and for the promotion of trade and economic exchanges between our country and the world, and leave protection to nationals to the experts.

When the Flor Contemplacion controversy erupted in the nineties, the government reacted by enacting RA 8042, or the Magna Carta for Migrant Workers, and later amended it by RA 10022. But the government missed the opportunity of providing focus on this big, big chunk of work on the ground. These problems that we are facing currently on sex for flight and other related shenanigans involving Filipino migrants, including drug trafficking and related issues, could be addressed on a more focused manner if we have a separate Department for Migrant Workers. The Chinese sage used to say: It is crazy to expect different results using the same method and structure. The government must be crazy trying to crack this nut by using the same old crude and ineffective ways. The time to embrace change has come. If we do not do it now, then we should expect more and more problems of same nature, and even worse. The President has the singular opportunity to leave a lasting legacy to 12 million Filipinos and about 50 million others who depend on labor migration for their sustenance and survival.

AKMAD SAKKAM AMBASSADOR JOSE BRILLANTES BOY PARUNGAO LABOR MAGNA CARTA MALAYSIA AND CANADA MIDDLE EAST MIGRANT WORKERS PEDRO CHAN ROY SENERES WHEN THE FLOR CONTEMPLACION
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