The creation of a new department for OFWS
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B Jimenez (The Freeman) - August 13, 2019 - 12:00am

I was asked to help in the drafting of the law that will create the new Department of OFWs. The OFWs from the Middle East, the Americas, Europe, and Asia Pacific trust my experience as former DOLE undersecretary and labor attaché. We will ask, among others, Congressmen Eddie Gullas, Willy Caminero, Peter John Calderon, and Raul del Mar to sponsor this in the House, and Senators Bong Go, Manny Pacquiao, and Bato de la Rosa to push for it in the Senate.

The sage reminds us that there is no power greater than an idea whose time has finally come. The idea of creating a new Department of OFWs is one such powerful idea. Today, we have a president who feels very strongly for OFWs. We have a DOLE secretary open to whatever change that shall redound to the protection of our migrant workers. We have great NGO leaders like the daughter of Ka Blas Ople, Susan "Toots" Ople, who dedicates her life to the welfare and development of OFWs. And OFW leaders like Dr. Chie Umandap who has left his lucrative job in the Kuwait government to dedicate his time as OWWA board member and advocate for OFW protection.

The idea of a separate executive department dedicated to overseas workers grew from the vision of the late Blas Ople, author of the Labor Code and the Father of DOLE. But perhaps those who followed him in DOLE didn’t want their turfs reduced into minding local employment. Overseas employment has always been the source of great power and prestige, and to the malicious ones, a rich source of money from the recruitment industry and even from poor OFWs themselves. But President Duterte looks at this not as a matter of money but as a matter of enhancing the lives and dignity of millions of OFWs. It’s time to support this initiative to let one department focus on the ten million or so who are in 150 countries remitting $35 billion each year to our economy.

In the Senate, Senator Cynthia Villar, and her daughter, Representative Camille Villar of Las Piñas, filed twin legislative measures in their respective chambers, for the creation of a Department of Migration and Development. I like this name and I prefer it over the proposed Department of OFWs. But what’s in a name? What matters most is that this department shall integrate all government initiatives and regulatory powers as well as welfare and development initiatives into one department. As of today, it is very messy. People in DOLE, DFA, POEA, and OWWA have to do a lot of coordination, clarification, and delineation of functions. Many incidents of conflicts in turfs and territories have derailed good intentions and it is always the OFWs who suffer.

All these agencies and officials and personnel shall belong to the new department: POEA, OWWA, ILAB (International Labor Affairs Bureau) under DOLE, the OUMWA (Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs) now under DFA, the CFO (Commission on Filipino Overseas), and all POLOs (Philippine Overseas Labor Office) and all the Labor attachés and welfare officers and staff. There shall only one leader, the secretary who must have ten years of experience in this area, and not be just any political appointee. The new department must have regional offices and provincial and municipal offices.

What is most essential is that the thrust should be development, not deployment, human dignity not remittances. The illegal recruiters should all be prosecuted and jailed. The foreigners and their dummies should be deported and punished. The secretary should be competent, committed, conscientious, and incorruptible.

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