Lawmaker seeks creation of department for OFWs

Don Kevin Hapal
Lawmaker seeks creation of department for OFWs

AFP

The new department is seen to 'ensure a unified, fast, and coherent approach in extending government services to Filipinos overseas and their families'

MANILA, Phillippines – ACTS-OFW representative Aniceto “John” Bertiz III filed a bill seeking the establishment of a department dedicated to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs): the Department of Migration and Development (DMD).

A counterpart measure of the bill filed at the Senate by Senator Cynthia Villar, House Bill 192 aims to “ensure a unified, fast, and coherent approach in extending government services to Filipinos overseas and their families,” according to a press release from the party list. 

“This bill seeks to build on the President’s campaign promise to our OFWs for a separate department, and fulfill it, guided solely by the need to establish accountability and transparency, promote speedy, effective and more convenient services, and boost development through more cohesive reintegration programs and family-oriented services,” Bertiz said.

During the campaign period for the May 2016 elections, President Rodrigo Duterte promised to establish a department for OFWs and a system of banks through which OFWs could channel their remittances.

“I propose to create one government [agency] only to take care of the OFW. Lahat ng kailangan ng permit, diyan nila kukunin sa administrasyon na ‘yan (All the permits they need, they will get it from that agency). It’s going to be a department to take care of them,” Duterte said.

Bertiz said that an aspiring OFW needs to go through at least 7 agencies from the time he files his application to the actual day of his departure.

The neophyte lawmaker said that the department would not only streamline bureaucratic requirements for OFWs but also strengthen the reintegration program for OFWs.

“The responsibility for the well-being of our OFWs cuts across several agencies and departments, leading to finger-pointing in times of crisis, and worse, inaction when the life of an overseas worker hangs in the balance,” he said.

The proposed department, according to the proposed bill, will plan, develop, and manage the national migration and development agenda in consultation with various stakeholders, to promote the protection, safety, development and support of and for OFWs and their families.

In the bill, some government agencies, offices and bureaus shall be collapsed and be integrated to the DMD. However, POEA and OWWA shall be retained but will be attached to the proposed department.

 Other salient features of the measure include the following:

  • Establishment of One-Stop Migrant Assistance Centers in all major capital towns and cities nationwide;
  • Setting up of P1-billion Special Assistance Revolving Fund for both documented and undocumented workers.
  • Creation of an Inter-Agency Coordinating Council on Migration and Development that is tasked to handle death-row cases involving blood money, human trafficking and large-scale illegal recruitment, terrorism, drug trafficking and other humanitarian cases. 

Duterte was not the only candidate who proposed the creation of a separate department for OFWs during the 2016 elections.

Defeated senatorial candidate Susan Ople also said then that it’s about time the country establish a separate department that will conduct a comprehensive government review of the country’s overseas employment program.

The former vice president and defeated presidential candidate Jejomar Binay also promised the creation of a dedicated department for OFWs. (READ: ‘How presidential bets plan to empower OFWs‘ )

But the Center for Migrant Advocacy-Philippines (CMA) and the Working Group on Migration of the Political Science Department of Ateneo de Manila University (WGM), in a piece published by Rappler last April, said that “the proposal to establish a separate Department on Migration and Development must be studied carefully and discussed by all stakeholders. ” 

The two groups warned that “a separate department could send the wrong message to the public that migration-for-work is to be promoted further as its establishment signals a level of ‘permanence.’”

On the practical side, meanwhile, they said that “this department can cause displacement of government employees in existing migration-related agencies.” – Rappler.com


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Don Kevin Hapal

Don Kevin Hapal is Rappler’s Head of Data and Innovation. He started at Rappler as a digital communications specialist, then went on to lead Rappler’s Balikbayan section for overseas Filipinos. He was introduced to data journalism while writing and researching about social media, disinformation, and propaganda.