Proposed OFW dept would allow gov't to 'focus' on their plight – Cayetano

MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the proposed Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW) would allow the government to "focus" on providing the services they need.

On Tuesday, September 17, Cayetano – a former foreign affairs secretary – argued it is difficult for different government agencies to always prioritize OFWs. 

"If there is one word to describe the DOFW – and my version of the bill includes foreign employment – it will be 'focus,'" said the Speaker on the sidelines of the joint House committee hearing on the bills proposing to create the new department.  

Cayetano recalled that when he was still chief of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), his schedule as a Cabinet official did not allow him to dedicate 2 to 3 days to speak to OFWs, even if he wanted to, because he had other tasks and events to go to.

"Hindi mo mahahati ang katawan mo eh…. The reality is, with the DOFW, may isa kang secretary na siya lang responsible talaga. Kung may papagalitan or pupurihin, uutusan, mayroong accountable," the Taguig City-Pateros congressman said.

(It's impossible to divide yourself…. The reality is, with the DOFW, you would have one secretary responsible for this. If someone has to be scolded or praised or given tasks, we would have someone to hold accountable.)

At least 21 bills have been filed in the House seeking to create the DOFW, with Cayetano himself among the legislators who filed these measures.

The proposed department would be mandated to formulate and implement policies protecting OFWs, and monitor their employment conditions abroad.

The DOFW also seeks to consolidate the services and functions of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the Department of Labor and Employment, and the DFA on matters relating to OFWs. 

The Speaker said legislators are aiming for President Rodrigo Duterte to sign the bill into law by December 2019. (READ: Duterte calls for creation of Department for Overseas Filipinos

But Cayetano admitted the work is cut out for the House of Representatives and the Senate to gather support for the measure. The bill creating DOFW did not pass the committee level in the House in the previous 17th Congress.

"Having said that, marami talagang issues at marami talagang government agencies na may tanong. So to rationalize all of its functions and to be able to explain to people bakit mas effective kung may Department of OFW, that will be the challenge," said Cayetano. 

(Having said that, there are a lot of issues that we need to thresh out and many agencies still have questions. So to rationalize all of its functions and to be able to explain to people why it would be more effective to have a Department of OFW, that will be the challenge.) 

The bill creating the OFW department is a priority of the President, who once again urged Congress to pass it during his 4th State of the Nation Address. His call came after headlines on OFWs, including the execution of a 39-year-old Filipino worker in Saudi Arabia in January and the gruesome 2016 murder of Filipina Joanna Demafelis in Kuwait. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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