Hans Cacdac

DMW chief Cacdac’s priorities: Rights-centered recruitment, reintegration

Michelle Abad

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DMW chief Cacdac’s priorities: Rights-centered recruitment, reintegration

DMW SECRETARY. Newly appointed Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Secretary Hans Leo Cacdac, leads the flag ceremony at the DMW headquarters, on April 29, 2024.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Newly appointed DMW Secretary Hans Cacdac says he will continue the programs of the late former secretary 'Toots' Ople

MANILA, Philippines – Newly appointed Migrant Workers Secretary Hans Cacdac’s top priorities include putting forward overseas Filipino workers’ (OFWs) rights through quality, vetted recruitment processes, and implementing “full-cycle” reintegration programs, he said on Monday, April 29.

After leading his first flag ceremony as the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) secretary on Monday, Cacdac spoke to the media to discuss his priorities and the way forward for the Philippines’ newest department. Cacdac is the second secretary to lead the fully formed DMW, succeeding the late former secretary Susan “Toots” Ople, who died in August 2023.

“Top of mind [of my priorities] will always be… [the] rights-based approach, which is moving forward the agenda that Filipinos should be cared for and protected from the Philippine side, which is mostly ‘yung (the) recruitment side,” he said.

Cacdac explained that this rights-centered recruitment included the proper vetting of contracts, which include workers’ rights, like an abused domestic worker’s right to pre-terminate their contract in Saudi Arabia. This protection of rights extends when the OFWs go abroad, with Cacdac citing the Global Compact for Migration, which calls for safe, ethical, fair, and transparent labor mobility.

The new DMW chief also mentioned providing full-cycle reintegration programs, such as livelihood, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy programs in preparation for returning to the Philippines for good.

Kung gaano kainit natin dinidepensahan ang kanilang karapatan, ganoon din ang pagdepensa natin sa kanilang kabuuang kita, so that magagamit nila ito sa kanilang pangangailangan, edukasyon, pabahay, pagkain, at ano pa man nilang pangangailangan sa kanilang pamilya,” he said.

(The intensity of our defense of their rights matches how much we will defend the money they earn, so that they can use this for their needs, education, housing, food, and whatever needs their family may have.)

Cacdac’s priorities are not new practices, as the DMW had been implementing these from Ople’s term. The new secretary hesitated to distinguish his leadership style from Ople’s, mentioning how the two have always been aligned, even when Ople was with the nongovernment organization Blas Ople Center and Cacdac was in his previous posts in government.

“Through the years, we’ve agreed between ourselves to have these types of approaches and thrusts when it comes to OFWs. So, I fully commit myself to what we had taken up before with Sec. Toots, and we will further pursue these… programs and services,” he said.

Following Ople’s death, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed Cacdac, then undersecretary for foreign employment and welfare services, as officer-in-charge from September 2023 until his newest appointment. It requires confirmation by the Commission on Appointments.

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More priorities: Bilateral agreements, digitalization, ‘brain gain’

The DMW plans to enhance its bilateral agreements with OFWs’ host countries, with a vision to implement “safe, ethical, and fair” recruitment that would ensure host countries’ shared responsibility of taking care of OFWs while they are at work abroad.

Digitalization is also a priority, which aims to make OFWs’ processes faster and more convenient.

Cacdac also eyes implementing “brain gain initiatives,” a concept related to reintegration. Analysts have often pointed to the OFW phenomenon causing brain drain in the country, which happens when skilled Filipino workers leave the country to work elsewhere.

Magbibigay rin sila ng tulong sa atin para mapagtibay ang labor market natin, mapalago ang investments natin, para ang mga natutunan din ng OFWs doon sa ibang bansa ay maibalik nila sa ating mahal na bayan,” he said, adding these initiatives would involve partnerships with the Technical Education And Skills Development Authority, Commission on Higher Education, and the Department of Education.

(They will also help us strengthen our labor market and grow our investments, so that OFWs can bring home the skills they gained in other countries.)

OFW rights group: Improve financial assistance

In a statement on Friday, April 26, OFW rights group Migrante Philippines called on the new secretary to expand the scope of the Agarang Kalinga at Saklolo para sa mga OFW na Nangangailangan (AKSYON) Fund, which is the primary source of financial assistance for distressed OFWs. The DMW was allotted more than P1 billion for its AKSYON Fund for 2024.

The group said that many OFWs have reported to them their “disappointment” with the DMW because of certain challenges they face when trying to claim financial assistance.

“It is very difficult for OFWs to get assistance from the department. We are worried that the AKSYON Fund would be under-utilized, leaving thousands of OFWs who deserve assistance without any help,” the group said.

Migrante, a left-leaning group, noted that Cacdac has “opened his lines to Migrante through consultations.”

“Secretary Cacdac must ensure that immediate service is provided to every OFW. The process of repatriation should be expedited, and OFWs should be provided with legal, financial, and livelihood assistance,” they said. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.