MANILA, Philippines – In the new Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), “bawal ang masungit (grumpy people are not allowed).”
Overseas Filipino workers advocate Susan “Toots” Ople made the assurance as she gave her first speech as the newly sworn in migrant workers secretary on Friday, July 1. She was pertaining to a common complaint of OFWs when transacting with consular officials for their concerns – that they are sometimes snubbed and not served well.
“The Department of Migrant Workers is every OFW’s home in the government. We will build that home, together, in accordance with the law creating this department and with all the very best intentions in the world,” said Ople in a welcoming ceremony on Friday.
Ople promised several reforms under the new department: simpler rules and processes, revisiting of requirements and systems, fighting human trafficking, holding accountable lawyers who take advantage of OFWs, and virtual town hall meetings, among others.
“Tingnan natin paano gumaan ang buhay ng OFWs dahil mahirap na nga ang desisyong umalis ng bansa. Ang reklamo ng iba, ‘Bakit pa ‘yung gobyerno pa ‘yung nagpapahirap sa amin?‘” she said.
(Let’s see how we can make our OFWs’ lives easier because it is already a difficult decision to leave the country. Some complain, “How come it’s the government that even gives us a hard time?”)
Ople said that she wanted the department to “hit the ground running.” Here are some of the things on their to-do list:
- Open dialogues about revisiting rules and regulations of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which will be turned into the DMW once it is fully constituted
- Automating systems with the help of the Department of Information and Communications Technology
- File complaints against lawyers taking advantage of OFWs and “harming our industry”
- Create guidelines on an “Aksyon Fund” which will be used to respond to distressed OFWs
- Use digital platforms to make virtual town hall meetings where OFWs can voice their concerns
- Launch partnerships with various government agencies, civil society, and the private sector to cooperate for reintegration programs. The DMW will also hold “global and national reintegration summits to harness the power of the private sector and big business to ensure that our programs are viable and sustainable.”
- Relay OFWs’ concerns on mandatory fees to lawmakers
Ople acknowledged the last point on mandatory fees as one of the top concerns of OFWs, and asked for OFWs’ understanding on why the department needs to course possible revisions through lawmakers.
“Bagamat gusto namin sana na talagang wala halos bayaran, ang reality ay may mga batas kasi, like ‘yung sa SSS, Pag-IBIG, ‘yung PhilHealth – lahat ‘yan may ibang klaseng batas. Ngayon, baka puwedeng ang pakiusap namin sa mga mambabatas natin, may calendar lang talaga kung ano at magkano at kailan babayaran,” said Ople.
(As much as we want to reduce fees as much as possible, the reality is that there are laws, like the Social Security System, Pag-IBIG, and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation – all of those have different laws. Now, our appeal to our lawmakers is perhaps there could be a calendar on what, how much, and when fees need to be paid.)
Ople also said that the department was waiting for the new heads of PhilHealth and the Department of Health to discuss what OFW groups have called “excessive” PhilHealth premiums. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has yet to name his health secretary.
The migrant workers secretary noted that the department remained under transition while it is not yet fully constituted. For now, Ople said the DMW would still depend on Assistance to Nationals officers from the Department of Foreign Affairs. The DMW is also coordinating with new Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma on who supervises labor attachés, and what kind of resources they can share.
The DMW will not be fully constituted until there are effective implementing rules and regulations, a staffing pattern, and a budget provided for in the 2023 General Appropriations Act. The department is expected to be fully operational in 2023.
In her first speech, Ople also gave an email that OFWs can reach if they encounter unpleasant experiences with DMW workers – email@example.com.
Ople had made her plans known prior to the welcoming ceremony on Friday. In a statement on Monday, June 27, OFW rights alliance Migrante International welcomed Ople’s willingness to hold town hall meetings and look into their demands of scrapping mandatory fees.
Migrante International also appealed for reforms that the Duterte administration “failed” to address: setting up more temporary shelters abroad, full legal and counseling assistance to jailed OFWs, and right to security of tenure for seafarers. The alliance also reiterated its stance against labor export as a policy.
“Migration should not be used as a response to the growing unemployment in the country. Instead, the Philippine government must ensure domestic employment with security of tenure and just wage for the Filipino workers,” Migrante said in the Monday statement.
Ople is a long-time OFW advocate and the youngest daughter of the late Blas Ople – late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ labor minister. In his inaugural speech on June 30, Marcos Jr. mentioned his firm belief in the younger Ople.
“There will be changes starting tomorrow. I am confident because I have an Ople in my Cabinet,” Marcos Jr. had said. – Rappler.com
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