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MANILA, Philippines – Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the law creating the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), operations at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) must remain at status quo until the new department is fully constituted, the labor department said on Thursday, April 21.
The new law turns the POEA into the DMW and consolidates and merges the offices related to migrant workers’ affairs under the labor, foreign affairs, and social welfare departments.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III directed relevant agencies to keep performing their current mandates amid contrary actions by the transition committee and the migrant workers secretary, which led to “confusion and disruption of public service to the detriment of migrant workers.”
Duterte approved the transmission committee’s version of the IRR on Monday, April 18, nullifying the version that Migrant Workers Secretary Abdullah Mamao issued on his own.
Mamao had earlier issued several orders as the department secretary, but Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told him that the to-be-merged agencies would continue to exist separately until the department was fully constituted.
On Thursday, Bello reiterated that the DMW has yet to be fully set up and that POEA chief Bernard Olalia must keep performing his mandate.
Bello said that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra must settle the administrative confusion.
“Thus, it is of utmost importance that the status quo be maintained pending the issuance of the justice secretary of his ruling or decision, which shall be conclusive and binding on all parties concerned,” Bello said.
According to Republic Act No. 11641, the law creating the DMW, the following conditions need to be met for the DMW to be constituted:
- a budget provided for in the 2023 General Appropriations Act
- effective IRR
- a staffing pattern
Members of the DMW transition committee, who included Olalia, foreign undersecretary Sarah Arriola, labor assistant secretary Alice Visperas, and other officials from the social welfare department and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, sent a memorandum to the President on April 4 seeking the disapproval of Mamao’s IRR as his issuance allegedly violated RA 11641.
Duterte recognized the transition committee’s authority as he approved their version instead.
In a House committee hearing on Wednesday, April 20, Blas F. Ople Policy Center president Susan Ople voiced concern over the internal dispute possibly compromising services to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) due to confusion on which body will implement policies.
The POEA has been “split into two” camps, with people following Olalia and those supporting Mamao, Ople said.
“My concern is that from being an internal issue, this will escalate into an international embarrassment for our country,” she said.
“We don’t deserve this. This is precisely the antithesis of having a DMW. And the reason why we are pushed, as stakeholders, for the DMW is to unify all actions, all decisions, all policies related to our OFWs,” she added.
The POEA earlier said the DMW was expected to begin operations by 2023.