Department of Migrant Workers

Mamao gives orders as secretary, but migrant workers’ agency yet to be set up

Michelle Abad
Mamao gives orders as secretary, but migrant workers’ agency yet to be set up

DMW SECRETARY. Migrant Workers Secretary Abdullah Mamao shares his remarks during a meeting with key government officials presided by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte at the Malacañan Palace on March 21, 2022.


Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon says Migrant Workers Secretary Abdullah Mamao can be held liable for usurpation of authority if he continues to issue orders and exercise functions of the DMW even if the agency has yet to be constituted

He took his oath as secretary of Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) on March 9, it’s just right for Abdullah Mamao to hit the ground running, right?

He got it wrong, according to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.

In the weeks since President Rodrigo Duterte named him secretary of the government’s newest department, Mamao has issued several administrative orders and other memos exercising authority over the agencies that serve overseas Filipinos.

A source privy to the DMW’s transition under Republic Act 11641, the law creating the DMW, provided Rappler copies of some of Mamao’s orders. He directed agencies to be consolidated and merged under the new department and to course all their communications and personnel actions through the Office of the DMW Secretary.

In an administrative order dated April 4, Mamao called for Philippine Overseas Employment Administration chief Bernard Olalia to “cease and desist from exercising any and all powers and functions as the administrator of the POEA.” He directed Olalia to turn over to the DMW all documents, records, pending cases, and other related documents to the DMW within 24 hours from receipt of the order.

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.

But the DMW has yet to be fully constituted, according to Medialdea and Drilon.

“Considering that the DMW has not been constituted yet, it follows that the government entities/agencies enumerated in Section 19 of RA 11641 shall continue to exist separately and perform their respective mandates until DMW is constituted,” Medialdea said in a letter addressed to Mamao on Tuesday, April 5.

In Medialdea’s letter, he said Mamao’s recommendation to recall the appointment of officials in the POEA through a memorandum “cannot be favorably acted upon by Malacañang.”

According to the law, the following conditions need to be met for the DMW to be constituted:

  • A budget provided for in the 2023 General Appropriations Act
  • Effective implementing rules and regulations (IRR)
  • A staffing pattern

“I proposed that amendment in Section 23. I should know the legislative intent. There is no way to satisfy the first condition because we are only in the 2022 budget. The deliberations for the 2023 budget will not take place until later this year,” Drilon said in a media release on Thursday, April 7.

The POEA earlier said that the DMW may start operations by 2023, as the law provides a two-year transition period. The law mandates the transition committee, composed of the DMW secretary and several other officials in the related agencies, to formulate the proposed budget, IRR, and staffing pattern.

The Department of Labor and Employment confirmed to reporters on Wednesday, April 6, that the transition committee’s version of the IRR had been submitted to Malacañang.


Drilon, a former labor secretary, blasted Mamao for his “erroneous interpretation” of the new law, calling his interpretation of it “self-serving.”

“His actions are not befitting of a secretary. His issuances have no basis and only disrupt what should have been a smooth transition. Clearly, he is putting his personal interest above the needs of the industry that the law seeks to protect. The President should immediately fire him,” Drilon said on Thursday.

Drilon added that he was “very much concerned” about the labor sector and migrant workers. “They are the ones caught in the crossfire because of Mr. Mamao’s actions. His actions are detrimental to the very sector that RA 11641 seeks to protect,” he said.

Drilon said that Mamao could be held liable for usurpation of authority if he continues to issue orders and exercise functions of the DMW even if it hasn’t been constituted yet.

The senator added that Mamao’s appointment was merely as a member of the transition committee, and that he has limited powers while the DMW undergoes its transition period. “He is a king without a kingdom. He has no department to lead,” he added.

Prior to his appointment, Mamao was Duterte’s adviser on OFWs and Muslim concerns, and was designated as special envoy to Kuwait in 2018. Like Duterte, he is a 1972 law graduate of San Beda College. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer with the investigative unit of Rappler. She also covers overseas Filipinos and the rights of women and children.