Department of Migrant Workers

Who is Hans Cacdac, the new migrant workers secretary?

Michelle Abad

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Who is Hans Cacdac, the new migrant workers secretary?

DMW CHIEF. Hans Cacdac, the new Department of Migrant Workers chief, attends a Senate hearing on the proposed 2024 national expenditure program of the DMW on September 11, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Cacdac, who previously led the OWWA and POEA, has a long track record of working in labor and migration governance

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. named Hans Leo Cacdac the new secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) on Thursday, April 25.

Cacdac, who was one of the department’s inaugural undersecretaries and officer-in-charge of the department for over half a year, succeeds the late Susan “Toots” Ople, whom Marcos appointed as his first DMW secretary. Ople was the first secretary under the fully formed DMW, the Philippine government’s newest department.

The DMW was created in December 2021 under former president Rodrigo Duterte. It absorbed and merged the responsibilities of the offices in the labor, foreign affairs, and social welfare departments catering to migrant Filipino workers.

A champion for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), almost all of Cacdac’s career has consisted of technical work and leadership roles in labor and migration governance. His expertise has transcended political lines, being an appointee under three different presidents. His latest ad interim appointment needs to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments.

Here are some things to know about the newest DMW secretary.

Lawyer, labor official

Cacdac graduated with a degree in philosophy from the Ateneo de Manila University in 1989, and pursued law in the same university until 1993. He passed the Philippine bar in 1994, and continued to take a master’s degree in comparative law from 1996 to 1998 at Samford University in Alabama.

Fresh from passing the Bar, Cacdac also worked as an associate lawyer and as the urban poor unit coordinator of the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan) until 2001.

2001 was the same year when Cacdac plunged into what would be a long (and ongoing) career in government. From 2001 to 2005, he served as the director of the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) Bureau of Labor Relations, and then became the administrator of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board for a year.

Cacdac climbed to become the deputy administrator of the now-defunct Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in 2006, which was under the DOLE prior to the creation of the DMW.

The late former president Benigno Aquino III appointed Cacdac as the DOLE’s undersecretary for labor relations from 2010 to 2011. He returned to the POEA, then as its administrator, in 2012. He carried the post for four years.

In April 2015, the POEA under Cacdac canceled the licenses of at least 55 recruitment agencies reported to have violated POEA requirements. The agencies accused Cacdac of not following due process, and called for his ouster. He denied this, and Ople, who then led the OFW rights advocacy organization Blas Ople Policy Center, came to his defense.

For almost the entire Duterte administration, Cacdac assumed the post of the chief of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). While the POEA focused on licensing and recruitment, the OWWA was tasked to look after overseas Filipino workers’ welfare and protection.

Then, as the DMW grew to welcome a staffing pattern under Marcos Jr., Cacdac became the first undersecretary for foreign employment and welfare services under the leadership of Ople.

After Ople died in August 2023, Marcos named Cacdac as the department’s officer-in-charge the following month. He held the post until he was appointed to fully take on the task of secretary this April.

Technical work

Amid his larger positions, Cacdac gained expertise in technical labor and migration governance, and led several negotiations for OFWs’ rights and protection in the local and international sphere.

From 2008, Cacdac began taking part in Philippine negotiating teams for bilateral labor agreements with other countries taking in OFWs, beginning with talks with Qatar and the European Union. He led the Philippine delegation in an experts’ meeting at the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, which yielded the ILO-Maritime Labor Convention Guidelines on Flag and Port States Inspection.

He was also head of the Philippine delegation to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Committee on Migrant Workers drafting team, which was tasked to develop an instrument to implement the 2008 ASEAN Declaration on Protection and Promotion of Rights of Migrant Workers.

Cacdac chaired in 2009 the technical working group that was tasked by then-DOLE secretary Marianito Roque to craft the omnibus implementing rules and regulations to enforce the 1995 law on migrant workers and overseas Filipinos.

He continued to work with the ILO in Geneva, chairing the committee on domestic workers, which developed the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. 

Cacdac moved up from taking part in bilateral labor negotiations to leading the Philippines’ side in talks with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and Germany.

Come the COVID-19 pandemic, Cacdac as OWWA chief led the pandemic quarantine management and repatriation efforts for around 1 million OFWs who returned to the country from 2020 to 2022. 

Once at the DMW, he spearheaded the establishment of Ople’s first flagship program, the One Repatriation Command Center, the one-stop center for OFW families seeking updates on the repatriation efforts for their loved ones abroad.

In his first statement as secretary on Friday, April 26, Cacdac highlighted a number of priorities under his watch, including digitizing OFW processes, regulating safe and ethical recruitment, promoting financial literacy, developing OFWs’ skills and career paths, and the pursuit of “deeper” bilateral labor relations with OFW host countries.

“We shall continue to adhere to a rights-based approach and ensure the utmost protection of our OFWs’ human and employment rights,” he said.

In several press interviews and in his social media posts, Cacdac has often mentioned his being the son of an OFW father. –

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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.