overseas Filipinos

Need for proposed OFW department still unclear to some senators

Michelle Abad

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Need for proposed OFW department still unclear to some senators

REPATRIATED. Overseas Filipino workers queue at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 in Pasay City on December 14, 2020.

File photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration would still be attached agencies, but remain independent of the proposed Department of Overseas Filipinos

The reason for consolidating government offices related to overseas Filipinos’ concerns under the proposed Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOFIL) remains unclear, senators said on Monday, May 10.

This, despite the hearings being on their last leg before possible approval of the proposed measure at the committee level.

Proponents like Senate labor committee chair Joel Villanueva and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the new department will be a “one stop shop” for overseas Filipinos’ concerns – whether they are workers (OFWs) or citizens of the other countries. 

While the one-stop-shop model got the support of both the labor and foreign affairs departments, senators pointed out the administrative and budgetary implications of creating such a new department.

Admin, budget concerns

Among others, some of the DOFIL’s absorbed offices would include the office of migrant workers affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Commission on Overseas Filipinos under the Office of the President, and the international social services office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). 

Meanwhile, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) under the labor department and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) would still remain as attached agencies, making them independent of the proposed DOFIL.

“What’s the point of this DOFIL, you made it take offices and mess up the systems of the DFA, DSWD, and [Department of Labor and Employment], and at the end of the day, the two most relevant agencies are not part whether by personnel or in budget,” Senator Imee Marcos said in Filipino.

Under Executive Order 292, the “attachment” of an agency is for policy and program coordination. “In other words, the [DOFIL] secretary cannot direct the two agencies because the two would be independent,” said Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.

In terms of fund concerns, Senator Nancy Binay grilled Nograles on the assistance to nationals (ATN) fund, currently under the DFA. If the department is created, the ATN would be partially transferred to the DOFIL, causing Philippine ambassadors to lose immediate access to the fund.

Nograles cited Section 14 of the bill which provides for a “consular assistance fund” for certain countries that do not have a Philippine labor attaché or DOFIL office yet. Once a country has DOFIL presence, there will be no more consular assistance fund, and the money would all be with the ATN.

“Since the ‘gold’ is with the DOFIL attaché, he can overrule the Department of Foreign Affairs secretary, because he holds the funds. So instead of coordination, it will result in confusion,” said Drilon.

In March 2020, the House of Representatives passed the bill that would establish the DOFIL. While 173 legislators voted yes, 11 lawmakers voted against the bill. No one abstained from the vote. – 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.