Imagine that you’re one of over ten million Filipinos living and working overseas. You’re in a foreign land, and your employer is exploiting some legal loophole in your contract. Because you signed their contract, they tell you that you can’t go home.
It’s vague – and you have a feeling that the recruitment agency you paid thousands of pesos to sort this out shortchanged you. What should you do?
You contact your family at home, and ask them to find help. What they’ll find is that there are at least six different agencies and bureaus that handle the affairs of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW).
Who should they approach?
Should they go first to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), since it might be an issue with the recruitment agency? Or should they go to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) since they provide assistance on legal matters?
But wait, the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs under the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also provides legal support for Filipinos abroad. Or since it’s a labor concern, do you go to the International Labor Affairs Bureau of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)?
By the time your relatives back home figure out who to ask, it might be too late. In other words, there’s room for improvement in the streamlining of these services.
Reality that OFWs face
Sadly, poor treatment from employers is a very real concern faced by a lot of OFWs and their families. This is why President Duterte is pushing for the establishment of the Department of Overseas Filipinos.
In his 2019 State of the Nation Address (SONA), he said that this is meant “to ensure [the OFW’s] welfare, protection, and their access to government services.” It is such a top priority for the administration that Duterte said he wants it established before the end of the year.
So what does it really mean to have this Department of Overseas Filipinos?
What will happen to the existing agencies, and will it actually be beneficial for all Overseas Filipinos?
The Department of Overseas Filipinos
All is set for this major change. According to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the draft measure creating the department was already submitted to the Office of the President last July.
Simply put, the Department of Overseas Filipinos will centralize all government agencies and initiatives under one agency. Instead of dealing with smaller bureaus and attached agencies of the DOLE and DFA, all Overseas Filipinos (residents and workers alike) will be able to go to just one department that will handle their needs.
According to the latest version of the bill filed by Senator Bong Go last July, the following agencies and their responsibilities could possibly be transferred to this new department:
- Overseas Welfare Workers Administration (OWWA): protects the interests of OFWs and their families, provides help on a variety of concerns including legal matters
- Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA): monitors and supervises foreign recruitment agencies
- Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO): protects the interests of Filipino emigrants and Filipino permanent residents in other countries
- International Labor Affairs Bureau – DOLE: develops policies, plans, programs, and projects regarding international labor and employment concerns
- National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO): assists OFW’s reintegration into Philippine Society, if they decide to go back home
You can immediately see that these are all related functions currently performed by separate agencies.
Better coordination of services
The main benefit of the Department of Overseas Filipinos will be the coordinated movement for the mentioned government services and initiatives. The confusion that some OFWs might feel will be eliminated. There will now be a dedicated department that will handle all their needs.
In addition, the agency can centralize coordination with Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) that provide services for OFWs. This will cover existing programs from other government departments (like the Department of Social Welfare and Development).
Finally, the bill submitted by Senator Go also explores the possibility of establishing a ₱5-billion Overseas Filipinos Assistance Fund. This will be allocated for repatriation, legal assistance, and other programs that Overseas Filipinos will have access to. Having a centralized government agency will ensure that this budget is used properly.
Prioritizing Filipinos here and abroad
Above all, the greatest benefit perhaps is the clear indication of the government’s prioritization of policy and system processes concerning the welfare of Filipinos overseas. As one of the biggest contributors to Philippine economy, OFWs are definitely worthy of this attention.
That’s just the beginning of good news for our friends and families abroad. They, too, deserve a comfortable life – and be protected and cared for by our government, no matter where they are.