By Corina Oliquino | FilAm Star Correspondent
MANILA — Following President Duterte’s insistent proposition of a sole department dedicated to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano pushed for a bill that will provide full protection to OFWs Last May 4.
Senate Bill No. 1435 will fast-track the help given to OFWs by creating a “focused, single-minded, specialized department secretary solely for OFWs” which will be known as the Department of Foreign Employment (DOFE).
Under the new department, OFWs can be assured of a one-stop umbrella agency to specifically address all the issues and concerns of OFWs as well as their families. The agency will afford them “full protection, promote their full and just employment, mitigate the social costs back home, and serve as a channel to address OFW issues and grievances.”
“The measure further creates an OFW Distress and Assistance Fund to provide financial support for OFWs in distress, inclusive of repatriation and provisions for life-saving funds in times of great emergency or distress; and provides training and livelihood loans for OFWs returning to the Philippines for good.”
Cayetano explained that even though there were three existing government agencies (Department of Labor and Employment, Philippine Overseas Employment Agency and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) that help OFWs under Republic Act No. 8042 or the Migrant Workers Act, the absence of a single agency to address foreign employment concerns “has made it difficult for the government to focus on the needs and demands of foreign Filipino employment in general.”
“Hence, there is a pressing need to prioritize the creation of an agency that would manage, harmonize, and strengthen existing policies and programs to address the needs of foreign Filipino employment,” Cayetano added.
Moreover, Cayetano cited that an estimate puts 10.2 million Filipinos overseas and around two million Filipinos leave the country each year with 78 percent of these deployed for land-based destinations and the remaining 22 percent hired as seafarers to work as personnel in fishing vessels or cruise ships or to serve on mobile offshore and drilling units in high seas.
Cayetano also cited a study by Dr. Ma. Loudes Carandang (a clinical psychologist) in 2012 about children of overseas domestic workers and found out that these “motherless” children have “greater likelihood of growing up psychologically-troubled and facing academic difficulties.”
In a statement released by the Senate of the Philippines, if passed into law, the proposed Department of Foreign Employment (DOFE) will be headed by a person with a rank of Cabinet Secretary and shall be “the primary policy, programming, coordinating, and administrative entity of the executive branch, providing assistance to OFWs in the field of overseas labor and employment.”
“The measure also proposes to create a Php1-billion OFW Distress and Assistance Fund to provide financial support for OFWs in distress – including repatriation and provisions for life-saving funds in times of great emergency – as well as training and livelihood loans for returning OFWs,” the Senate press statement said.
A campaign promise
Since the May 2016 elections, then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his awe and concern for overseas Filipino workers, to date, and after assuming the presidency, Duterte and his administration set up a one-stop shop for OFWs last August 15, 2016. It will facilitate processing both new and returning OFWs who need to secure necessary documents in one-go at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and its 14 partner agencies.
On December 20, 2016 the Department of Finance (DOF) announced that the OFW Bank will be set up this September in partnership with Land Bank of the Philippines with an authorized capital of Php3 billion.
“A bank dedicated to the needs of OFWs is one of the promises of President Duterte to Filipino migrant workers,” the DOF statement read.
“The OFW bank will be a listed company with an authorized capital of Php3 billion and a subscribed capital of Php2 billion, of which Php1 billion is paid-up by the LandBank. Another Php1 billion will be open for subscription to OFWs who can acquire them by buying shares in the bank,” Land Bank President Alex Buenaventura said in a statement.