By William Casis

Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go lauded the ongoing collaborative efforts between the executive and legislative branches of government to ensure the passage of a measure that would create a new department dedicated to handling the affairs of overseas Filipinos.  

This proposed legislation is the second iteration of Senate Bill No. 202, filed by Go last July 2019, which seeks to improve the delivery of government services to Filipinos abroad by bringing together and streamlining the relevant services scattered across various national agencies. 

It takes into consideration the inputs from the concerned executive agencies and has been endorsed by the Office of the Cabinet Secretary and Presidential Legislative Liaison Office to the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development.  

Recognizing the significant contribution of the overseas Filipinos to the country’s economy and emphasizing the need to serve and protect them better, President Rodrigo Duterte has twice called on Congress to pass the priority measure during his 2019 and 2020 State of the Nation Addresses.

The new version, SBN 1835, brings together under one department the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Commission on Overseas Filipinos, all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices under the Department of Labor and Employment, the International Labor Affairs Bureau under DOLE, and International Social Services Office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

In the new version of the bill, the Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOOF) will exercise administrative supervision over the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration which shall be attached to the envisioned department. 

Once established, the DOOF will protect the rights and promote the welfare of overseas Filipinos; formulate, plan, coordinate, promote, administer, and implement policies; and undertake systematic national development programs for managing and monitoring the overseas or foreign employment of Filipino workers, among others.

The measure proposes that the new Department will be led by a Secretary and four Undersecretaries who shall head the following offices: (1) Administration and Finance; (2) Foreign Employment; (3) Assistance to Overseas Filipinos in Distress; and (4) Policy, Treaties, International Agreements and Special Concerns.

Under the measure, the Assistance-to-Nationals offices found in all foreign service posts will serve as the department’s overseas operating arm. They will look after the welfare of Filipinos abroad and provide assistance with regard to problems, such as contract violations, poor employment conditions and exploitation in the work place, among others.

In addition, distressed overseas Filipinos in need of temporary shelter, medical aid and other forms of assistance may find them in the Migrant Workers and other Overseas Filipinos Resource Centers that will be set up in every country of destination. The centers will be staffed with psychologists, social workers, and a Shari’a or human rights lawyer as well as case or public relations officers fluent in the local language, laws, customs and practices of the country. 

The bill also notably directs the establishment of Overseas Filipino Malasakit Centers in strategic locations throughout the country to serve as a one-stop shop for migrant Filipinos and their families requiring clearances and permits, validation of overseas job offers, reintegration services and pertinent seminars and workshops. 

To support the department’s operations and activities, a computer-based management information system containing all the overseas Filipinos’ relevant information will be created at the department and office level.