Senate hearing tackles creation of Department of OFWs
MANILA, Philippines — A Senate budget hearing on Tuesday tackled a proposed measure seeking to establish a new department to look after the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFW).
During the hearing on the proposed budget of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and its attached agencies, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III if the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) were performing well, to which Bello replied in the affirmative.
“There is no need to put them in a separate department?” Drilon said in jest, drawing laughter from the crowd.
“Your Honor, ever since this issue of a new department came up as early as 2016, I have always been in a position of neutrality considering that any statement I would make, being secretary of labor, will be suspect,” Bello said. “So I have deliberately refrained from commenting from this proposed Department of OFWs.”
Drilon explained that creating new departments would have a “completely opposite” effect, which would not result in the streamlining government services.
Asked for the Cabinet position on the proposed measure, Bello said: “On the matter of rightsizing, I have no problem with that. However, I think the intention of needing a new department — or the Department of OFWs — is to have an agency that will focus on the protection and promotion of the welfare of our overseas workers.”
A change of heart?
But Sen. Joel Villanueva, who chairs the Senate Committee on Labor, noted a “change of heart” in the Cabinet’s stand.
“I have here — last Congress, DOLE as a department, not as an individual secretary — supported the government’s unified position that a new department for OFWs is not necessary. One of the reasons cited is that the rationalization of the bureaucracy must first be discussed before [tackling] any plans of creating a new department,” Villanueva said.
“Somehow, now there is a change of heart, but of course, we welcome the position of the department,” Villanueva added.
He then asked the “million-dollar question” on the need for a new department for OFWs, particularly on its features that could not be provided by the current set-up of the labor department.
“On my part, I feel the need to underscore the value of our overseas workers. For their contribution, I think it would be very fair to create a department just to focus on their protection and protection of their welfare,” Bello said.
Villanueva said it was OK to have “a change of heart” as he underscored that they would be willing to support the measure if indeed there was a need for such a department.
But Villanueva said several lawmakers were still not “sold” to the idea of creating a new department.
“I am in full support of whatever the department is pursuing. We wanted to make sure it is the right direction,” Villanueva responded. “We wanted to help you if that is the right direction, I will be very supportive, I want to put that on record.”
In his 2019 State of the Nation Address, President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his plan to establish a Department of OFWs.
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