EXPLAINER: A new department for OFWs, migrant Filipinos: What is it?
MANILA, Philippines—President Rodrigo Duterte took his support for legislation creating a new department for overseas Filipinos further by certifying it as urgent on Monday (May 31).
The measure, pending at the Senate as Bill No. 2334, seeks to create the Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos (DMWOF).
The creation of a department dedicated to OFWs was among Duterte’s campaign promises during the 2016 presidential race. Election results showed massive support for Duterte by OFWs.
Sen. Joel Villanueva, who chairs the Senate committee on labor and is currently trying to steer approval for the bill, the proposed department would serve as “one home” for migrant workers and Filipinos abroad because agencies mandated to serve them are scattered in different departments.
The proposed legislation is now on the Senate floor for plenary deliberations.
It is on the lineup of bills that the Senate intends to pass on final reading before Congress’ sine die adjournment on June 5.
By the numbers
Skeptics had said a new department for OFWs would simply be a duplication of functions and was unnecessary.
But the measure promises to deliver better government services to OFWs and Filipinos abroad.
To measure it’s importance, it could be necessary to take a look at its intended beneficiary—mainly OFWs.
According to results of the 2019 Survey on Overseas Filipinos by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released in 2020, at least 2.2 million OFWs are abroad between April and September 2019.
Nearly all, or 96.8 percent, of them have existing work contracts.
According to the PSA, there are more Filipino women than men working abroad. Women OFWs make up 56 percent of total while men compose 44 percent.
The PSA data also showed a relatively young labor force of OFWs. Those between 30 to 34 years old make up 22.6 percent of all OFWs while those between the ages of 25 to 29 years old compose 20.7 percent.
In terms of places of origin, OFWs are more likely to be from the Calabarzon Region—20.7 percent. At least 13.3 percent is from Central Luzon. Some 9.7 percent is from the National Capital Region. Nine percent is from the Visayas while 1.5 percent is from the Mimaropa Region.
The PSA report said between April and September 2019, Saudi Arabia hosts the most OFWs—22.4 percent or one out of every five OFW who leaves the Philippines. It was followed by United Arab Emirates (13.2 percent), Hong Kong (7.5 percent) and Taiwan (6.7 percent).
Absorbed office and agencies
The bill would transfer all functions and mandate of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to the DMWOF.
The new department’s role is defined by this paragraph in the bill: “It shall formulate, plan, coordinate, promote, administer, and implement policies, and undertake systems for regulating, managing, and monitoring the overseas employment of Filipino workers and reintegration of OFWs and other OFs (overseas Filipinos), while taking into consideration the national development programs formulated by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).”
“It shall also promote the empowerment and protection of Filipinos working overseas by empowering and training them to gain appropriate skills and by ensuring access to continuous training and knowledge development,” the bill continued.
The following agencies will also be merged and transferred to the new department:
- Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA) currently under the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)
- Commission on Filipino Overseas (CFO) currently under the Office of the President
- All Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) currently under the DOLE
- International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) currently under DOLE
- National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) currently under the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)
- National Maritime Polytechnic (NMP) currently under DOLE
- International Social Services Office (ISSO) currently under the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)
How much will it cost?
According to Villanueva, the new department would have an estimated initial budget of at least P1.1 billion.
At a Senate hearing on a different bill to create a new department for OFWs last February, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said that at least P1.109 billion is needed to fund the initial operation of the new department.
The budget allocated for POEA, worth P507 million, is expected to be transferred to the DMWOF.
The P7.39 billion budget for the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) would be treated separately since it would be an attached agency.
What are the benefits?
Villanueva, during previous hearings, said at least 6,092 Filipinos fly out every day for jobs abroad before the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said at least 5 percent of all migrant workers is Filipino, making the Philippines seventh in rank globally in terms of deployment of its citizens for foreign jobs.
“Despite their contributions to our economy and the love and respect they get from other countries and nationalities, problems continue to plague our overseas Filipinos, especially OFWs,” the senator said.
“While there are metrics for the economic returns of migration, there is none for its social costs. And the sad truth is that OFWs risk their limbs and lives abroad because of a lack of employment opportunities at home,” he added.
Among the DOMWOF’s powers and functions, which will focus on helping OFWs and overseas Filipinos, is to address issues affecting Filipino migrant workers such as red tape, recruitment, regulation, and repatriation.
Also provided by the measure is the establishment of a 24/7 Emergency Response and Action Unit and media and social media monitoring centers that will respond to the emergency needs of OFWs, migrant Filipinos and their families.
Once approved, the new department will likewise coordinate with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) to “investigate, initiate, sue, pursue, and help prosecute” cases involving illegal recruitment and human trafficking.
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