The Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development chaired by Senator Joel Villanueva resumed its hearing on Senate Bill No. 146 or the bill creating the Department of Migration and Development (DMD).

The said measure was discussed along with three other similar measures filed by Senator Ralph Recto, Senate President Koko Pimentel, and former senator and now Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano.

The hearing was a continuation of the discussion of the Senate labor committee last year where Villanueva stressed the disappointment felt by Filipino migrant workers and support groups on the government’s delayed and inadequate support and assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) which are lodged at various agencies.

The seasoned legislator also reiterated the importance of creating a Department of Migration to address:

1. The need to enhance coordination of all offices working for OFWs by putting them together under one roof and to put an end to the practice of finger-pointing among agencies concerned with OFW affairs.

2. The need to extend adequate legal assistance for OFWs in distress.

3. The need to provide a full migration cycle approach in promoting migrant’s rights from pre-employment, onsite and reintegration services.

With regard to the recurring problem of delayed response to the requests by OFWs for assistance, the veteran lawmaker asked the concerned agencies on the challenges they face at their posts that limit their ability to act immediately on these requests.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola revealed that one of the primary challenges Philippine diplomatic posts abroad face is the lack of manpower support. Arriola noted that there is only one DFA personnel for every 27,000 OFWs in the Asia-Pacific region while in the Middle East and Africa, there is only one DFA personel for every 35,000 OFWs.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) also noted that around 36,000 OFW cases coming from various posts are reported on a daily basis. DOLE Assistant Secretary Joji Aragon said these cases are referred to the Joint Case Management Team on the same day it was reported and the reaction time for foreign posts to report the progress on the cases has been reduced from five days to three days.

Aside from issues on inter-agency collaboration, Senator Villanueva also stressed the need of a shared database system that contains information on all OFWs. This will aid in tracking their status and fast-track the delivery of assistance to distressed overseas workers.

“Services or information regarding OFW concerns are scattered throughout several offices. The administrative burden is high–each time a distressed OFW or their relatives have to provide the same information over and over again. Often, they just can’t find or even do not know the assistance or services, they are entitled to,” he lamented.

Villanueva further cited a situation where the agencies took months to rescue a distressed OFW.

“We know of a case where it took the DOLE and the DFA more than three months to rescue a distressed OFW from an abusive employer. We were lucky that the OFW was not completely harmed by then. If this is a common occurrence, it may be that the next time, there will no longer be a living OFW that will be rescued,” he lamented.

“We know of a case where it took the DOLE and the DFA more than three months to rescue a distressed OFW from an abusive employer. We were lucky that the OFW was not completely harmed by then.”

Citing the challenges in addressing OFW concerns, Villanueva said that “the most natural and reasonable response must be the creation of a ‘super body’ which will act as a maestro to orchestrate, synchronize, and harmonize these policies.”

Supporting the move to create a new department, DFA Undersecretary Arriola said that this plan “is not only timely but would also further raise the bar of the Philippines’ migration governance.” However, she cautioned that the creation of a specialized department “is not a panacea to the problems that most of our OFWs face, majority of whom are in the Middle East.”

She said the cooperation of host countries is also significant in ensuring the protection of our OFWs. Arriola also shared that one of the major causes of the country’s woes in migration is the continuous deployment of unskilled workers and domestic workers, thus calling for the continuous upgrading of skills of migrant workers by providing them free and accessible skills development and enhancement programs.

For the last 40 years, the deployment of Filipino workers has risen exponentially especially now that the transnational movements of people in search of greener pastures and employment opportunities in other countries seems unavoidable.

“As of 2016, there are 10 million OFWs who comprise 10 percent of the Philippines’ overall population. This is equivalent to more than 6,000 Filipinos leaving the Philippines every day to migrate overseas,” said Villanueva.

There are 10 million OFWs which comprise 10 percent of the Philippines’ overall population. This is equivalent to more than 6,000 Filipinos leaving the Philippines every day to migrate overseas.

Furthermore, there are 247 million international migrants around the world. Five percent of which are Filipinos, according to data from the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute.

The Philippines is also ranked 7th in the world in terms of population of international migrants, ranked 3rd in terms of receiving remittances, and ranked 1st in labor export in the ASEAN region.

“Kailangang-kailangan po nating tugunan ang pangangailangan ng lumalaking bilang ng mga OFWs at isa po sa mga nakikita nating solusyon ay ang paglikha ng isang bahay na matatakbuhan, masisilungan at matutuluyan ng Pilipinong manggagawa sa ibayong dagat; isang ahensyang para lamang sa ating mga bagong bayaning nagsasakripisyo para sa kapakanan ng pamilya at bayan,” Villanueva said.

 

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