With potential turmoil brewing in the Middle East following the U.S. drone attack on top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, a young lawmaker highlighted the need to pass a bill creating a department for Overseas Filipino Workers soon to ensure the safety and security of Filipinos in the region.

“Recent events in the Middle East and the potential conflict that could arise from these emphasize the urgency of this bill. It’s not an exaggeration to say na nakasalalay ang kapakanan ng mga kababayan natin sa panukalang batas na ito,” Rizal 2nd District Rep. Fidel Nograles, one of the bill’s champions, said.

Nograles’ visit to the region earlier this month coincided with Soleimani’s death.

“HSWs are historically the most vulnerable among the OFW sector.”

In a bid to ensure that the Department of Fili­pinos Overseas and Foreign Employ­ment bill reflects realities on the ground, Nograles personally visited workers in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.

While at the UAE, he conducted a dialogue with OFWs, where he sought their inputs on the measure, which has been certified urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Nakipag-ugnayan tayo sa mga OFWs sa Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, upang alamin ang kanilang kalagayan at mga suliranin upang mas matugunan ng ating panukalang batas na Department of Filipinos Overseas Act ang kanilang mga pangangailangan,” said Nograles. 

Nograles, a Harvard-trained lawyer, added that he particularly sought to be apprised of the nuances in cases of abuse and illegal recruitment to guarantee that the law can protect OFWs. 

The solon also delivered a lecture on family laws such as actions for support and property relations between spouses.

“Nasulit na rin naman ang pagbisita ko dahil naibahagi natin ang kaalaman tungkol sa mga practical matters sa pamamagitan ng isang legal forum, lalo na sa usapin ng legal assistance fund para sa OFWs,” he said.

The lawmaker added that there had also been a policy debate on a provision in the proposed bill that could lead to a phaseout in the deployment abroad of household service workers (HSWs).

Nograles argued against the inclusion of such provision, saying that it could lead to more cases of OFW abuses.

The said provision sets a 5-year timeline for the government to ensure that only skilled and semi-skilled Filipino workers will be deployed after the deadline. Some experts have noted that the provision may not include HSWs.

Nograles argued against the inclusion of such provision, saying that it could lead to more cases of OFW abuses.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed that of the 459,080 deployed new hires in 2017, about half or 251,349 were HSWs.

“HSWs are historically the most vulnerable among the OFW sector. Sila ang nabibiktima ng human trafficking at pang-abuso. Lalo pa’t hindi natin masisiguro na hindi na makikipagsapalaran ang mga kababayan natin sa kabila ng phaseout sa HSW deployment, mas mabuti kung magkaroon tayo ng probisyon na nagtitiyak na mabibigyan sila ng karampatang proteksiyon,” Nograles said.

If passed, the DFO-FE would be tasked to formulate, recommend, and implement na­tional policies, plans, programs, and guidelines that ensure the protection of Filipinos overseas. Its mandate also includes protecting and pro­moting the welfare, well-being, and interest of OFW families.

The new department would also ad­minister reintegration and social services programs for returning OFWs and their families. It is also tasked with regulating the operations of private recruitment and manning agencies and related business enti­ties involved in the employment of Filipinos abroad. 

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