Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III called for the immediate passage of a bill establishing a Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW), saying that the creation of a government department catering exclusively to the interests of millions of Filipinos working overseas at the highest government level “was long overdue.”
Pimentel recently filed Senate Bill No. 1445, the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW) Act, which aims to streamline various government programs and initiatives for OFWs that are currently spread among various government agencies.
The Senate President said he would seek certification of the bill as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte, adding that the measure would affect the lives not only of overseas workers but their millions of dependents in the Philippines as well.
“The reasons for the urgent creation of a DOFW are both urgent and practical. We have 2.4 million Filipinos working overseas who can’t get immediate and efficient assistance from a centralized government agency that exclusively caters to their needs and their welfare,” said the legislator from Mindanao.
“We’ve been sending Filipino workers abroad since the seventies but till today, we don’t have a single, unified department for them. The time to address this governmental vacuum is now,” stressed Pimentel.
Pimentel noted that cash remittances made by OFWs set record highs in 2016, reaching 26.9 billion US dollars, which was up 5% from 2015’s 25.61 billion.
“I share the sentiment of finance and economic experts who say that the Philippine economy will not survive without the steady influx of OFW remittances. Our OFWs are truly our modern-day heroes.”
Pimentel said that given this, it was only appropriate that one centralized agency cater to the needs of Filipinos working beyond our shores.
“When OFWs are in distress and seek government help, we tell them to go to the DFA, POEA, OWWA, DOLE and other agencies which require a high level of coordination that is difficult to achieve with separate agencies,” pointed out Pimentel.
According to the Senate chief, “our bureaucracy doesn’t have integrated strategies for assisting our OFWs and their families. What happens is we repeatedly bounce them off these agencies like ping pong balls. Hindi dapat ganyan ang trato natin sa mga bagong bayani ng bayan.”
The DOFW Act would transfer the functions of several agencies to the newly-created agency, which would also absorb their respective personnel. The agencies include the Office of the Legal Assistant for Migrant Workers Affairs of the DFA; all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices under DOLE; the National Reintegration Center for OFWS under DOLE; the International Labor Affairs Bureau under DOLE; the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA); and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
The measure would also establish a five billion peso Special Assistance to Nationals Fund (SATNAF) for OFWs in distress to be administered and maintained by the new agency.
Pimentel emphasized that despite the proposed creation of the DOFW, the government would continue with its long-term objective of developing domestic employment and creating local job opportunities so that Filipinos would not be forced to work abroad and leave their families.
Latest figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority show that overseas contract workers, or OFWs with working contracts, comprise 96% or 2.2 million of the total overseas workforce while the remaining 4% or approximately 92,000 are employed without contracts.
Laborers and unskilled workers make up the largest group of OFWs at 32.8% while clerks comprise 5.3%. Professionals meanwhile account for an 11.4% share. The proportion of female OFWs was higher than males at 51.1% compared to 48.9%.