By Ellson Quismorio
The House of Representatives still treats the proposed creation of a department for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) a top priority, Deputy Speaker, Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. LRay Villafuerte said Sunday.
This is in keeping with the State of the Nation Address (SONA) commitment of President Rodrigo Duterte on the creation of a Cabinet-level office for the exclusive benefit of OFWs–dubbed as the country’s modern-day heroes.
Villafuerte has ensured the cooperation of the House with OFW groups and other stakeholders involved in the training and overseas placement of Filipino workers behind the speedy congressional approval of the proposed Department of OFWs (DOFW).
A day after Duterte delivered his SONA last July 22, Villafuerte filed House Bill (HB) No.2547 (Proposed Act creating the DOFW). The measure defines the DOFW’s powers and functions, and at the same time rationalizes the organization and functions of government agencies related to migration.
The Bicol solon earlier met with leaders of the Alliance of Bonafide Recruiters for OFW’s Advancement and Development (ABROAD), which had submitted a position paper to Malacañang and Congress identifying points of agreements as well as discussions on the fine-tuning of this priority bill of the Duterte administration.
Villafuerte, who is a member of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC), welcomed the lawmakers’ partnership with the recruiters’ alliance and encouraged them to gather testimonials and cases to buttress the support for the creation of a new department catering to OFWs.
He said the DOFW “is a top priority of the House leadership under Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, in support of President Duterte’s agenda for inclusive growth and in recognition by the House of the vital contribution to the domestic economy of the ever-increasing number of OFWs.”
Villafuerte noted that the surge in OFW remittances is responsible in part for the increasing resilience of the Philippine economy in the face of international financial headwinds such as international protectionism, the US-China trade war, and the global economic slowdown.
Citing Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) data, he said personal remittances of OFWs soared to $13.7 billion over the January-May 2019 period, or 4.1 percent more than the year-ago figure of $13.2 billion.
“[President Duterte]…has heard many stories about the hardships of our countrymen while working abroad and I understand why he wants the Congress to speed up the passage of a measure creating an OFW department,” Villafuerte said.
“As we push for this initiative, we want to make sure that we also hear your voice. Collate all the files and submit them to us so we could share these with our colleagues during the upcoming committee hearings,” he told the ABROAD officials during their meeting.
ABROAD officials said after the meeting that they “were really thankful to our legislators for listening to us. Aside from lobbying support from our lawmakers, our main goal is to establish partnership with the government in making sure that our expatriate professionals and skilled migrants’ rights are being secured and their concerns are being attended immediately.”
In the same meeting, Batangas 5th district Rep. Mario Vittorio Mariño, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reorganization, expressed his appreciation to ABROAD and urged its leaders to submit input that could help improve the government’s services for OFWs.
ABROAD is a coalition of nine recruitment agency associations, namely: Australia & New Zealand Association of Employment Providers of the Philippines, Inc. (ANZAEPP), Association of Philippine Licensed Agencies for Technical Internship Program (APLATIP), Association of Professional Philippine Manpower Agencies for China Inc. (APPMAC), Japan Employment Providers of the Philippines & Consultants’ Association, Inc. (JEPPCA), Overseas Placement Agencies of the Philippines (OPAP), Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. (PASEI), Pilipino Licensed Manpower Agencies for Taiwan (PILMAT), Philippine Recruitment Agencies Association for Saudi Arabia (PRAASA), and the Philippine Association of Agencies Accredited to Oman (PAAAO).
These organizations represent close to 500 recruitment agencies and, collectively, have been responsible for providing overseas employment for over one million OFWs, comprising professionals, skilled workers, and home service workers.
The House is currently in the middle of a month-long recess.