By Ellson Quismorio
House leaders have continued to back proposals to create a dedicated department for overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in recognition of this sector’s important contributions to the Philippine economy.
“We have a lot of programs that are being institutionalized [for our OFWs]. Probably the most important is the Department of OFWs,” Assistant Majority Leader, Las Piñas City lone district Rep. Camille Villar told reporters in an interview.
“I think a lot of people [in the House of Representatives] are really committed to have a department focused on the welfare of OFWs,” added Rep. Villar, whose mother, Senator Cynthia Villar, helped stage the 9th OFW and Family Summit at the World Trade Center in Pasay City last Nov. 12.
The summit was attended by 7,000 people, a significant jump from the 4,000 attendees recorded last year.
Villar said that the proposed Department of OFWs (DOFW) would be a worthy recognition to the migrant workers’ sacrifices for their families whom they leave behind in favor of employment as well as their contributions to the country.
Money sent back home by OFWs amounted to a whopping $32.21 billion in 2018, which the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said was a record figure.
OFW remittances traditionally ramp up during the holidays, and last year was no exception as there were $3.15 billion in personal remittances in December 2018. In December 2017, the figure was $3.04 billion.
Deputy Speaker, Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. LRay Villafuerte assured the public that the establishment of the DOFW remained a top priority of the 300-member Lower Chamber.
“[It’s a] top priority of the House leadership under Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, in support of President [Rodrigo] 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,” he said.
According to Villafuerte, 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.
President Duterte instructed Congress to institutionalize a DOFW during his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 22. The next day, the Bicol solon filed House Bill (HB) No.2547 or the 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.
Villafuerte had earlier 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 DOFW.
In a related development, ACT-CIS Party-List Rep. Jocelyn Tulfo filed HB No.1541, which seeks to transform the existing Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) abroad into Philippine Overseas Legal Action Centers.
Aside from creating a more efficient system to bring legal service to those in need, the proposed law seeks to provide additional support to OFWs via mental health and medical diagnostics, among other specialized services from the government.
Tulfo is a vice chairperson of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs.