By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Batangas Rep. Mario Vittorio “Marvey” Mariño has assured overseas Filipino workers (OFW) groups and other concerned stakeholders that their concerns and amendments to the proposed creation of the Department of Filipinos Overseas and Foreign Employment will still be considered in the plenary.
He made the assurance after the House Committee on Government Reorganization, which he chairs, and the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs passed a consolidated bill without provision, creating the Overseas Labor Relations Commission (OLRC) and the OFW Malasakit sa Kabayan Fund.
“We still have the opportunity to amend this bill on the floor. We have a lot of issues to be discussed. That is why we asked for your position papers, this is not yet final,” Mariño said after the House joint panel’s approval of the still-unnumbered consolidated bill on the creation of the new Department tasked to protect and promote the interest and welfare of the overseas Filipinos.
During the recent joint panel’s discussion on the bill, Raquel Bracero of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc (PASEI) sought the restoration of a provision creating the OLRC, which was scrapped by the joint panel as proposed by Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte.
“We will try to really harmonize all your concerns. This is not only time we can amend this. We are all working on this,” Mariño said.
It was Villafuerte who proposed that Sections 9, 18, 19, 23 to 56, which covered the creation of the OLRC and the OFW Malasakit sa Kabayan Fund be deleted. His amendments were unanimously adopted by the joint panel.
Villafuerte justified his proposal to scrap the provisions creating new offices and commissions and the OFW Malasakit sa Kabayan Fund, which shall be used exclusively to cover money claims of OFWs and seafarers against their foreign employers.
The two provisions were incorporated in the Technical Working Group (TWG) bill presented by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda before the joint panel on Tuesday.
“Under the bill, the new Department is empowered to create task force, commission at any time. Once you put this in the bill, this will entail cost and staffing patterns once the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) raises the red flag, it might delay the passage [of this bill],” he said.
“I am not opposing the creation of the Offices. It can be done after the creation of the department,” the deputy speaker for finance clarified.
During the joint panel hearing, Villafuerte asked his colleagues to solely focus on the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos, even as strongly opposed the mandatory insurance fund.
“I really feel that there is no necessity to do that at this time. The amount should be further studied,” he said.
Under the TWG bill, the contribution, in the minimum amount of $ 25 or its equivalent in the prevailing foreign exchange rates, for every OFW or seafarer deployed shall be paid by the private recruitment agency and manning agency.
“If you want to tax, insure anybody at this level, let us find another measure. I feel that it is unnecessary at this time. The OFWs are already overburdened to impose this at this time,” Villafuerte said.
“I understand the rationale behind this. But you cannot impose a foreign employer to insure for local. The employer can choose whom they want to insure and I am not saying that there is no need for insurance. I am in favor of that, but I am in favor of approving this bill in the soonest possible time and if you want to add insurance, tax, that can be tackled in another venue, forum or bill,” he pointed out.
Salceda, who headed the TWG that consolidated the 39 bills, laments the scrapping of some key provisions of the proposed Department of Filipinos Overseas Act of 2019.
“I spent 180 hours drafting this bill listening to everyone, reading all your position papers and trying to draft what is the national consensus on this highly contentious issues,” he said.