House approves on 2nd reading the bill creating a department for OFWs

Published March 5, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Charissa Luci-Atienza

Leaders of the House of Representatives cheered their passage on second reading of a bill seeking the creation of the Department of Filipinos Overseas and Foreign Employment.


House Majority Leader and Leyte 1st district Rep. Martin Romualdez and his wife, Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez welcomed the passage of House Bill No. 5832 on second reading on Wednesday evening.

“This is part of Speaker [Alan Peter] Cayetano’s commitment to President [Rodrigo] Duterte’s promise of protecting our OFWs,” they said.

The lady Romualdez, chairperson of the House Committee on the Welfare of Children, cited the need to create a department that will look after the welfare of about 10 million OFWs all over the world.

“Furthermore, the lack of coordination among these agencies and redundancy of work lead to confusion among our OFWs and compromises
the services to be rendered to our modern-day heroes,” she said.

Deputy Speaker and Batangas 2nd district Rep. Raneo Abu agreed with the lady lawmaker that the creation of a new department will help address the numerous problems and challenges being faced by the OFWs.

“We have continued problems on illegal recruitment, employer abuse, sexual abuse, inadequate benefits, inefficient and ineffective
delivery of services to OFWs, lack of representation of the OFW interests in the agencies that are supposed to protect and promote
their rights, among others,” he said.

For his part, Albay 2nd district Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, described as an “act of social justice” the creation of the DFO.

“The bill is about the dignity of labor whether here and abroad,” he said. Salceda headed the Technical Working Group (TWG) that consolidated the 39 DFO-related bills.

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte, one of the principal authors of the bill, said the bill is expected to be approved on third and final reading before Congress adjourns next week.

He attributed the speedy passage of the measure to the cooperation of the House leadership with OFW groups and other concerned stakeholders in the training and overseas placement of OFWs.

For his part, Ako Bisaya party-list Rep. Sonny Lagon, vice chairperson of the House Committees on Games and Amusements, and Visayas Development, said the passage of the bill was in response to President Duterte’s call during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) that a new agency be created for the country’s modern-day heroes.

“We have to rally behind the call of Presidet Duterte to pass this measure because there are different agencies right now that have
mandates relative to overseas employment. There is a pressing need to establish an agency that would manage, harmonize, and strengthen existing policies and programs to address the needs of foreign Filipino employment. We support the immediate passage of the proposed department for OFWs,” he said.

On November 26, 2019, the House Committee on Government Reorganization and the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs jointly passed the bill after a three-hour long deliberation.

HB 5832 or the proposed “Department of Filipinos Overseas Act of 2019” provides that the following agencies and their functions shall be transferred and “subsumed” to the new department: the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA) of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA); the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO); All Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) under DOLE ; the International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) under DOLE; the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA); and the Social Welfare Attachés Office (SWATO) under DSWD, now operating as the International Social Services Office (ISSO).

Under the bill, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) shall be attached to the DFO.

It calls for the creation of P5 billion Assistance-to-Nationals Fund (ATN Fund) for Filipinos Overseas in distress, especially OFWs to be administered, and maintained by the Department.

The new Department is tasked to formulate, recommend and implement national policies, plans, programs and guidelines that will ensure the protection of Filipinos overseas. It is also mandated to protect, and promote the welfare, well-being, and interest of the families of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

The DFO also assumes the following functions: administer reintegration and social services programs for Filipinos who have worked abroad and are returning to the country, and for their families; and effectively regulate the operations of private recruitment and manning agencies and related business entities involved in the employment of Filipinos abroad to uphold the primacy of the welfare and protection of OFWs, with due consideration of the relevant market conditions.

Part of the DFO’s responsibilities is also to prosecute cases arising out of the implementation of this Act, particularly those involving trafficking in persons and illegal recruitment, in coordination with quasi-judicial body such as the National Labor Relations Commission and other government agencies such as the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).

The proposed “Department of Filipinos Overseas Act of 2019 provides that the DFO shall be headed by the Secretary who shall be appointed by the President, subject to the confirmation by the Commission on Appointments (CA).

The Secretary shall be assisted by at least five Undersecretaries, two of whom shall be career officers.

Under the bill, the OWWA as an attached agency to the DFO is expected to develop an effective reintegration program for returning OFWs and their families which will include among others, projects for livelihood, entrepreneurship, savings, investment, and financial literacy, in coordination with relevant stakeholders, service providers, and local and international organizations.

Under the bill, the DFO is authorized to create sectoral and industry task forces, technical working groups, advisory bodies or committees to achieve its objectives. It shall also immediately establish the career Assistance-to-Nationals corps similar to the foreign services corps and the foreign trade representative corps.

The bill provides that after 10 years from the creation of the new Department, the Congressional Oversight Committee may choose to abolish the Department should circumstances prove that there is no more need for its existence.

The relevance and practicality of maintaining the Department shall be reviewed every five years after the 10-year mandatory review.

Authors of the bill include House Speaker Alan Peter “Compañero” S. Cayetano, Taguig 2nd district Rep. Maria Laarni L. Cayetano; Deputy Speaker and Davao 1st district Rep. Paolo Duterte.