Go pushes for creation of Department of Overseas Filipinos

Published October 28, 2020, 11:26 AM

by Mario Casayuran

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Wednesday lauded the renewed call of President Duterte for the creation of a Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOOF) that will focus on the needs and concerns of overseas Filipinos.

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong’’ Go (Office of Senator Bong Go / MANILA BULLETIN

In his weekly report to the nation yesterday, President Duterte prodded Congress on the establishment of the DOOF that will immediately address the needs of overseas Filipino workers.

“There will be a more thorough review of policies for your protection,” Duterte said. 

The President also said that he is considering coming up with another agency for seafarers. 

Go praised Duterte’s pronouncements, saying that putting all overseas Filipinos’ concerns in just one department will make it easier for them to seek assistance and services for all their needs. 

Go said he is grateful for the renewed call of the President on the creation of the DOOF.

“Mas maisasaayos ang mga programa at serbisyo ng gobyerno para matulungan ang mga apektadong Pilipino kung mayroong sariling departamento na mamamahala sa mga pangangailangan ng mga OFWs,’’ he added.  (The programs and services of the government to help affected Filipinos will be much better if  they have their own department that will exclusively manage the needs of our OFWs.) 

Go suggested the establishment of the DOOF because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and to improve government efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of necessary services from deployment.

“Ngayon na napilitan silang umuwi dahil sa krisis, dapat lang bigyan ng sapat na atensyon ang kanilang mga pangangailangan para matulungan ang ating mga bagong bayani na makabangon muli,’’ he said.  (Now that they are forced to return home because of the crisis, their needs must be addressed so our new heroes will rise again)

Last July, 2019, Go filed Senate Bill (SB) 202 which seeks to create the DOOF to improve the delivery of government services to Filipinos abroad by bringing together and streamlining the relevant services of various national agencies. 

The second iteration of the initial SB 202, SB 1835 takes into consideration the inputs from the concerned executive agencies and has been endorsed by the Office of the Cabinet Secretary and Presidential Legislative Liaison Office to the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development. 

SB 1835 brings together under one department the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Commission on Overseas Filipinos, all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices under the Department of Labor and Employment, the International Labor Affairs Bureau under DOLE, and International Social Services Office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. 

In the new version of the bill, the DOOF will exercise administrative supervision over the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration which shall be attached to the envisioned department. 

Once established, the DOOF will protect the rights and promote the welfare of overseas Filipinos; formulate, plan, coordinate, promote, administer, and implement policies; and undertake systematic national development programs for managing and monitoring the overseas or foreign employment of Filipino workers, among others. 

“Importante klaro po ang mandato nito at ‘di mag-overlap sa ibang ahensya, tulad ng DOLE at DFA,’’ he said. (It has to have a clear mandate so it will not overlap with other agencies, such as the DOLE and DFA.)

The measure proposes that the new Department will be led by a Secretary and four Undersecretaries who shall head the following offices: (1) Administration and Finance; (2) Foreign Employment; (3) Assistance to Overseas Filipinos in Distress; and (4) Policy, Treaties, International Agreements, and Special Concerns.

Under the measure, the Assistance-to-Nationals offices found in all foreign service posts will serve as the department’s overseas operating arm. They will look after the welfare of Filipinos abroad and provide assistance with regard to problems, such as contract violations, poor employment conditions and exploitation in the workplace, among others.

In addition, distressed overseas Filipinos in need of temporary shelter, medical aid, and other forms of assistance may find them in the Migrant Workers and other Overseas Filipinos Resource Centers that will be set up in every country of destination. The centers will be staffed with psychologists, social workers, and a Shari’a or human rights lawyer as well as case or public relations officers fluent in the local language, laws, customs, and practices of the country. 

The bill also notably directs the establishment of Overseas Filipino Malasakit Centers in strategic locations throughout the country to serve as a one-stop shop for migrant Filipinos and their families requiring clearances and permits, validation of overseas job offers, reintegration services, and pertinent seminars and workshops. 

To support the department’s operations and activities, a computer-based management information system containing all the overseas Filipinos’ relevant information will be created at the department and office level. 

Duterte has twice called on Congress to pass the priority measure during his 2019 and 2020 State of the Nation Addresses as he recognized the significant contribution of the overseas Filipinos to the country’s economy and emphasized the need to serve and protect them better. 

Go encouraged his fellow senators and policy stakeholders to “review eagerly and intently all the legislative measures at hand to improve policies and programs to address their needs at this time.”

 “Bigyan natin ng importansya na magkaroon ng opisina para sa kanila, para may magtitimon sa kanila, magga-guide sa mga OFWs. Bigyan natin sila ng importansya. Tawag natin sa kanila bagong bayani. Totohanin natin,’’ he said.  (Let’s give importance to their need to have an office of their own, that will lead them, and guide our OFWs. We call them our new heroes. Let’s make sure that we treat them as heroes),” he said.