Senate panel defers hearing on Dep’t of OFWS measure

Published December 7, 2020, 2:16 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

The Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources today deferred hearing the proposed Department of Overseas Filipino (DOFIL) in favor of an initial hearing on the bill that seeks to address the issue of the government’s bloated bureaucracy.

Senator Franklin Drilon (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

The Senate labor panel approved the motion of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon who suggested that the Senate tackles Senate Bill No. 244 or the Rightsizing the National Government Act first to address the issue.

Drilon said it is best for the Senate to take up the bill filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III who himself manifested he wishes to see the passage of the rightsizing bill before the Senate further expands the bureaucracy.
“In deference to the position of our Senate President on this important policy issue, which he made of record in open session, and consistent with the policy pronouncements of the President in his State-of-the-Nation Addresses (SoNA), I respectfully propose that the hearing on the creation of the DOFIL be deferred until Senate Bill No. 244 is heard before the proper committee,” Drilon said in his letter to Sen. Joel Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor panel.
According to Drilon, now is not the right time for the chamber to prioritize the passage of a Department of OFWs since the country needs to pool its limited resources to buy much-needed COVID-19 vaccines.
“The push for this new department comes as the government struggles to source funds for COVID-19 stimulus measures and vaccine procurement,” he said.
Senators have earlier said the government will need to allocate P73 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and immunization of around 60 million Filipinos across the country.
But Drilon clarified he maintains an open mind on the creation of a DOFIL.
“We are open to the discussion of this proposed measure but it is our submission that it should be deferred given the situation that we are in today,” the Senate Minority Leader said.
“Is this the right time? I believe this bill can wait for a more opportune time,” he added.

Under the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, around P1.3 trillion of the proposed spending outlay is allotted for personnel services. Drilon recalled he has raised the issue of a bloated bureaucracy that has forced Congress to allot a significant portion of the budget to Personnel Services.

Villanueva said his committee is cognizant of the reservations expressed by other lawmakers on the various proposals to establish new departments amid a COVID-19 pandemic.
“The comments and the reservations of some of our colleagues on the establishment of new departments amid the pandemic reverberated more loudly. I must admit that the challenge for this proposal is much greater now,” Villanueva said during the hearing.
“As chair of this committee, our position remains the same. Our goal is to address the plight of our modern-day heroes and to provide them with more and better services,” the senator added.
Villanueva later on referred Drilon’s motion to the Senate Committee on Rules and suspended consideration of the measure.
Drilon recalled that President Duterte himself said that the rightsizing bill is a priority measure when he issued his State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) in 2019 and 2017.