OFWs attend online forum on how to better protect the rights and welfare of Filipinos abroad

Published January 11, 2021, 1:02 PM

by Mario Casayuran

Over 350 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) representing several groups of overseas Filipinos in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America attended an online forum, organized by United Filipino Global and held last Saturday to raise awareness on how to better protect the rights and welfare of Filipinos abroad.

(AFP / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

The forum saw OFWs expressing support for Senate Bill No. 1949, which aims to establish the Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOFil).
 
In a speech as the event’s main guest, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go spoke of the need for a department dedicated to protect the rights and advance the interests of overseas Filipinos who now compose ten percent of the country’s population.
 
“Ito po ang gusto naming maibigay sa inyo sa pamamagitan ng pagtatayo ng DOFil. Around 10 percent na kayo ng populasyon natin kung kaya’t dapat lang na mayroong iisang departamento na tututok sa inyong interes at mga pangangailangan,’’ he said. (This is what we want to give you through the establishment of DOFil. You comprise around 10 percent of our population and therefore there must be a single department that focuses on your interests and needs),” he explained.
 
“Ito po ang ating ipinaglalaban — ang kapakanan ng mga Pilipino kahit saan man sila sa mundo. Napaka-unfair naman para sa atin — na 10 percent nga kayo ng population wala kayong sariling departamento,’’ he added. (This is what we are fighting for— the welfare of the Filipinos wherever they are in the world. It is very unfair for us  — that you are already 10 percent of the population and yet you do not have your own department.).
 
Go highlighted the adverse impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in the repatriation of thousands of OFWs, many of whom are in urgent need of government assistance.
 
“Mga nakaraang buwan tinamaan tayo ng pandemya na hindi natin inaasahan. Napakarami pong OFWs natin na talagang naghirap kahit saan na lang sila nananawagan sa radyo, sa Facebook, at … sa TV. Minsan ang dami pong tumatawag sa akin,’’ he said. (Unexpectedly, these past months, we were hit by a pandemic that affected several OFWs and they were asking for help through radios, Facebook and TV. Some of them have also called me.) 
 
“Kapag usapang overseas Filipino, iisang boses ang dapat nating pakinggan at magpapagitna ng lahat. Napakahirap ng nangyayari na ipapasa pa natin… Dapat mayroon tayong department na isang Cabinet-level secretary,’’ he explained. (When it comes to issues on OFWs, there should be a single voice for all. There should be a department that is a Cabinet-level secretary…. who will lead an organization structured to work together as one team to protect the rights… and welfare of our fellow Filipinos abroad.)
 
On December 14, 2020, Go filed Senate Bill (SB) 1949. The measure seeks to streamline the organization and functions of all government agencies related to overseas employment and migration so government can perform its functions and mandates more efficiently. 
 
The ‘Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2020’ is the third iteration of a bill introduced by Go in 2019. It represents the unified position of the Executive branch of the government on how the proposed department can best address crucial problems, deliver important services, and achieve its goals with regard to Filipinos overseas.
 
The bill was certified as urgent by President Duterte and is now one of the top 20 priority bills identified by both houses of Congress for 2021.
 
“This is unprecedented … Alam ko po ito ang isang bagay kung bakit natutuwa at minamahal ng bawat migrante Pilipino ang Pangulo. Wala pong Pangulo ang gumawa niyan na every time magko-conduct ng State of the Nation Address hindi po nakakalimutan ang pagsulong sa isang departamento o sariling bahay para sa amin, Jun Aguilar of the Filipino Migrant Workers group, said. (I know one thing that made every Filipino migrant happy and love the President. No President has made this in the past, only [President Duterte] made sure that every time he conducts his State of the Nation Address (SONA), he never missed to push for the establishment of a department for us.)
 
“Kami ay isa sa inyo na sumusuporta sa bill ng mahal na Senador. Hangad namin ang magkaroon ng sariling department ang overseas Filipinos upang mabigyan ng prayoridad at importansya ang issues at concerns ng ating OFWs,’’ Lucy Sermonia, who heads a recruitment agency, said, (We are supporting the bill of our beloved senator. It is our wish to have our own department in order provide priority and importance to the issues and concerns of our OFWs.).
 
The DOFil will be initially comprised of the Office of the Secretary and four Offices of the Undersecretaries, namely Administration and Finance, Foreign Employment, Assistance to Overseas Filipinos in Distress, and Policy and International Cooperation and Special Overseas Filipino Concerns. 
 
The department shall subsume the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs of the DFA, Social Welfare Attaches Office under the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), International Labor Affairs Bureau under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and Commission on Overseas Filipinos. 
 
Additionally, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) will serve as attached agencies. Enhancing previous versions of the bill, SBN 1949 directs the implementation of a one country-team which shall require all officials in Philippine diplomatic posts to act together as one team, per country of assignment. 
 
Furthermore, the bill also directs the establishment of Overseas Filipinos Malasakit Centers throughout the country to ensure the swift delivery of services to OFWs and their families here, including the acquisition of clearances and permits, validation of overseas job offers, reintegration services, and pertinent seminars and workshops.
 
The Migrant Workers and other Overseas Filipinos Resource Center, in turn, will provide other relevant services, such as temporary shelter to distressed OFWs, counseling and legal services, welfare assistance (e.g. medical needs), registration of irregular and undocumented workers, and conciliation of employer-employee disputes etc. 
 
“Tinuturing natin silang mga bagong bayani. Hindi mapapalitan ang hirap at sakripisyo na mawalay sa pamilya para lang mabigyan ng mas magandang kinabukasan ang kanilang mga mahal sa buhay. Gawin natin ang lahat para maalagaan sila,’’ Go said. (We consider them as our new heroes. There is no payment for the hardship and sacrifice from being away from the family just to provide better future for their loved ones. Let us do everything to help them.) 
 
“Marami akong pinakiusapan —  si Executive Secretary [Salvador] Medialdea, si [Cabinet] Secretary Karlo Nograles —- para pakiusapan ang iba’t ibang ahensya ng gobyerno na magkasundo at magkaroon tayo ng isang bill na talagang katangga-tanggap sa lahat,’’ he recounted.  (I have requested — Executive Secretary [Salvador] Medialdea, and [Cabinet] Secretary Karlo Nograles — to talk to the different agencies of the government to agree in having a bill that is acceptable to all.)
 
“Kinausap ko rin ang kapwa ko mga senador. Sabi ko, nakikiusap ako na tulungan niyo kami, kung paano ma-craft ‘yung law na katanggap-tanggap po sa lahat,’’ he added. (I have also talked to my fellow senators. I requested them to help us in crafting a legislation that is acceptable to everybody.)
 
Go vowed that he would continue to push for the passage of the measure in order to further protect and ensure their welfare, especially in these trying times.
 
“Rest assured na ipaglalaban ko kayo. Alam niyo, malapit sa puso namin ni Pangulong Duterte ang lahat po ng mga OFWs … Alam kong mas nanaisin niyo pang manatili dito sa ating bansa rather than mapalayo sa inyong pamilya. Pero kailangan niyo magtrabaho sa ibang bansa kaya siguraduhin natin na mayroon kayong isang departamentong maasahan at malalapitan niyo,’’ he said. (Rest assured that I will fight for you. You know, the OFWS are close to our {President Duterte’s and Go’s} hearts…I know that you prefer to stay in the country instead of being away from your families. However, you need to work overseas and we will ensure that you will have your own department that you can rely on.)
 

 
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