Senator Christopher ‘’Bong’’ Go on Friday pressed Congress to pass his bill seeking the establishment of a Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOFil) to protect the rights and advance the welfare of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who are considered the country’s heroes.
Go, chairman of the Senate Health and Demography Committee, issued the statement following the reported trafficking of some Filipino women forcibly taken to Syria and abused by their employers.
“Bagong bayani kung ituring natin sila na halos sampung porsiyento ng ating populasyon. Sana naman ay suklian natin nang mas maayos at mas mabilis na serbisyo ang kanilang sakripisyo para sa kanilang pamilya at sa bayan,’’ he said. (We consider them as our new heroes who comprise almost ten percent of our population. I hope we could repay them better with faster service for their sacrifices for their families and for the country.)
“Ayaw ko talagang makitang merong mga OFWs natin na naaabuso, lalo na nasa malalayong lugar sila. Sa mga nang-aabuso ng kapwa tao, dapat sa inyo putulan ng…!,’’ Go added. (I really hate to see our OFWs being abused, especially in far away places. Those who abused them deserve to have their___cut.)
A recent article in the Washington Post told the story of Josephine Tawaging, a Filipina who moved to Dubai in search of work, only to be sent to war-ravaged Syria to be “sold.”
Upon learning about the story of Tawaging and other Filipinos who could be in the same position, Go said that he would immediately coordinate with concerned government agencies to save Filipinos who are victims of human trafficking in Syria.
If crime syndicates are behind the trafficking of Filipinos, Go said that an investigation must be conducted.
In a tweet on Tuesday, January 26, Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. said “I am emptying the shelters of all wards— no later than the next flight out; sending a team to do it. It won’t happen again. Good intentioned NGOs (non-government organizations) complain about violations of privacy and risk of naming victims but for me [The Washington Post] got the job done.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) already conducted a probe on the staff at the embassy in Syria on the alleged poor treatment of Filipinos seeking shelter there.
An administrative investigation has already been conducted on several personnel and a human rights lawyer was also deployed to look into the matter.
To provide better protection to overseas Filipinos, the Senator had earlier filed Senate Bill (SB) 1949, the DOFil Act of 2020, which is the third version of a measure he first filed in July, 2019.
The bill creating the DOFil is one of the priority measures of the present administration as mentioned several times by President Duterte, including in his last two State of the Nation Addresses (SONAs).
The President recently certified this most recent version filed by Go as urgent, which prompts the legislative branch to act on the matter immediately. It is also one of the top 20 priority measures identified by both houses of Congress this year.
“One of the main features of my proposed DOFil bill is the one country-team approach,” Go said, which requires all officials in Philippine diplomatic posts to act together as one team, regardless of their mother agencies, in the country of assignment, in protecting the rights and advancing the welfare of Filipino migrant workers there, with guidance from the DFA and the Philippine Foreign Service Posts.
The proposed department can also initiate and help prosecute human trafficking cases in coordination with the Department of Justice.
Go said overseas Filipinos in distress will receive immediate assistance because of the one country-team approach.
He urged Filipinos who wish to work abroad not to fall for dubious illegal recruiters and follow the correct process when seeking employment.
Go said his office is always open to listen to the concerns of Filipinos victimized by illegal recruiters.
In 2018, Filipino masseurs in Kuwait were rescued after reaching out to radio host Raffy Tulfo in his show, Raffy Tulfo in Action.
Through Tulfo, the victims were directed to seek help from Go. Go referred them to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to ensure their safety and for the eventual prosecution of the Filipino illegal recruiter.
In December last year, Go also played an instrumental role in the successful repatriation of Malik S. Darimbang, an OFW who was stuck in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for six years after he got involved in a road accident which led to the death of a Pakistani national.
Go also welcomed the decision of a Kuwaiti criminal court which sentenced to death by hanging a Kuwaiti woman for killing Filipina domestic worker Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende in December, 2019.