In the flurry of news related to the pandemic, not a lot of people were aware that a landmark law, Republic Act 11641, was signed by President Duterte last Dec. 30, 2021. “An Act Creating the Department of Migrant Workers” became a law on Rizal Day, with the President comparing Filipino migrant workers to our pantheon of heroes, Rizal included.
“The establishment of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) happens on the celebration of Rizal Day. May we honor not only the exceptional love for the country of Rizal, but also the patriotism, excellence, courage of our modern-day heroes including our overseas Filipino workers,” Duterte said.
Malacanang touted the signing as a “campaign promise fulfilled,” as the then-candidate Duterte courted votes from overseas Filipinos with an attractive proposition to improve the coordination among agencies concerned with their affairs.
The DMW, based on its mandate, would now absorb the functions of various agencies such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs under the DFA, DOLE’s three offices: Philippine Overseas Labor Office, International Labor Affairs Bureau, and National Maritime Polytechnic; and the Office of the Social Welfare Attaché under the DSWD. The OWWA, on the other hand, will continue to function but shall be attached to the DMW for policy and program coordination.
The journey of the DMW was not easy. Through the years, the President repeatedly stressed the importance of a singular department for migrant workers so they don’t have to hop from one agency to another just to have their papers signed or to submit requirements. This urgency was further illustrated when the President mentioned this need during his final State-of-the-Nation Address.
Upon the directive of the President stressing the bill’s priority, the Senate voted 20-0 on Dec. 14, 2021 to pass Senate Bill No. 2234. The bill, authored and co-sponsored by Sen. Bong Go, is the consolidated version of an earlier measure he filed to create the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers.
In a statement, the Senator said: “We have been advocating for a department like this and it was now fulfilled by the President. Gone are the days when our migrant workers will be passed from one office to another. A singular department will focus on their needs and provide fast, efficient, and reliable service from the government.”
Aside from being the lead agency for implementing policies, plans, and programs that will ensure the protection, promotion of interests, resolution of problems, and effective reintegration of migrant workers, the DMW will also regulate private recruitment agencies.
The law also provides for the establishment of a Management Information System, which will serve as the registry and a 24/7 Emergency Response and Action Center Unit, and a media and social media monitoring center to respond to the emergency needs of all overseas Filipinos.
The DMW is indeed good news, not only for the estimated 2.2 million Filipinos overseas, but to all their families and friends here in the country. As they toil day in, day out in a foreign land, they will be comforted to know that there is a full department with enough resources, efficient personnel, and an encompassing mandate looking after their welfare. There is an oft-quoted line saying, “Sino pa ba ang magtutulungan kundi kapwa Pilipino.” Indeed, a modern-day hero only deserves the best assistance from a grateful nation.