Among overseas Filipinos, Saudi Arabia-based Eli Mua is probably one of the most ardent and dedicated OFW welfare advocates.
Through his nearly daily Facebook posts and frequent liaisons with different OFW groups in the Middle East and in the Philippines he has strongly promoted and advocated the establishment of a dedicated department for OFWs.
To his great elation and that of his fellow advocates, outgoing President Duterte signed into law last December legislation that will create the Department of Overseas Migrant Workers (DOMW).
A Saudi Arabia-Pinoy businessman, Eli Mua’s crusade did not end with the signing of the law that created the DOMW. He lost no time in calling for the new agency’s speedy establishment. However, bureaucratic wrangling between Duterte-appointed DOMW Secretary Abdullah Mamao and several Cabinet members, including Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, have stymied Mamao’s bid to set up the new department as soon as possible. Understandably, Mua and like-minded OFW advocates were also flustered.
Why delay its establishment when a seemingly unending stream of abuses are being inflicted on OFWs in different parts of the Middle East? Distressed and abused female OFWs, especially in the Middle East, deserve not just a break but an immediate end to their torment. This writer concurs 100 percent with this stance.
However, all OFW advocates necessarily need to call a spade a spade. It’s next to impossible placing quickly under one house disparate agencies with different functions and thousands of employees even with the noblest and purest of intentions. To its discredit, though not all the time, the civil service has standard protocols and systems and procedures that need to be complied with when two or more government agencies are merged or amalgamated. In the DOMW’s case, this complicated process entails transition from disparate agencies under the labor, foreign affairs and social welfare departments into one new and enlarged agency under the DOMW’s banner.
This delay has flustered Eli Mua and fellow OFW advocates on grounds not totally unfounded. With a new incoming administration under presumptive President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., it is by no means unthinkable not to see major changes in various senior government posts. For instance, the current heads of different OFW-related departments, notably labor, foreign affairs and social welfare may well be replaced by new ones, thus causing a further delay in the establishment of the DOMW.
Though an ardent supporter of Duterte and to a significant degree the incoming president as well, Eli Mua voiced out over the weekend his anxiety and concern over the lack of clear direction for overseas Filipinos by the new government. With his wide network of OFW friends, he speaks presumably on behalf of numerous OFWs.
Their collective anxieties are understandable. During an online video conference in early April with OFWs from different countries, the incoming president gave sweeping pledges of government support and assistance. He spoke about providing re-training program for returning OFWs who wish to take up jobs abroad again, as well as livelihood programs for those who will opt to stay home for good.
Unfortunately, his pronouncements were grand in tone and scope but short in details, as per media reports about that video conference.
The outgoing government never saw fit to undertake a critical review, analysis and redirection of its manpower overseas deployment program unlike Indonesia.
Several years ago, the Indonesian government adopted a drastic policy of scaling down its overseas deployment of domestic helpers. As a result of this policy, Filipinos comprise the single largest segment of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong today. Had the government taken notice and drawn key insights from its neighbor’s policy shift and recalibrated its manpower exports, the number of distressed female OFWs in the Middle East and elsewhere is probably significantly less than the actual numbers.
Since OFWs collectively bring in about $30 billion a year in remittances, the incoming government will obviously maintain the current overseas deployment program, especially as it will battle massive problems of debts, poverty, rising inflation, endemic corruption and a litany of other challenges left behind by the current administration.
With the current crop of labor officials who merely maintained the government’s decades-old manpower export policy and if there is no substantial shake-up in policy direction and strategies, it looks unlikely for OFWs to get nowhere near their collective aspiration, i.e. to see and enjoy a substantial improvement of their lot while abroad when they return home for good.
This uncertainty will linger and even heighten until after the presumptive president appoints a new set of labor officials and after they have outlined a refined or revamped manpower deployment policy and strategies.
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