Digitalization as a tool to empower our OFWs

For so long, the plight of our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have filled pages of newspapers and space on social media. They are dubbed as “modern-day heroes” but they are treated like “third-class citizens” in their land of birth with voluminous requirements and excruciating red tape, plus fees after fees that cripple them even before they have the chance to earn.

The Duterte administration planted the seeds to ease the lives of OFWs by creating a dedicated central office for them — the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW). The former president 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. 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 Marcos administration is building on this solid foundation by making the DMW serve not only the more than two million OFWs but also look into the concerns of their families and relatives here in the Philippines. In fact, the President, in both his inaugural speech and State of the Nation Address, mentioned the migrant workers and ordered DMW Secretary Susan Ople to immediately ease the burden on our OFWs.

In a post-SONA forum, Ople said President Marcos wanted to make the “delivery of programs and services to the OFWs and their families to be swift.” “When I assumed office, I discovered that it could take a minimum of three months for an employer to work with our embassy and the Office of Labor to get accreditation. It’s not even the hiring process, it’s just the accreditation process.”

One of the ways to cut the tedious processing of documents from OFWs is via digitalization, which is also one of the thrusts of the Marcos administration as the President considers this as a best way to deliver services to the people.

It could be recalled that the President instructed the DMW to coordinate with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) for the digital processing of documents of OFWs. "We shall automate the verification of contracts and issue secure Overseas Employment Certifications (OEC) that you can keep on your smartphone. I call on the DMW and the DICT to make this a top priority," the President said.

The OEC, also known as exit clearance or pass, is a “document certifying the regularity of recruitment and documentation of an OFW and a proof of his or her registration with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).”

Ople vowed to prioritize this digitalization in order to provide “enhanced, efficient, and transparent services for OFWs.” She also added that the department will look into the number of steps and eradicate redundancies.

“The DICT and the DMW will be working closely together so that the OEC will now be paperless. It can be stored on the worker’s phone, and there will be a corresponding digital solution at the immigration so that every international airport that we have in the country is now seamless,” Ople said.

There are big expectations ahead and promises to be fulfilled. This early, the digitalization is just the start of programs that will ensure that our OFWs have a safe working environment, are treated fairly by employers, and protected to the full extent of the law. We have a long way to go before making OFWs truly feel that they are heroes.