Time and time again, the contributions of millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been highlighted as a “lifeline” of the economy. In times of crisis, we can count on their remittances to soften the blow on economically disadvantaged sectors. In search of greener pastures for their family, OFWs endure anxiety, depression, homesickness, even abuse or substandard working conditions in some cases, just to earn a living.
Though the government, in various administrations, has continuously institutionalized laws to protect OFWs and safeguard their welfare, there is a need for more “concrete” programs that will look into the families which they have left behind. After all, majority of OFWs chose to work abroad primarily to give their families a better life.
Highlighting the importance of taking care of OFW families, the President led the “Pamaskong Handog Para sa Pamilyang OFW” in Malacañang last Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. Coinciding with the event was the 126th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal. The meaning has not been lost as the President honored OFWs as modern-day heroes, much like in the mold of Rizal who ventured far and away to help Filipinos and uplift the Motherland.
The President also used the occasion to tell OFWs that his administration is strengthening the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), which is led by Secretary Susan Ople.
"OFWs and their families are close to my heart. In this administration, we will strengthen the DMW so it can provide faster and more efficient service to our modern heroes,” he said. Incidentally, it was also the first anniversary of Republic Act No. 11641, which mandated the creation of the department.
“Now more than ever, the work that you do is significant in lifting our economy and raising the living standard of your family, including your fellow Filipinos," the President added.
It was not just “lip service” as the President outlined projects, scholarships, shelter, and other benefits for OFWs and their families. In fact, Ople has reported that the DMW will start filling up 1,000 positions. There will be 16 regional officers and four overseas labor posts to better serve the OFWs, wherever they may be.
"We are doing everything we can at the DMW and OWWA to take care and fight for the rights of our OFWs and their families. We are aware of (the President’s) strict instructions since he always has the welfare of OFWs in mind,” said Ople. As a yearend gift to OFWs, Ople revealed the opening of the first full-service OFW Hospital in Mabalacat, Pampanga.
“Because of you (the OFWs), we have a good image all over the world. You are seen as among the best because you are one of the most hardworking, caring workers,” said the President.
As OFWs venture all over the world — testing their limits, conquering their fears, and pursuing jobs in strange lands — worrying about their families should be the last thing on their mind. The government must do all it can to ensure that OFW families, especially those with very young members, have the support in the form of a proper education, mental health guidance, and healthcare access.
With the President’s conviction and the DMW’s determination, may 2023 be the year that we finally — and truly — honor OFWs and their families.