Amidst the adverse effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the global economy and the livelihood of many Filipinos around the world, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go reiterates his call for the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos in order to better respond to the needs and promote the welfare of Filipino migrant workers, especially in times of crisis.
In a Senate hearing on Wednesday, May 20, Senator Go aired reported issues faced by overseas Filipino workers, such as being forced to stay in health quarantine facilities beyond the mandated fourteen-day quarantine period and OFWs in distress not being able to return home immediately to the country and to their provinces due to limitations in the delivery of services from government agencies such as Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Maritime Industry Authority.
“Noon pa lamang ay marami nang mga issues ang kinakaharap ng ating mga kababayang nagtatrabaho abroad. Ang paglipat-lipat ng ahensya ay naging pabigat na proseso sa kanila. Mas lumala pa ngayon dahil sa hirap na dulot ng COVID-19 crisis. Kung mayroon pong DOFWs, mas mapapadali sana ang koordinasyon ng mga ahensya at may iisang departamento na tututok sa mga pangangailangan nila,” Go said in past statements.
Hence, Go reiterated his call for the establishment of the Department of Overseas Filipinos to consolidate efforts of all concerned government agencies that handle overseas Filipinos’ affairs under one department in order to make government services more efficient and responsive.
“These issues encountered by our OFWs prove that we need a single department dedicated for OFWs to be able to meet their needs. Having said that, I reiterate my call to establish a Department of Overseas Filipinos to protect our OFWs and to better provide efficient and effective delivery of services to our OFWs,” Go said in the virtual hearing.
National Task Force COVID-19 Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. concurred with the position of Senator Go, saying that he agrees that it would be better to have one government department handing all affairs involving Filipinos abroad.
“Tama po ang sinasabi natin, minamahal na Senador, na magkakaroon ng isang department na nakatutok sa mga OFWs, mas maganda po,” Sec. Galvez, Jr. said, adding that they have created a special task group for repatriation composed of agencies, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Transportation to assist OFWs in distress.
The creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos is one of Go’s priority bills filed just more than month after being elected as Senator in 2019 and is also part of the Duterte Administration’s priority legislative agenda. The House of Representatives has passed its version last March of this year. However, its Senate counterpart is still pending in the committee level.
“Suportahan po natin ang panukalang ito… Kawawa po talaga ang mga OFWs ngayon. Huwag na po natin silang mas pahirapan pa. Let us learn from this COVID-19 experience,” Go said previously.
“We should make sure that all Filipinos in distress, here or abroad, are given timely assistance and that measures are also undertaken to protect their welfare, especially in times of crises,” he added.
The proposed measure aims to address perennial issues such as inefficient coordination among offices concerned with OFW affairs; lack of immediate legal assistance to OFWs in distress; lack of full migration cycle approach in promoting migrant’s rights from pre-employment, onsite and reintegration services; and lack of shared database systems that contains relevant information on all OFWs to aid in tracking their status and fast track delivery of assistance to distressed workers. Currently, services and information are scattered throughout several offices.
“Nalilito ang ating mga OFWs sa pangkasalukuyang sitwasyon. Sa oras na kailangan nila ng saklolo, hindi na nila alam sino dapat lapitan kaya sa media o Facebook sila nananawagan,” he said.
“If mayroon na tayong department for OFWs, iisa na lang ang lalapitan at iisa na lang ang makikipag coordinate na departamento. Magiging mas maayos ang pagresponde sa mga krisis at mas mabilis nating matutulungan ang ating mga kababayang humihingi ng saklolo,” he added.
During the same hearing, Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III also reported that there were about 34,000 OFWs already repatriated. Another 42,000 OFWs are also expected to arrive in the country by June this year. He also reported on the various assistance provided by the government, particularly the cash assistance under the DOLE-AKAP program for OFWs who are either displaced from work or those who were not able to work because of travel restrictions.
The Senator also noted during the hearing that since around ten million Filipinos are based overseas including permanent, temporary, and irregular migrants, it is imperative for the government to have a single and more focused department to look after this large number of Filipinos overseas.
“The overseas Filipinos comprise approximately 10% of the total population of the Philippines. Bigyan natin sila ng mabilis, maayos at mas maaasahang serbisyo lalo na sa oras ng kanilang pangangailangan,” he said in past statements.
Under his proposed Senate Bill 202 or the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2019, the proposal aims to make government efforts more efficient and responsive to the needs of Filipinos abroad by putting government agencies dealing with OFW concerns under one umbrella.
The said bill proposes that the several agencies and their powers and functions, funds and appropriations, records, equipment, property, and personnel be transferred to the new department to be established. These agencies include OWWA, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Commission on Filipino Overseas, International Labor Affairs Bureau of DOLE and National Reintegration Center for OFWs.
The bill also states that the powers and functions of the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs under the DFA and all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices and their officials under DOLE will also be transferred to the new department.
Meanwhile, during the same Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, Senator Go also took the opportunity to ask Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III about the alleged refusal of hospitals to provide emergency care to patients during the pandemic, citing that under Republic Act 10932, a law which strengthened the Anti-Hospital Deposit Law, it is unlawful to refuse to administer medical treatment and support to prevent death or permanent disability, among others.
DOH responded by saying that the incidents are already under investigation and that they are ready hold any individual at fault accountable.
Stay updated with news and information from the Office of Senator Bong Go by visiting their website at http://kuyabonggo.ph.