The Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development chaired by Senator Joel Villanueva resumed its hearing on Monday regarding Senate Bill No. 146 or the bill creating the Department of Migration and Development (DMD).
The said measure was discussed along with three other similar measures filed by Senators Ralph Recto, Senate President Koko Pimentel, and former Senator and now DFA Secretary Alan Cayetano.
The hearing was a continuation of the discussion of the labor committee last year wherein Villanueva stressed the disappointment of Filipino migrant workers and support groups on the government’s delayed and inadequate support and assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) which is lodged at various agencies.
The senator also reiterated the importance of creating a department of migration to address: 1) the need to enhance coordination of all offices working for OFWs by putting them together under one roof and to put an end to the practice of finger-pointing among agencies concerned with OFW affairs; 2) the need to extend adequate legal assistance for OFWs in distress; and 3) the need to provide a full migration cycle approach in promoting migrant’s rights from pre-employment, onsite and reintegration services.
With regard to the recurring problems of delayed response to the OFWs’ requests for assistance, Villanueva asked the concerned agencies on the challenges they are facing at their posts that limits their ability to timely act upon requests for assistance.
Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola shared that one of the primary challenges our foreign posts are currently facing is the lack of manpower. Arriola noted that there is only one personnel for every 27,000 OFWs in the Asia-Pacific while the ratio in the Middle East and Africa is 1:35,000 OFWs.
The Department of Labor and Employment also noted that around 36,000 OFW cases coming from various posts are reported on a daily basis. DOLE Assistant Secretary Joji Aragon said that these cases are referred to Joint Case Management Team on the same day it was reported and the reaction time for foreign posts to report the progress on the cases has been reduced from five days to three days.
Aside from issues on inter-agency collaboration, Villanueva also stressed the need of a shared database system that contains information of all OFWs. This will aid in tracking their status and fast track the delivery of assistance to distressed overseas workers.
“Services or information regarding OFW concerns are scattered throughout several offices. The administrative burden is high—each time a distressed OFW or their relatives have to provide the same information over and over again. Often, they just can’t find or even do not know the assistance or services, they are entitled to,” the senator lamented.
Villanueva further cited a situation wherein the agencies took months to rescue a distressed OFW.
“We know of a case where it took the DOLE and the DFA more than three months to rescue a distressed OFW from an abusive employer. We were lucky that the OFW was not completely harmed by then. If this is a common occurrence, it may be that the next time, there will no longer be a living OFW that will be rescued,” the senator lamented.
Citing the challenges in addressing OFW concerns, Villanueva said that “the most natural and reasonable response must be the creation of a ‘super body’ which will act as a maestro to orchestrate, synchronize, and harmonize these policies.”
Supporting the move to create a new department, DFA Undersecretary Arriola said that this plan “is not only timely but would also further raise the bar of the Philippines’ migration governance.” However, she cautioned that the creation of a specialized department “is not a panacea to the problems that most of our OFWs face, majority of whom are in the Middle East.” She said that cooperation of host countries is also significant in ensuring the protection of our OFWs. Arriola also shared that one of the major causes of our woes in migration is our continuous deployment of unskilled workers, domestic workers, thus calling for the continuous upgrading of skills of migrant workers by providing them free and accessible skills development and enhancement programs.
For the last 40 years, the deployment of Filipino workers has risen exponentially especially now that the transnational movements of people in search of greener pastures and employment opportunities in other countries seems unavoidable.
As of 2016, there are 10 million OFWs which comprise 10 percent of our country’s overall population. This is equivalent to more than 6,000 Pinoys leaving the Philippines every day to migrate overseas.
Furthermore, there are 247 million international migrants around the world. Five percent of which are Filipinos based on the data of Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute.
The Philippines is also no. 7 in the world in terms of population of international migrants, no. 3 in terms of receiving remittances, and no. 1 in labor exportation in the ASEAN region.
“Kailangang-kailangan po nating tugunan ang pangangailangan ng lumalaking bilang ng mga OFWs at isa po sa mga nakikita nating solusyon ay ang paglikha ng isang bahay na matatakbuhan, masisilungan at matutuluyan ng Pilipinong manggagawa sa ibayong dagat; isang ahensyang para lamang sa ating mga Bagong Bayaning nagsasakripisyo para sa kapakanan ng pamilya at bayan,” Villanueva said.