SPONSORSHIP SPEECH on Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos
Mr. President, distinguished colleagues:
It is an honor to be given this privilege to sponsor a bill that has become a center of the nation’s attention over the past couple of months, a piece of legislation that will chart the future of the global Filipino.
After five hearings, marathon hearings, of the Committee on Labor jointly with the Committees on Civil Service, Foreign Relations and Finance, two global OFW consultations, three long Technical Working Group meetings, and our Committees’ all members meeting yesterday morning, we are ready to report to this august chamber Senate Bill No. 2234 or the “Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act” (DMWOFA) under Committee Report No. 264.
Mr. President, we renamed the Department from DoFil to Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos to highlight the concerns of OFWs more. This title will also be consistent with the earlier law which is the “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act.”
Isang bahay, Ginoong Pangulo, na magsisilbing “tahanan” ng ating mga bagong bayani ang itinatayo natin ngayon. Isang bahay na pinag-ipunan ng deka-dekadang taon ng pagtatrabaho sa ibang bansa ng ating mga kababayan. Isang bahay para sa ating mga migrant worker at overseas Filipino.
Sa kasalukuyan, hiwa-hiwalay po ang mga opisina at ahensyang nagbibigay ng mga serbisyo sa ating mga OFWs at OFs. Nakikisilong o nakikitira lamang ang mga opisinang tumututok sa ating mga OFWs at OFs sa iba’t ibang ahensya ng gobyerno. Walang iisang masusulingan sa panahon ng pangangailangan at hindi naging seamless ang pagkatagni-tagni ng mga trabaho para sa mabilis at agarang serbisyo sa kabila ng pagkakaroon ng 2015 Joint Manual of Operations in Providing Assistance to Migrant Workers and Other Filipinos Overseas. Ang POEA, OWWA ay mga attached agencies ng DOLE. Nasa ilalim naman ng OWWA ang National Reintegration Center for OFWs.
DOLE rin ang namamahala sa lahat ng Philippine Overseas Labor Offices o POLO, International Labor Affairs Bureau o ILAB, at maging ang National Maritime Polytechnic (NMP). Samantala, nasa ilalim ng DFA ang Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs o OUMWA na in-charge sa legal representation at repatriation ng mga OFWs. Nasa isa pang ahensya, sa DSWD, ang International Social Services Office (ISSO) para sa mga Pilipinong biktima ng human trafficking, overstaying, tinamaan ng kalamidad at mga batang inabandona.
Ang Commission on Filipino Overseas o CFO na nangangasiwa sa mga permanent residents, mga Pilipino na naging mga naturalized citizen abroad, Pilipinong fiancé o asawa ng mga banyaga, trainees at interns, at iba pa, ay nasa ilalim naman ng Office of the President.
Ngayon, sa pamamagitan ng Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos, pag-uugnay-ugnayin ang mga ahensya at opisinang ito at ilalagay sa iisang bahay at iisang bubong, maliban po sa OWWA na magiging attached agency ng Kagawaran.
It’s not intentional that these offices and agencies are dispersed across departments, Mr. President. Dala marahil sa hindi kailanman naging polisiya ng ating bansa ang pagpapalabas ng kanyang mga manggagawa upang mapalago ang ating ekonomiya. This is also a result of long experience with migration that has created policies, processess and institutions that were expected to flourish under a collaborative governance regime.
But collaborative governance as the approach to managing migration for work has drawbacks as shown by the many problems on deployment, on-site assistance, repatriation and reintegration, Mr. President. Despite the laws that we passed, particularly, Republic Act 10022 or the Amended Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act , coordination and inter-agency cooperation in the fight against illegal recruitment, provision of free legal assistance, reintegration of OFWs and shared government Information System remain a challenge in practice.
Mr. President by putting these eight agencies and offices under one roof and under one head, with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration as the new department, does not mean a shift to embracing labor export as a policy but plainly a shift to improve collaborative governance away from the seemingly “ad-hoc” character of services it creates, by having one focal agency accountable and responsible to orchestrate and definitively address the gaps on our treatment of our OFWs and OFs.
Why do we need to build this house for migrant workers and other overseas Filipinos now?
Mr. President, esteemed colleagues:
Filipinos have become one of the largest diaspora communities in the world. Scattered in every known biome on earth are more than ten million Filipinos; OFWs and their families, tourists, pilgrims, students, trainees, and religious missionaries. According to the 2019 Mid-Year Report of the DFA, there were 10.35 million overseas Filipinos as of June 2019.
Two out of 10 overseas Filipinos are migrant workers. Before the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, 6,092 Pinoys leave the country every day to work abroad for greener pastures.
Mr. President, five percent (5%) of all labor migrants globally are Filipinos; we are ranked number 7 worldwide. In-demand po ang Pilipinos abroad.
Ang pagdating ng mga job order sa POEA, walang lockdown. Tuloy-tuloy po ang pasok ng trabaho mula sa iba’t ibang panig ng mundo. From day one of Luzon-wide lockdown on March 16, 2020 to May 12, 2021, POEA has received and approved 264,722 job orders from all over the world .
Hindi po kalabisang sabihin na malaking pwersa sa paggulong ng ekonomiya ng mundo ang Pilipino. Marami ang nagsasabing pivotal ang mga Pinoy migrant worker sa success at financial stability ng mga bansang may mataas na konsentrasyon ng mga Pilipino tulad ng Amerika, Saudi, UAE, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, at iba pa .
Hindi rin po makapaglalayag ang marami sa mahigit walumpung libong (80,000) mga barko lulan ang nobenta porsiento (90%) ng kalakal ng buong mundo kung hindi “on board at any one-time” ang apat na raang libong (400,000) mga Pinoy seafarers o halos kalahati ng 1.1 milyong Pilipinong may seamen’s book mula sa MARINA .
Because of our land-based and sea-based OFWs, the Philippines have an economic lifeline for decades. Twelve percent of the national income is the monetized sweat of the overseas Filipinos. Their remittances make a significant contribution and shield the economy from instabilities.
Mr. President, even the COVID-19 pandemic did not decrease the volume of remittances from Filipinos overseas, which contracted by only 0.8% in 2020. Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas showed that personal remittances from OFs reached $33.2 billion dollars in 2020, equivalent to 33% of this year’s 4.506-trillion pesos national budget .
Mr. President, distinguished colleagues:
Despite their contributions to our economy and the love and respect they get from other countries and nationalities, problems continue to plague our overseas Filipinos, especially OFWs.
While there are metrics for the economic returns of migration, there is none for its social costs. And the sad truth is that OFWs risk their limbs and lives abroad because of a lack of employment opportunities at home.
Let me outline six problem areas where DMWOF will work for remedies.
The first problem area is RECRUITMENT. Hindi na po mabilang ang mga pamilyang pinaghiwalay ng employment contract na pikit-matang nilagdaan ng mga OFWs. Marami sa kanila ay nabibiktima pa ng illegal recruitment at human trafficking.
Mula po 2016 hanggang 2020,limang taon po yan, ang kabuuang kaso laban sa illegal recruitment na na-endorse para sa preliminary investigation ay nasa 295, pero ang convictions po ay dadalawampu’t-lima (25) lamang. In the past two years, dalawa lamang ang convicted illegal recruiters.
Alam na alam po ni Sen. Risa ang problema ng illegal recruitment dahil iniimbestigahan po niya sa kanyang komite yoon pong mga problema na ito.
Problema rin ang RED-TAPE. Hanggang ngayon, reklamo pa rin ng ating mga kababayang OFW at mga balikbayan ang mahabang proseso at kumplikadong mga administrative procedure na ipinatutupad ng ating mga ahensya.
Ginagamit ng mga balikbayan ang maikling bakasyon sa pagpapabalik-balik sa mga ahensya ng gobyerno, sa halip na gugulin bilang quality time na kasama ang pamilya ditto sa pIlipinas.
I remember the exact words of Senator Cynthia Villar in one of our hearings: “Kung ang mga Senador nahihirapan kung saang opisina pupunta kung kailangan nila ng tulong, ang mga OFW pa kaya?” as a way to show the problems of having too many offices working for OFW affairs.
REGULATION is another locus of problems. Reklamo pa rin ang kalituhan kung saang ahensya tatakbo ang ating mga OFW. Halimbawa, kapag valid ang contract, sa POEA, at kapag walang contract, sa OWWA. Ang mga Pilipino namang gustong mag-migrate permanently sa ibang bansa o nakapangasawa ng banyaga, sa Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) ang punta.
We have outstanding and reasonable OFW policies, but they have become incoherent due to the prevalence of politicizing power struggles and turf wars among government offices working for OFW affairs. As a result, services, information, and necessary response to OFW concerns are scattered all over the place. Often, OFWs do not know of the service, assistance, rights, and privileges they are entitled.
EMERGENCY RESPONSE is another area of concern. Masaklap po ang sinasapit ng mga kababayan nating nakararanas ng pang-aabuso. Ilan sa kanila ay pinaslang at ginahasa ng kanilang mga employer at malamig na bangkay nang sinasalubong ng kanilang mga kaanak ditto sa NAIA.
In Kuwait alone, at least three Filipina Household Workers died over the last two years; Joanna Demafelis, Constancia Dayag, and Jeanelyn Villavende. Their heinous murder caused pain, regret, and uncertainty to loved ones they left behind.
As of July 2019, there are at least 14,532 Filipinos reportedly languishing in jails abroad. Sixty-eight (68) of them are serving life sentences. Add to them the countless OFWs facing legal, health, psychosocial, and financial quandaries.
Ngunit hindi ganoon kabilis ang kalinga at saklolo. Ang dami nga po nating agencies at mga opisina for OFW affairs, pero wala naman pong koordinasyon. May kanya-kanya pong bakod, at waring meron pang kompetisyon, salungatan, at sigalot.
Halimbawa, ang data ng DFA at POEA sa mga na-repatriate na mga OFWs ay hindi po nagta-tally. Hanggang ngayon ay wala tayong matino at coherent and seamless information management system para sa mga OFWs.
Area of concern din ang REPATRIATION kung saan tila may pagkakanya-kanya at segregation pa nga, dahil kapag documented ang Pinoy, kay DOLE, kapag undocumented, kay DFA, pero hindi po ba pare-pareho naman silang Pilipino.
Kahit po sa paghahanap ng pondo para sa repatriation ay tila sariling sikap ang OWWA. And we admire the courage of OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac for standing firm that the OWWA Trust Fund which currently stands at Php18.3-billion cannot be used in activities like repatriation.
We also thank our good Minority Leader Frank Drilon for bringing this issue to the fore and strengthening our call that the government should be adequately funded to withstand the massive job losses, displacements and continuing repatriation of Filipinos stranded abroad. Imagine, Mr. President, our OFWs contribute to the OWWA Fund through their toil, tears, and sweat, but they don’t know what their benefits are.
The sixth problem area that this department seeks to remedy is REINTEGRATION. Favorite po ni Sen. Imee Marcos ito. Reintegration has become more challenging under the present set-up because the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the economic landscape. If local industries are retooling for a post-pandemic era, then a sector that makes up 10 percent of the economy will have to make adjustments as well.
Mr. President, sa dami po ng umuuwi sa Pilipinas, hindi makaalis, o wala nang babalikang trabaho abroad, tila wala pa ring mga programang reliable para sa skills training, job referral, o anumang paraan para mapakinabangan ang dalang makabagong kaalaman, expertise, at teknolohiya ng mga umuuwing migrant workers at OFs.
DOLE estimates that the pandemic, which continues to plague economies around the globe, displaced more than 520,000 OFWs. Tens of thousands of migrant workers are awaiting repatriation, many of them immobilized by the travel caps imposed by the IATF.
Mr. President, distinguished colleagues:
The structure of the Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos (DMWOF) should meet the needs for navigating a world full of challenges to overseas Filipino workers, such as the post-pandemic world.
Besides the six problem areas that we have identified above and which we have been trying to address long before the pandemic, the DMWOF, given the proper orientation and mandate, will be instrumental to the transition towards a strategic post-COVID-19 Philippine economy.
"Walang iisang masusulingan sa panahon ng pangangailangan at hindi naging seamless ang pagkatagni-tagni ng mga trabaho para sa mabilis at agarang serbisyo sa kabila ng pagkakaroon ng 2015 Joint Manual of Operations in Providing Assistance to Migrant Workers and Other Filipinos Overseas."
The IATF’s initial priority list is composed of frontline health workers (1.76 million), indigent senior citizens (3.78 million), remaining senior citizens (5.67 million), remaining indigent Filipinos (12.9 million), and uniformed personnel (about 525,523), which is roughly 24.6 million.
Villanueva explained that IATF would need to precisely identify the 10.4 million additional beneficiaries considering that about 25% or about 10 million of the country’s 39.8 million employed workers as of the October 2020 Labor Force Survey are in “elementary occupations.” The Philippine Statistics Authority says that among those involved in elementary occupations are unskilled labor such as “street vendors, cleaners, domestic helpers and farm hands.”
PSA data also shows that about seven million workers are in sales or service occupations.
“We do not want overlaps in the priority list. Given the limited supply, we must ensure that each dose goes to the rightful beneficiary,” Villanueva pointed out. “While unemployment eased in October to 8.7% or about 3.8 million jobless workers, we must understand that the people also stopped looking for work. The slump is getting into the heads of our workers, and the vaccination program will help boost both the confidence of workers and our businesses as well.”
“We cannot afford to drop the ball on this. The stakes are too high. Our country’s economic recovery depends largely on this,” Villanueva added.