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Pimentel calls for creation of separate department for OFWs

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By Mario Casayuran

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III on Monday called on his colleagues in Congress on the immediate creation of a Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW) as the multi-billion-dollar annual remittances of the country’s millions of overseas workers help strengthen the Philippine economy.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III (Senate of the Philippines / Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III
(Senate of the Philippines / Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)

Pimentel, a former Senate President, said that the government could not ignore the fact that a substantial chunk of the population, almost one in every 11 Filipinos, is working and toiling overseas, and their welfare needs to be fully ensured and protected at all times.

“We’re talking about scale here. Yes, we have the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), but both these government agencies are already understaffed to meet the growing number and demands of our OFWs,’’ he said.

“For instance, OWWA has already complained in 2018 that it has just 420 staff worldwide, 300 locally and 120 abroad, addressing the concerns of 10 million OFWs.

A dedicated executive department for our foreign workers is the solution,” he pointed out.

The lawmaker from northern Mindanao also cited recent reports that the Philippines stands to lose as much as $1.5 billion worth of remittances because of the projected 10 to 15 percent decrease in the deployment of overseas Filipino workers particularly to the Middle East due to declining global oil prices.

The report showed that up to 100,000 jobs for OFWs would be lost because of the precarious financial situation of Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries due to lower crude oil prices.

“That’s a big number, considering Saudi Arabia is the most preferred country of destination among OFWs at 25.4 percent, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. Other Middle East countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait follow suit at 15.3 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively,’’ Pimentel said.

Last year, around 3,000 workers were repatriated through the OWWA. Deployment likewise declined by 10 percent due to the instability of crude oil prices.

“The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has lowered the growth targets for both personal and cash remittances to three percent instead of four percent for 2019. We need a more proactive stance to stem this decline,” Pimentel noted.

“We need a national level policy, implemented by a separate government department, that squarely addresses key employment trends and developments abroad because these have direct economic consequences back home. When foreign countries freeze hiring of skilled and unskilled workers, or when maritime agencies rationalize the hiring of our seafarers, the economic consequences are direct and immediately felt,’’ he said.

“I believe that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) can be tasked to focus exclusively on domestic employment while a separate department can handle overseas employment,” Pimentel stressed.

Pimentel said the creation of a separate department for OFWs was one of the campaign promises of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Mindanao-born lawmaker, for his part, filed on May 10, 2017 Senate Bill 1445, “An Act Creating the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers, Defining its Powers and Functions, Appropriating Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes.”

“We urgently need this OFW Department. Deployment of workers abroad is not a temporary phenomenon. I agree that our main goal is still to provide a good employment environment here, but the fact is there are millions of Filipino workers abroad. There will always be those who will choose to work abroad, even if their numbers may dwindle or even if they will eventually come back home to retire. We should offer our modern Filipino heroes greater focus and protection than we give them at the moment,” Pimentel said.

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