By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The creation of a joint congressional technical working group is being eyed to thresh out the provisions of the Department of OFWs Act to ensure its passage before the year ends.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the Senate already expressed willingness to work hand-in-hand with the Lower Chamber to iron out the provisions of the proposed Act which seeks to create the Department of OFWs that would act as an umbrella agency to specifically address all the issues and concerns of OFWs.
“Yesterday po, nagkaroon po ng consultative meeting with the Senate and the Senate President was there, Executive Secretary and the Labor Secretary, and kung papayagan ng komiteng ito, papayagan daw ni Senator Joel Villanueva ang isang joint technical working group para ma-thresh out lahat ng issues (Yesterday, we had a consultative meeting with the Senate, and the Senate President was there, Executive Secretary and the Labor Secretary, and if the joint panel would allow this, Senator Joel Villanueva would allow the creation of a joint technical working group to thresh out all the issues),” he told the joint panel deliberation on the 31 measures seeking to create the new department.
The House Committees on Government Reorganization and Overseas Workers Affairs jointly started yesterday the initial deliberations on the proposed Department of OFW Act.
During his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Duterte asked Congress to prioritize the passage of the bill seeking to create the Department of OFWs.
Cayetano expressed the Lower Chamber’s commitment to approve on the third and final reading the measure by November.
He cited the urgency to prioritize the creation of an agency that would manage, harmonize, and strengthen existing policies and programs on migration to address the needs of the OFWs.
He explained that the Secretary of the Department of OFW would serve as the “point person” and would be held “accountable” over all the issues and concerns of OFWs.
“We’re hoping that the Department of Overseas Filipinos and Foreign Employment will not be a cure all, but will be a giant step in the right direction,” he said during the joint panel deliberation on the bills.
During the joint panel deliberations, authors of the proposed OFW Act, including House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez; Deputy Speakers Vilma Santos Recto, Ferdinand Hernandez, Dong Gonzales, and Baby Arenas; Zambales Rep. Cherly Deloso-Montalla, and ACT-CIS partylist Rep. Niña Taduran sought the final passage of the bill.
Romualdez, who filed House Bill 3274, along with his wife Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Kittilstvedt Romualdez, noted that the leaders of Congress are “united” in pushing for the passage of the bill.
“The absence of a single agency to address foreign employment concerns has made it difficult for the government to focus on the needs and demands of foreign Filipino employment, in general, and of OFWs, in particular,” the Romualdezes said.
Currently, there are five major agencies that have mandates relative to overseas employment— Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Commission on Filipino Overseas (CFO), and the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA) of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
The Romualdezes lament that the lack of coordination among these agencies and redundancy of work lead to confusion among our OFWs and compromises the services to be rendered to our modern-day heroes.
“Hence, there is a pressing need to establish an agency that would manage, harmonize, and strengthen existing policies and programs to address the needs of foreign Filipino employment. We support the immediate passage of the proposed Department of OFWs,” they said.
For his part, Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu said, “We support the proposed law aimed at lessening illegal recruitment and abuse against OFWs while hastening the delivery of services to them. Guaranteed protection for their rights and welfare is our own little way of returning the huge favor they have been extending to sustain a positive economy.”
Cayetano said he is amenable to a “sunset provisions” that would clearly define that it is not the policy of the government to send Filipinos abroad.
Batangas Rep. Mario Vittorio “Marvey” Mariño, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reorganization, vowed to approve the measure “before November or December.”
“We will do our best to finish this committee hearing, but we will not rush it,” he said.
He assured that all concerned stakeholders will be consulted before they pass a “well-prepared” measure.
During the joint panel meeting, leaders of various OFW groups batted for the passage of the bill.