By Charissa Atienza
The House Committee on Government Reorganization and the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs jointly approved on Tuesday, Nov. 26, a consolidated and amended bill creating the Department of Filipinos Overseas and Foreign Employment to keep an eye on the safety and protection of overseas Filipinos, including seafarers and household service workers.
The proposed “Department of Filipinos Overseas (DFO) Act of 2019,” a consolidation of 39 measures, was presented by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, who heads the Technical Working Group (TWG) that consolidated the bills.
The OFW bill was amended by the joint panel, chaired by Batangas Rep. Mario Vittorio “Marvey” Mariño, and TUCP party-list Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza, following the motion of Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte.
Villafuerte, one of the principal authors of the bill, introduced 39 amendments to the bill presented by Salceda.
It was OFW Family party-list Rep. Alberto “Bobby” Pacquiao, one of the authors of the measure, who moved for the approval of the amended and consolidated bill. It took almost three hours of deliberations for the panel to approve the bill.
Salceda said the bill is the Lower Chamber’s expression of “gratitude” to the immense and valuable contributions of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
“The bill is about the dignity of labor whether here and abroad. It is all about engaging, employing, and enhancing the dignity of Filipino labor,” he said, citing that the OFWs account for $32 billion dollars of the country’s annual foreign exchange earnings.
“The proposed creation of the DFO is an act of social justice, nothing more, nothing less,” he added.
Under the bill, the new Department is mandated to formulate, recommend, and implement national policies, plans, programs, and guidelines that will ensure the protection of Filipinos overseas. It is also tasked to protect, and promote the welfare, well-being, and interest of the families of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
The DFO is mandated to administer reintegration and social services programs for Filipinos who have worked abroad and are returning to the country, and for their families. It is also mandated to effectively regulate the operations of private recruitment and manning agencies and related business entities involved in the employment of Filipinos abroad to uphold the primacy of the welfare and protection of OFWs, with due consideration of the relevant market conditions.
Part of the DFO’s responsibilities is also to prosecute cases arising out of the implementation of this Act, particularly those involving trafficking in persons and illegal recruitment, in coordination with quasi-judicial body such as the National Labor Relations Commission and other government agencies such as the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).
The proposed “Department of Filipinos Overseas Act of 2019 provides that the DFO shall be headed by a Secretary who shall be appointed by the President, subject to the confirmation by the Commission on Appointments (CA).
The Secretary shall be assisted by at least five Undersecretaries, two of whom shall be career officers.
The bill provides that the following agencies and their functions shall be transferred and “subsumed” to the DFO: the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA) of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA); the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO); All Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) under DOLE; the International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) under DOLE; the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA); and the Social Welfare Attachés Office (SWATO) under DSWD, now operating as the International Social Services Office (ISSO).
Under the bill, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) shall be attached to the DFO.
The OWWA is expected to develop an effective reintegration program for returning OFWs and their families which will include among others, projects for livelihood, entrepreneurship, savings, investment, and financial literacy, in coordination with relevant stakeholders, service providers, and local and international organizations.
The measure calls for the creation of P5 billion Assistance-to-Nationals Fund (ATN Fund) for Filipinos overseas in distress, especially OFWs to be administered and maintained by the Department.
Under the bill, the Department is authorized to create sectoral and industry task forces, technical working groups, advisory bodies or committees to achieve its objectives. It shall also immediately establish the career Assistance-to-Nationals corps similar to the foreign services corps and the foreign trade representative corps.
The bill provides that after 10 years from the creation of the new Department, the Congressional Oversight Committee may choose to abolish the Department should circumstances prove that there is no more need for its existence.
The relevance and practicality of maintaining the Department shall be reviewed every five years after the 10-year mandatory review.
Other authors of the bills include House Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano, Taguig Rep.Maria Laarni L. Cayetano, and Davao Rep. Paolo Z. Duterte, Tingog Sinirangan partylist Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez, and House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez.