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House panels approve bill creating OFW department

Updated

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 Joint Session of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao commences in the Plenary of the Batasang Pambansa on December 13, 2017. (ALVIN KASIBAN / MANILA BULLETIN)

(MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

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.

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