November 7, 2020
Go seeks support anew for bill creating Department of Overseas Filipinos; highlights challenges in responding to influx of returning and distressed OFWs
Senator Christopher “Bong” Go reiterated his call for the creation of a Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOOF) during an interview conducted on Friday, November 6.
Go said the COVID-19 pandemic and global recession had highlighted the need for a cabinet-level agency that would look after and protect the welfare of all overseas Filipinos, many of whom cannot return to work or had lost their jobs after the pandemic struck worldwide.
“More than ten million na Filipinos ang nasa ibang bansa, kasama dyan ang ating overseas Filipino workers. Dapat magtayo [ang gobyerno] ng isang departamento na mamahala sa kanilang kapakanan,” he said.
“Sinasabi nga natin na sila ang ating bagong bayani tapos wala man lang silang sariling representation na cabinet secretary level na tututok sa kanila,” he lamented.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, a total of 237,363 OFWs have been repatriated as of writing since the pandemic began. An additional 107,000 Filipinos are estimated to return by the end of the year.
Go pointed out that the lack of a cabinet-level agency that is solely devoted to addressing their needs and concerns has created confusion among distressed OFWs over where to seek assistance and has hampered the efficiency of public service delivery.
He added that with the current set up, responding to the needs of overseas Filipinos require a comprehensive response from multiple agencies. Developing a united response, however, may prove challenging as relevant responsibilities are scattered across the bureaucracy.
According to Go, issues, such as inconsistent oversight, poor coordination and inefficiency, can be addressed by creating the proposed department solely mandated to handle concerns of overseas Filipinos.
“Katulad ngayong pandemya, maraming umuwi na mga OFWs natin, kasama na dyan mga seafarers natin. Minsan nga mayroong inaapi sa ibang bansa, nananawagan sa radyo, Facebook, sa telebisyon. Ngayon po kung mayroon tayong department secretary na nakatutok sa kanila, ang akin naman, hindi kalat-kalat ang response. May iisang magtitimon,” explained Go.
“Ang sa akin ay pag-isahin natin sa isang departamento na nakatutok sa kapakanan ng ating kababayan na nasa abroad. ‘Yun po ang importante sa akin, na mayroon silang malalapitan mag-aasikaso, makikipag liaison kaagad para sa kapakanan ng ating mga OFWs,” he continued.
On September 16, the Senator filed Senate Bill No. 1835 or the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act which is an enhanced version of an earlier bill he filed in 2019. The bill aims to improve the delivery of government services to Filipinos abroad by bringing together and streamlining the relevant services scattered in various national agencies.
“We took into consideration inputs and concerns from agencies at pinag-usapan po ito ng Office of the Executive Secretary, Office of the Cabinet Secretary, at ng Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, kasama ang lahat po ng mga apektadong ahensya. Gusto ko sanang isalang na ito sa Senado para mapagusapan na ang mga isyu. Ang importante po sa akin ay maipasa ito,” he said.
This version of the bill brings together under one department the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Commission on Overseas Filipinos, all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices under the Department of Labor and Employment, the International Labor Affairs Bureau under DOLE, and International Social Services Office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
The DOOF will also exercise administrative supervision over the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration which shall be attached to the envisioned department.
Meanwhile, Migrant Workers and other Overseas Filipinos Resource Centers will be set up in every country of destination to provide temporary shelter, medical aid and other forms of assistance to distressed OFWs.
Overseas Filipino Malasakit Centers will also be established in various parts of the country to serve as a one-stop shop for migrant Filipinos and their families who require clearances and permits, validation of overseas job offers, reintegration services, pertinent seminars and workshops, and other related services.
“Ngayon na napilitan silang [OFWs] umuwi dahil sa krisis, dapat lang bigyan ng sapat na atensyon ang kanilang mga pangangailangan para matulungan ang ating mga bagong bayani na makabangon muli,” he said.
“Mas maisasaayos ang mga programa at serbisyo ng gobyerno kung mayroong sariling departamento na mamamahala sa mga pangangailangan ng mga OFWs,” he added.
Go also lamented the difficult situation that the OWWA and other concerned agencies are currently facing as the number of distressed and returning OFWs continuously grow due to the adverse effects of the global pandemic.
According to OWWA, they are trying their best to improve their systems and processes to address the volume of bills on hotels, transport and food spent for returning OFWs. The OWWA Finance Team has been reviewing every billing statement and supporting documents, in accordance with government auditing rules and regulations.