Senator Christopher “Bong” Go today reiterated his call for the passage by Congress of a bill seeking to create a Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOOF).
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 10 million Filipinos are overseas, including our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). The government should establish a department that will manage their welfare,” he said.
“We call them our modern-day heroes, but they do not have their own representation that is a Cabinet secretary level that focuses on them,” he added.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), a total of 237,363 OFWs have so far been repatriated since the pandemic began. An additional 107,000 Filipinos are expected to return home by the end of the year.
Go pointed out that the lack of a Cabinet-level agency solely devoted to address their needs and concerns has created confusion among distressed OFWs, confused about where to seek assistance and hampering public service delivery.
He pointed out 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, might prove challenging as relevant responsibilities are scattered across the bureaucracy.
According to Go, issues, such as inconsistent oversight, poor coordination and inefficiency, could be addressed by creating the proposed department solely mandated to handle concerns of overseas Filipinos.
“With the current pandemic, many of our OFWs, including our seafarers, have already returned to the country. Some of them suffered maltreatment in other countries and have sought help through the radio, Facebook, and television. If we have a department secretary that focuses on them, government response would be better and organized,” Go said.
Last September 16, Go filed Senate Bill (SB) 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.
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 (DFA), the Commission on Overseas Filipinos, all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the International Labor Affairs Bureau under DOLE, and International Social Services Office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The proposed DOOF will also exercise administrative supervision over the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA),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.