LEADERS of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) groups have urged the Senate Joint Committee on Labor and Employment, Foreign Relations, and Finance to resume the deliberations on the pending bills related to the creation of the Department of Filipinos Overseas (DFO), saying the creation of a single agency that will comprehensively address their concerns has long been overdue.
“Ngayon na po ang tamang panahon. Matagal na po kaming naghintay. Huwag na po nating ipagkait na magkaroon ng isang opisina na mananagot kung maging mabagal ang serbisyo sa mga OFW,” OFW Global Movement Association and Cooperation Inc. (OFW-GMAC) President Lalaine Dazille Siason said.
The OFW Global Movement Association and Cooperation currently has 200 chapters worldwide.
“Kung bagong bayani ang tingin niyo sa amin, nararapat lang na aksyunan ng gobyerno ang matagal na naming mga hinaing at dinudulog sa ating Kongreso,” Siason said.
She said from the time President Duterte took office in 2016, OFWs have been given assurance of the establishment of a department that will serve as a one-stop-shop for their needs, “especially if our lives are placed in grave danger, or if we fall victim to abuse, or if a pandemic like this current one happens.”
The Department of Filipinos Overseas and Foreign Employment bill was approved on third and final reading in the House of Representatives on March 11, 2020 during the time of then-Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who was also one of its principal authors.
There are currently nine bills seeking the creation of DFO pending at the committee level in the Senate.
But last Monday upon the motion of Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, the Joint Committee deferred the hearing on the creation of DFO until after the Senate tackles Senate Bill (SB) No. 244 or the Rightsizing the National Government Act.
Warpeace Arnold, who is the current President of the Alliance of United OFWs based in the United Arab Emirates, appealed to the senators to act on the OFWs’ problems and concerns.
“Sana po ay pakinggan kami ng ating mga butihing Senador na buksan muli ang pagdinig tungkol sa Department of Filipinos Overseas,” Arnold said.
Awarded “Champion of Migration” by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2019, Arnold has been advocating for the safety and protection of OFWs through the passage of the DFO bill.
“Sa loob ng ilang dekada, malaki din po ang naitulong ng mga kababayan nating OFW para palakasin ang ekonomiya ng Pilipinas. Siguro po ay hindi ito kalabisan kung gawing mas komprehensibo at mas akma ang mga serbisyo para sa mga OFW sa pamamagitan ng pagtatayo ng isang ahensiyang tutugon sa mga problema ng ating mga kababayan nag nagtatrabaho sa iba’t ibang bansa,“ she said.
Both Siason and Arnold expressed “dismay” at the Senate’s decision to defer the hearing on the pending bills and for “thinking twice” about establishing a dedicated department for OFWs, which was supported by President Rodrigo Duterte in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2019.
“Nasimulan na po ng Mababang Kapulungan ang proseso. Umaasa kaming bago matapos ang 2022 ay maipapasa na po ang bill na ito para matulungan ang halos 10 milyong Pilipino sa iba’t ibang bahagi ng mundo,” Arnold said in her appeal.
She also said contrary to what Drilon has claimed, establishing a dedicated agency for OFW-related policies and programs will not create “a host of new government expenses.”
“Hindi naman gagastos ang gobyerno ng ganoon kalaki dahil pag-iisahin lang ang mga ahensya at serbisyo para sa mga OFW na pinopondohan na din ng gobyerno taun-taon,” Arnold said.
“Hindi po namin maubos maisip kung bakit hindi nila gustong pag-usapan ang mga kakulangan ng mga ahensya at mga maaring gawin upang mas mapaganda ang programa para mga OFW na nasa ibang bansa pati na ang mga napilitang umuwi dahil sa mga hindi inaasahang pangyayari tulad ng pandemya,” she said.