THE House committee on government reorganization yesterday began hearing various proposals seeking the creation of a Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), one of the legislative priorities that President Duterte mentioned in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the House and Senate panels can create a joint technical working group to come up with a consolidated version of the measure to expedite its passage.
Cayetano said the proposal was discussed in a meeting in Malacañang last Monday which was attended by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Sen. Joel Villanueva, chairman of the Senate committee on labor, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
“(Today), we’ll move for a joint technical working group with the Senate and we’ve spoken with the Senate’s labor committee chair, Sen. Villanueva,” Cayetano, one of the bill’s authors, said.
Cayetano said the joint TWG should finish its hearings by the first week of November so that the bill may reach the floor by the second week of the same month and approved by December.
“We need a joint technical working group to thresh out all issues. I just want to emphasize that this bill can be described by one word – focus (on OFW protection),” Cayetano said during yesterday’s committee hearing.
Cayetano said the absence of a single agency to address foreign employment concerns “has made it difficult for the government to focus on the needs and demands of migration in general and of OFWs in particular.”
“So we’re hoping that the Department of Overseas Filipinos and Foreign Employment will not be a cure all but will be a giant step in the right direction,” he said.
Also among the bill’s authors are House majority leader Martin Romualdez and his wife Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Kittilstvedt Romualdez and presidential son deputy speaker Paolo Duterte.
Under the Romualdez couple’s bill, the Department of OFW and Foreign Employment will be tasked to provide an integrated, more comprehensive and sustainable approach to address the problems and concerns of overseas Filipino workers and their families.
“The bill to create the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers and Foreign Employment (is meant) to ensure that the agency would manage, harmonize and strengthen existing policies and programs on migration,” the bill said.
The bill provides that the secretary shall be assisted by six undersecretaries that will handle the followingg areas: administration and finance, foreign employment, reintegration and social services, overseas Filipinos, assistance to overseas Filipinos in distress and international labor affairs.
The bill proposes a P5 billion budget to address the needs of regular and irregular OFWs in distress, and those who are being repatriated.
Under the bill, an Emergency Response and Action Center Unit will be created as one of the major units in the unified agency, to be headed by an Assistant Secretary.
It will operate a 24/7 call center and media and social media monitoring center to respond to the emergency needs of overseas Filipinos, overseas Filipino workers and their families wherever they may be.
In order to make sure that families of OFWs are given support and proper guidance, an Overseas Filipinos’ Family Welfare Unit will be created under the said department. It will serve as the lead coordinator among all government agencies pertaining to the welfare and support programs for the family members of the OFWs.