By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — More than 350 representatives of several groups of overseas Filipino workers in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America, expressed support on the bill of Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go aimed to establishing a separate Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOLFIL).
This was learned during the online forum they attended organized by United Filipino Global held last Saturday, January 9, to raise awareness on how to better protect the rights and welfare of Filipinos abroad and to show their support for Senate Bill No. 1949.
In a speech as the event’s main guest, Go spoke of the need for a department dedicated to protect the rights and advance the interests of overseas Filipinos who now compose ten percent of the country’s population.
“Ito po ang gusto naming maibigay sa inyo sa pamamagitan ng pagtatayo ng DOFil. Around 10% na kayo ng populasyon natin kung kaya’t dapat lang na mayroong iisang departamento na tututok sa inyong interes at mga pangangailangan,” he explained.
“Ito po ang ating ipinaglalaban — ang kapakanan ng mga Pilipino kahit saan man sila sa mundo. Napaka-unfair naman para sa atin — na 10 percent nga kayo ng population wala kayong sariling departamento,” he added.
Go also highlighted the adverse impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in the repatriation of thousands of OFWs, many of whom are in urgent need of government assistance.
“Mga nakaraang buwan tinamaan tayo ng pandemya na hindi natin inaasahan. Napakarami pong OFWs natin na talagang naghirap kahit saan na lang sila nananawagan sa radyo, sa Facebook, at … sa TV. Minsan ang dami pong tumatawag sa akin,” he continued.
“Kapag usapang overseas Filipino, iisang boses ang dapat nating pakinggan at magpapagitna ng lahat. Napakahirap ng nangyayari na ipapasa pa natin… Dapat mayroon tayong department na isang Cabinet-level secretary who will lead an organization structured to work together as one team to protect the rights… and welfare of our fellow Filipinos abroad,” he explained.
On December 14, 2020, Go filed SBN 1949. The measure seeks to streamline the organization and functions of all government agencies related to overseas employment and migration so government can perform its functions and mandates more efficiently.
The ‘Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2020’ is the third iteration of a bill introduced by Go in 2019. It represents the unified position of the Executive branch of the government on how the proposed department can best address crucial problems, deliver important services, and achieve its goals with regard to Filipinos overseas.
The bill was certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte and is now one of the top twenty priority bills identified by both houses of Congress for 2021.
“This is unprecedented … Alam ko po ito ang isang bagay kung bakit natutuwa at minamahal ng bawat migrante Pilipino ang Pangulo. Wala pong Pangulo ang gumawa niyan na every time magko-conduct ng State of the Nation Address hindi po nakakalimutan ang pagsulong sa isang departamento o sariling bahay para sa amin,” said Jun Aguilar of the Filipino Migrant Workers group.
“Kami ay isa sa inyo na sumusuporta sa bill ng mahal na Senador. Hangad namin ang magkaroon ng sariling department ang overseas Filipinos upang mabigyan ng prayoridad at importansya ang issues at concerns ng ating OFWs,” added Lucy Sermonia who heads a recruitment agency.
The DOFil will be initially comprised of the Office of the Secretary and four Offices of the Undersecretaries, namely Administration and Finance, Foreign Employment, Assistance to Overseas Filipinos in Distress, and Policy and International Cooperation and Special Overseas Filipino Concerns.
The department shall subsume the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs of the DFA, Social Welfare Attaches Office under the Department of Social Welfare and Development, International Labor Affairs Bureau under the Department of Labor and Employment, and Commission on Overseas Filipinos. Additionally, OWWA and the POEA will serve as attached agencies.
Enhancing previous versions of the bill, SBN 1949 directs the implementation of a one country-team which shall require all officials in Philippine diplomatic posts to act together as one team, per country of assignment.
Furthermore, the bill also directs the establishment of Overseas Filipinos Malasakit Centers throughout the country to ensure the swift delivery of services to OFWs and their families here, including the acquisition of clearances and permits, validation of overseas job offers, reintegration services, and pertinent seminars and workshops.
The Migrant Workers and other Overseas Filipinos Resource Center, in turn, will provide other relevant services, such as temporary shelter to distressed OFWs, counseling and legal services, welfare assistance (e.g. medical needs), registration of irregular and undocumented workers, and conciliation of employer-employee disputes etc.
“Tinuturing natin silang mga bagong bayani. Hindi mapapalitan ang hirap at sakripisyo na mawalay sa pamilya para lang mabigyan ng mas magandang kinabukasan ang kanilang mga mahal sa buhay. Gawin natin ang lahat para maalagaan sila,” Go said. (AI/MTVN)