Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go reiterated the need for the timely passage of his proposed Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW) bill as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to negatively impact on the welfare of Filipino migrant workers, some of them losing their jobs abroad and are forced to return home.

“Maraming nawalan ng trabaho dala ng COVID-19. Apektado po ang mga empleyado dito sa bansa at pati rin ang mga nagtatrabaho abroad. Mas maisasaayos ang mga programa at serbisyo ng gobyerno para matulungan ang mga apektadong Pilipino kung mayroong sariling departamento na mamamahala sa mga pangangailangan ng mga OFWs,” Go said.

Go stressed that there is an urgent need for the creation of this new department because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that the Department of Labor and Employment needs to concentrate on domestic labor concerns while the DOFW, if created through the passage of the proposed law, can concentrate on OFWs for their full-cycle migration, from departure from the Philippines to working abroad until their eventual reintegration in the country.

“Nararapat lamang na may tumutok sa mga pangangailangan ng OFWs lalo na yung mga napilitang bumalik sa bansa. Matagal rin po silang nagsakripisyo at nawalay sa kanilang mga pamilya. Hindi po matutumbasan ang hirap na dinanas nila para lang buhayin ang mga pamilya nilang iniwan dito,” Go explained.

“Ngayon na napilitan silang 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 added.

According to the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the government is expecting around 300,000 OFWs to return to the Philippines as a result of country lockdowns in different parts of the world. As of May 25, 27,000 OFWs have already been repatriated while around 43,000 others are expected to come home this June.

Due to the consequences of the pandemic, there is a growing need to provide reintegration programs for OFWs who would like to return and permanently settle in the country. Moreover, there is also a need to improve coordination among all agencies and offices dealing with OFW concerns to improve government service delivery.

Go has firmly suggested the need to establish an executive department dealing solely with OFW-related concerns to improve government efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of necessary services from deployment, issues they encounter while in foreign countries, as well as in their reintegration once they return to the Philippines.

“Masakit makitang iniiwan nila ang kanilang mga mahal sa buhay upang magtrabaho lang sa mga malalayong bansa. Suklian natin ang kanilang mga sakripisyo ng mas maayos na serbisyo,” he added.

One of his first legislative measures, Senate Bill 202, or the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2019, seeks to address concerns of overseas Filipinos, such as the need to improve coordination among concerned offices in responding to their needs, particularly of OFWs. The bill proposes for government agencies dealing with OFW matters and concerns be transferred to the new department to be established.

The Senator said that the DOFW’s reintegration component will ensure that Filipino migrant workers who lost their job abroad are assisted by government programs and other safety nets, a need which has become more apparent as a result of the pandemic.

“Under our DOFW Bill, there will be an Office of the Undersecretary for Reintegration and Social Services which shall absorb the mandates and functions of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the National Reintegration Center for OFWs in addition to new functions,” Go said.

The proposed measure also provides for the creation of OFW ‘one-stop shops’ in various provinces, similar to the Malasakit Center, that can provide immediate assistance to families of OFWs who are still working abroad, as well as to OFWs who have returned home and would need to avail of reintegration services from the government.

Presently, DOLE is implementing WELL (Welfare, Employment, Legal, Livelihood) as a national reintegration program for returning OFWs or those affected by COVID-19. It is a package of interventions and mechanisms developed and implemented to facilitate the productive return of the OFWs to their families and communities upon their completion of overseas employment.

WELL is implemented also in support of the government’s Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa (BP2) Program which seeks to promote economic development in the countryside and the decongestion of Metro Manila.

Aside from the programs of DOLE, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority also offers free training programs for returning OFWs.

TESDA National Capital Region director Florencio Sunico said in an interview that TESDA offers a free online training program for displaced workers seeking to upgrade or develop new skills. OFWs may avail any of the 68 skills and trade courses, including agriculture, entrepreneurship and technical and vocational education and training.

Meanwhile, Go stressed that the challenges currently faced by Overseas Filipinos and the difficulties experienced by the government in responding to their needs show the relevance of establishing the new department to better provide efficient and effective delivery of services to Filipinos abroad and those coming home.

“Itinuturing natin silang mga bagong bayani. Malaki ang kanilang naitulong noon sa paglago ng ekonomiya ng bansa. At ngayon, sa pandemyang ito, dapat natin silang tulungan at mas tutukan pa. Huwag natin silang pahirapan pa,” he said.

In a Senate hearing last May 20, Senator Go aired reported issues faced by OFWs, such as being forced to stay in health quarantine facilities beyond the mandated fourteen-day quarantine period and OFWs in distress not being able to return home immediately to the country and to their provinces due to limitations in the delivery of services from various concerned government agencies.

“Noon pa lamang ay marami nang mga issues ang kinakaharap ng ating mga kababayang nagtatrabaho abroad. Ang paglipat-lipat ng ahensya ay naging pabigat na proseso sa kanila. Mas lumala pa ngayon dahil sa hirap na dulot ng COVID-19 crisis. Kung mayroon pong DOFWs, mas mapapadali sana ang koordinasyon ng mga ahensya at may iisang departamento na tututok sa mga pangangailangan nila,” Go said in past statements.

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