*While creating more economic opportunities for all here in the country

The measure proposed by Senator Christopher “Bong” Go providing for the establishment of a department which will cater to the needs of overseas Filipinos has gained further support from various stakeholders and colleagues in government.

During a public hearing on Monday, February 15, conducted by the Senate Committee on Labor and Employment, joint with Committees on Foreign Relations, Civil Service, and Finance, Senators and Cabinet officials expressed support for the establishment of the Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOFil) which seeks to streamline government services to overseas Filipinos under one department.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said that the proposed DOFil will “streamline and directly manage all concerns of Filipinos overseas plus their families and dependents in the Philippines to make our services to OFs more responsive, efficient, and effective.”

“It will avoid overlapping functions and consolidate the budgetary allocations to a single public entity for a better and more efficient service to OFs and their families,” Nograles further explained during the hearing.

Nograles lamented that “the absence of a single agency to address these concerns is making it very challenging for the government to focus on the various needs and demands of Filipinos overseas.”

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III also said that the agency fully supports the creation of the DOFil.

Senator Joel Villanueva, who presided the hearing, also expressed his support for the creation of the department, citing the sheer number of overseas Filipinos and their contribution to the economy.

“One in ten Filipinos lives overseas. Kung nasa isang bansa po ang lahat ng ating mga kababayang overseas Filipino, ito ang magiging 91st most populated sa buong mundo,” Villanueva noted.

“Noong 2019, umabot po ng P1.56 trillion ang kabuuang cash remittances ng mga overseas Filipinos. Ito ‘yung pinadaan sa bangko at remittance centers. Mas malaki pa ang halaga kung kasama ang perang personal na inuwi o ‘ipinakisuyo’ kay kabayang umuwi sa Pilipinas,” he added.

These facts alone, according to Villanueva, warrant the creation of a department mandated to look after overseas Filipino workers worldwide.

Go has echoed this in his previous statements, saying, “Ang gusto natin ay hindi na kailangan mangibang bansa ang mga Pilipino para mabigyan ng magandang buhay ang kanilang pamilya. Kaya po nakalagay sa ating batas that the State shall continuously aim to make overseas employment as a last resort and not a necessity for every Filipino citizen.”

“Pero hindi rin natin maikakaila na sampung milyong Pilipino ang nasa abroad. Halos ten percent ng ating populasyon,” he said previously.

Meanwhile, Senator Ronald dela Rosa also said during the hearing that the creation of the DOFil will address the issue of illegal recruitment.

“Wala nang magiging ‘willing victim’ kapag alam nila na may departamento na para sa kanila,” dela Rosa said.

Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri also said that the government needs to provide more support for overseas Filipinos.

“Batid natin ang napakalaking tulong ng ating nga kababayan na nakikipagsapalaran sa ibang bansa. We are not doing enough to protect them,” he said.

During the hearing, Go issued a strong appeal urging support for the measure amid the struggles overseas Filipinos face caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other crisis situations abroad.

“Paano po natin masasabi na gumagana ang ating sistema eh sa tuwing ako po ay umiikot sa ating mga kababayan, paulit-ulit po ang kanilang mga hinaing? Sana po ay alalahanin natin na sila ang nangangailangan dito. Pakinggan po natin sila at intindihin natin kung saan po sila nanggagaling,” Go said.

“Nandito po tayo hindi para maghain lamang ng mga batas na hindi kailangan. Nandito po tayo para magbigay ng solusyon. Nakikiusap po ako sa ating mga kasamahan sa pagseserbisyo dito sa Senado. Help us craft this law and help us craft this in a way that would truly work and achieve its intended objectives,” appealed Go.

Senate Bill No. 1949 or the ‘Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2020’ is the third iteration of a bill he introduced in 2019 and represents the unified position of the Executive branch of government.

The bill has been certified as ‘urgent’ by President Duterte and is also one of the twenty priority measures identified by both chambers of the Congress for 2021.

Under the proposed measure, the department shall subsume and streamline all responsibilities pertaining to overseas employment and migration that are presently scattered among various departments and agencies. It will be primarily responsible for protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of overseas Filipinos, as well as managing and monitoring their employment abroad and reintegration once they return.

Notably, SBN 1949 also directs the implementation of a one country-team approach which shall require all officials in Philippine diplomatic posts to act together as one team, per country of assignment.

Earlier, Go emphasized that creating DOFil will not bloat the bureaucracy and is in line with the objectives of rightsizing and streamlining government functions.

“Matagal na ako sa serbisyo publiko. Mahigit dalawang dekada akong nanilbihan kay Pangulong [Rodrigo] Duterte. Alam ko na kung watak-watak ang mga ahensya, hindi ganoon kabilis at maayos ang serbisyo ng gobyerno,” Go noted previously.

“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 at iba pa nating kababayan abroad,” he added.

The department will also be responsible for providing social and welfare services, including legal assistance and insurance, to overseas Filipinos. It shall likewise administer reintegration programs and provide Assistance to Nationals (ATN) services, especially during national emergencies.

“Habang sinisikap nating bigyan sila ng mas maraming economic opportunities dito, huwag rin natin pabayaan ang karamihan sa kanila na may hinahaharap na iba’t ibang pagsubok sa iba’t ibang parte ng bansa. Responsibilidad nating alagaan ang bawat Pilipino kahit asan man sila sa mundo,” the Senator appealed in his previous statement.

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