The leaders of migrant workers’ groups on Thursday urged the Senate to resume the deliberations on the bills on the creation of the Department of Filipinos Overseas, saying a single agency that would address their concerns had long been overdue.
“Now is the right time. We have been waiting for this for a long time. Don’t deprive us of a single office that will be accountable when services to the OFWs become slow,” OFW Global Movement Association and Cooperation Inc. president Lalaine Dazille Siason said.
The OFW Global Movement Association and Cooperation has 200 chapters worldwide.
“If you consider us modern-day heroes, then the government should act on what we have long been asking for and presenting to Congress,” Siason said.
She said from the time President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, migrant workers had been given assurance of the establishment of a department that would 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 nine bills seeking the creation of a DFO pending at the committee level in the Senate.
But on Dec. 7. upon the motion of Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, the Joint Committee deferred the hearing on the creation of the DFO until after the Senate had tackled Senate Bill 244 or the Rightsizing of the National Government Act.
Warpeace Arnold, 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.
“We urge our senators to listen to us and reopen the hearings on the Department of Filipinos Overseas,” Siason said.
Awarded “Champion of Migration” by the International Organization for Migration in 2019, Arnold has been advocating for the safety and protection of OFWs through the passage of the DFO bill.
“For decades, our OFWs have been doing their part in strengthening the economy of the Philippines. I think it is not too much to ask that the services for our OFWs be made more comprehensive and appropriate through the establishment of an agency that will respond to the problems of our fellow Filipinos who are working in other countries,” 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 in 2019.
“The Lower House has already started the process. We are hopeful that this bill would be passed before the year 2022 ends, so that it can help the nearly 10 million Filipinos working in different parts of the world,” Siason said.