“We need the Department of Migrant Workers to be up and running as soon as possible.”
Early this month, we drew attention to a significant development that stands to benefit no less than 10 million Filipinos and their families: the creation after so many years of a separate department for overseas Filipinos workers or OFWs.
The signing into law of the measure establishing the Department of Migrant Workers on December 30, 2021 is actually the culmination of a process that began when the tandem of Rodrigo Duterte and Alan Peter Cayetano were running for the two top executive posts in the 2016 general elections.
Back then, the duo promised that if elected, they would push for the creation of a department dedicated to promoting the rights and welfare of Filipinos working overseas.
Cayetano, a former Foreign Affairs Secretary and House Speaker under the Duterte administration, believes that the law setting up the Department of Migrant workers is only the first step in a journey that could take many years to finish.
First of all, he says, a Cabinet-level Secretary should be immediately appointed to get the new agency up and running.
“I hope with the political will of President Rodrigo Duterte, it would be set up quickly,” Cayetano told the media last December 31. He said that setting up a new executive department could take an entire year, and this being an election year, the best-laid plans could well go awry as government officials from the national to the local levels turn their attention to the crucial political exercise.
That’s why Cayetano says political will is needed at this juncture. The question is: Who can best lead the Department of Migrant Workers at this time and even beyond?
The former House Speaker wants the new Migrant Workers department to be part of President Duterte’s legacy when he leaves Malacañang on June 30.
The new department would be part of a host of other agencies established by the current administration to boost nation-building efforts, an effort to give much-needed focus on specific executive concerns, including the Department of Information and Communication Technology, Department of Transportation, and Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.
If President Duterte can put up the Department of Migrant Workers before his term ends by the middle of this year, future administrations can improve on its initial policies and programs, and make it truly responsive to new challenges here at home and in the global arena.
Setting up the new department with a clear mandate and viable programs will also serve to assure OFWs spread out in the four corners of the globe that their government is serious in looking after their welfare and protecting their rights.
Getting the Department of Migrant Workers up and running at this time will no doubt create goodwill for the outgoing administration among OFWs and their families. After all, with 10 million OFWs and their families voting as one for the administration candidate, that’s a groundswell of support that other candidates can be hard-pressed to match.
Cayetano believes that whoever among the presidential bets can seriously pledge to give priority to establishing the Department of Migrant Workers in their first 100 days will already have a definite advantage.
The creation of the DMW shouldn’t be difficult at all, as the building blocks are already there. As we’ve pointed out before, it will gather under one roof various agencies tasked with specific functions. There’s the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and other agencies now under the Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
According to Cayetano, one of the main proponents of the law creating the DMW, the centralization of all government offices and programs having to do with OFWs has long been overdue.
The former Foreign Affairs Secretary said he realized the crying need for a separate department catering exclusively with OFW concerns when as head of the Foreign Affairs department, he used to hold meetings often with the heads of various offices, and was dumbfounded to realize that they never talked to each other even while their functions overlapped. The DMW does not need to be built from the ground up, since the manpower and policies are already in place and only need to work in sync with one another. Whoever gets to lead the new department will have to hit the ground running. That’s easier said than done, however, given the complex nature of overseas employment and shifting realities both at home and abroad. But with the right mix of competent leadership, reliable staffing, and the right policies and programs, the DMW can be what the doctor ordered to keep the millions of OFWs happy and healthy even while we collectively grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.