House 2nd reading okay of dep’t for OFWS hailed

HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez and his wife, Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez, welcomed the passage on second reading of a proposed law seeking to create a new department that would cater to the concerns of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“This is part of Speaker [Alan Peter] Cayetano’s commitment to President [Rodrigo] Duterte’s promise of protecting our OFWs,” said the Romualdezes who are both principal authors of House Bill (HB) No. 5832 or “An Act Creating the Department of Filipinos Overseas and Foreign Employment, Defining Its Mandate, Powers and Functions, Appropriating Funds Therefor,” which was approved on second reading Wednesday evening.

Yedda Romualdez, the chairperson of the House Committee on the Welfare of Children, said the absence of a single agency to address foreign employment concerns has made it difficult for the government to focus on the needs and demands of foreign Filipino employment, in general, and of OFWs, in particular.

“Furthermore, the lack of coordination among these agencies and redundancy of work lead to confusion among our OFWs and compromises the services to be rendered to our modern-day heroes,” said Yedda Romualdez.

Ako Bisaya party-list Rep. Sonny Lagon reiterated that the measure would provide expeditious response to the concerns of the so-called living heroes.

“We have to rally behind the call of President Duterte to pass this measure because there are different agencies right now that have mandates relative to overseas employment. There is a pressing need to establish an agency that would manage, harmonize, and strengthen existing policies and programs to address the needs of foreign Filipino employment. We support the immediate passage of the proposed department for OFWs,” said Lagon, whose party-list group is allied with Lakas-Chistian Muslim Democrats (CMD) led by Martin Romualdez, the chairman of the powerful House Committee on Rules, as president.

Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu lamented that numerous problems and challenges confront OFWs and their families despite the existence of agencies to protect Filipinos abroad.

“We have continued problems on illegal recruitment, employer abuse, sexual abuse, inadequate benefits, inefficient and ineffective delivery of services to OFWs, lack of representation of the OFW interests in the agencies that are supposed to protect and promote their rights, among others,” said Abu.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, who heads the Technical Working Group (TWG) that consolidated the 39 bills on the matter, said “the bill is about the dignity of labor whether here and abroad.”

“The proposed creation of the DFO is an act of social justice, nothing more, nothing less,” said Salceda, who chairs the House committee on ways and means.

Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte, another principal author, has assured OFWs that the House of Representatives will approve the matter on third and final reading next week before Congress goes on Holy Week recess.

Villafuerte said the measure creating a new department to address the concerns of this ever-burgeoning sector was approved in line also with the State of the Nation Address (SONA) commitment of President Duterte on the establishment of a Cabinet-level office for the exclusive benefit of the country’s modern-day heroes.

He ensured the cooperation of the House leadership with OFW groups and other stakeholders involved in the training and overseas placement of OFWs behind the speedy congressional approval of the measure.

Under the measure, the new OFW Department is tasked to formulate, recommend and implement national policies, plans, programs and guidelines that will ensure the protection of Filipinos overseas.

The measure seeks to protect, and promote the welfare, well-being, and interest of the families of the OFWs.

The proposed law mandates to administer reintegration and social services programs for Filipinos who have worked abroad and are returning to the country, and for their families. It is also mandated to effectively regulate the operations of private recruitment and manning agencies and related business entities involved in the employment of Filipinos abroad to uphold the primacy of the welfare and protection of OFWs, with due consideration of the relevant market conditions.

According to the measure, the department’s responsibilities are to prosecute cases arising out of the implementation of this Act, particularly those involving trafficking in persons and illegal recruitment, in coordination with quasi-judicial bodies such as the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and other government agencies such as the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).

The proposal provides that the DFO shall be headed by a Secretary who shall be appointed by the President, subject to the confirmation by the Commission on Appointments (CA).