House OKs creation of OFW department on final reading

Department of Filipinos Overseas and Foreign EmploymentMANILA – The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on third and final reading a bill creating the Department of Filipinos Overseas and Foreign Employment.

With 173 affirmative votes, 11 negative votes, and no abstention, the chamber passed House Bill 5832, which seeks to create a new department that shall be the primary agency tasked to protect the rights and promote the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The measure is among the priority pieces of legislation that President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Congress to pass during his fourth State of the Nation Address.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the creation of an OFW department is a top priority of the House along with the creation of other departments such as the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).

Under the bill, the DFO shall be mandated to formulate, plan, coordinate, promote, administer, implement policies, and undertake systematic national development programs for managing and monitoring the overseas or foreign employment of Filipino workers.

The department shall ensure that policies and programs are in place, particularly at the pre-deployment stage to adequately protect and prepare prospective Filipinos overseas, including OFWs.

It shall be granted the power to initiate, pursue, and help prosecute illegal recruitment and human trafficking cases in coordination with the Department of Justice.

It shall be responsible for the protection of the rights of OFWs to decent work and fair and ethical practices.

The department shall improve cooperation and coordination with countries of destination, and monitor labor developments in foreign jurisdictions to ensure that the terms and conditions of work afforded to OFWs are in accordance with applicable and appropriate Philippine, on-site, and international standards.

The DFO could also 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.

Social and welfare services can be offered to OFWs, which include insurance, social work assistance, legal assistance, cultural services, and remittance services.

The bill proposes the establishment of the Career Assistance-to-Nationals corps similar to the foreign services corps and the foreign trade representative corps.

Under the one country-team approach, all officers, representatives, and personnel of the Philippine government posted abroad regardless of their mother agencies shall, on a per-country basis, act as a one country-team with a mission under the leadership of the Ambassador or the Consul General.

A management information system on Filipinos overseas, particularly on OFWs, will be established to support its operations and to have a source of relevant data for programs and policy formulation.

The powers and functions of the following agencies shall be absorbed by the DFO: Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs; Commission on Filipinos Oversea; Philippine Overseas Labor Offices; International Labor Affairs Bureau; Philippine Overseas Employment Administration; and the Social Welfare Attaches Office.

The DFO shall exercise administrative supervision over the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration as an attached agency for purposes of policy and program coordination, monitoring, and evaluation.

Source: Philippine News Agency (Filane Mikee Cervantes)