(By. Rep. Edcel C. Lagman on 11 March 2020)
House Bill No. 5832 will uselessly balloon the bureaucracy even as it will accelerate, via a purported “one-stop shop”, the deployment of Overseas Filipino Workers without addressing the enormous and escalating social costs of labor migration.
The establishment of the Department for OFWs directly contravenes the long-standing national policy as unequivocally mandated in R.A. 8042 or the “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995” which provides:
“While recognizing the significant contribution of Filipino migrant workers to the national economy through their foreign exchange remittances, the State does not promote overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development. x x x The State therefore shall continuously create local employment opportunities and promote the equitable distribution of wealth and the benefits of development.” (Emphasis supplied).
HB 5832 merely gives lip service to this national policy by echoing it almost verbatim in its declaration of policy. However, the essence and purpose of the bill are manifestly to convert a hitherto stopgap strategy to a permanent policy encouraging and promoting the export of Filipino manpower, notwithstanding a proffered “sunset” provision which was included to mitigate opposition to the measure even as the so-called “sunset” provision envisions a “sunrise” perpetuation of the Department.
Without even a performance audit on the accomplishments of the Department of Labor (DOLE), the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), among others, this bill appears to debase the record performance of these government agencies in the protection of OFWs.
The creation of this new department does not frontally address the following well-documented social costs of labor migration:
Breakdown of relationships between spouses and between parents and children;
Loneliness, anxieties and emotional aches and longings from long-term separation, including psychiatric problems;
Children of migrants experience more issues and problems with coping in school due to lack of parental supervision and guidance resulting in serious behavioral consequences such as substance abuse and early entry into sexual relations;
Children of migrants are prone to sexual abuse;
The cycle of economic dependence of members of OFW families continues until the migrants can no longer work and must confront the reality of their own survival and quality of life upon retirement; and
70% of OFWs have been unable to save enough to attain their financial goals.
The creation of the new department does not even attempt to reverse the feminization of workers’ migration with women accounting for 55.8% of OFWs. This phenomenon further aggravates the social cost of labor migration because as more and more women workers are deployed abroad, their children become destitute of motherly love, care and guidance.
The projected department does not also address the overriding reasons why Filipinos work overseas like the following: (a) unstable economic situation in the Philippines; (b) high unemployment and underemployment rates; (c) low salary offered by local companies; (d) contractualization of labor arrangement; (e) poor workers benefits; and (f) discrimination in job hiring.
The bill proposes five (5) undersecretaries, which do not include an undersecretary for generation of domestic employment to emphasize the urgency of generating local employment to eventually put an end to labor migration and an undersecretary for the proper reintegration of OFWs.
This projected department does not add any protection to OFWs aside from expediting their exodus to foreign employment.
As candidly admitted by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, although his initial reaction was that of neutrality because his Department is involved, he finally acceded because as a Cabinet member he cannot defy the wishes of the President.
We must remember that we do not legislate to fulfill the President’s campaign promises which are mere propaganda and basically errant.
We legislate to promote the general welfare as we achieve the fulfillment of national policies like that “the State does not promote overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development” as mandated in the “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995”.
The protection of OFWs can be fully assured without creating a new and untested bureaucracy.
I vote “No”.