Department for OFWs?

Wearing white shirts with “Libya Survivors” emblazoned in front, around 20 repatriated Filipino workers went this afternoon to the Senate for a meeting with Senator Manny Villar.

The overseas Filipino workers were led by Lito Soriano, the head of LBS Recruitment Solutions Agency which deployed them to Tripoli, Libya for an airport construction project operated by French company Vinci Grand Projets Corporation.

Vinci Corporation’s chief executive officer, Ian Nelson, is in town to meet with his former employees, all 97 of them. The meeting was covered extensively by the media with Nelson bearing good news for his Filipino employees- Vinci Corporation is considering them for other jobs in different countries. The construction firm is also keen to go back to Libya to finish the airport project once the smoke clears, and political stability is restored.

The exemplary conduct of Vinci Corporation and its local recruitment agency, LBS Recruitment Solutions Agency, was cited by Senator Manny Villar in a resolution he filed last Friday. The workers and Mr. Soriano went to the Senate to thank the senator for filing the said resolution.

They met at the Recto Room on the Senate’s second floor. The workers recounted their experience in Libya and appealed for help in behalf of thousands of other OFWs left behind. They also asked the Senate to make sure that the government spends its own funds to repatriate the OFWs rather than drawing heavily on the trust fund of OFWs vested with OWWA.

Villar seized the opportunity to pitch to the workers his legislative proposal for the creation of a Department for OFWs. “Imbis na lagi na lang nagtuturuan o kaya mabagal ang aksyon dahil kailangan pangmag-usap usap ang iba’t ibang ahensya, bakit di na lang magkaroon ng isang department para lamang sa pangangalaga ng OFWs? Malaki na din ang bilang ninyo at napakalaki rin ang kontribusyon ninyo sa ating bansa.”

The OFWs from Libya, recalling the confusion during the early days of the crisis, wholeheartedly agreed with Villar. In fact, when the workers chanced upon Sen. Bongbong Marcos at the session hall, after their meeting with Villar was over, they requested the Ilocano senator to back the measure.

After the harrowing experience of these workers  in trying to escape from Libya, having a department that would look out for their welfare, safety and needs on a 24/7 basis made more sense than ever.

A Department for OFWs? Why not? This would enable the Department of Labor and Employment to focus on the problems of local employment and prevailing work conditions and standards.

A department solely for migrant workers would also provide a buffer for the DFA as they balance foreign policy and diplomatic ties with the protection of migrants’ rights and welfare.

The ticklish issue here would always be structure, personnel, and costs. OWWA and the POEA would have to be folded into this department, or at the very least be attached to it. But what about Tesda which serves all kinds of workers, including the unemployed? The labor and welfare attaches would also have to be part of this new department. Of course, an issue that must be resolved is on whether such a new agency would now also be in charge of looking after the so-called irregular or undocumented workers. This is currently under the jurisdiction and thus part of the mandate of the DFA.

I am sure that this proposal shall be debated ad infinitum, particularly by those who don’t see a need to disturb the status quo.

Still, given the size of the Filipino Diaspora and the complexity of problems that come with it, the idea of a department for OFWs is indeed worth serious study not just by the Senate, but by all stakeholders in overseas employment.

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • alvin

    pabor ako kung magagampanan talaga ang magiging trobaho o function nito pero baka magiging kasangkapan nanaman ito ng corruption,

  • as the son of a former OFW (1978-1985) and a former OFW myself (1983-2000) I am all for a Department of OFWs (DOFW). In fact, it is long oversdue. OWWA – if it doesn’t need to be abolished – and the POEA should be reintegrated into the DOFW.