Arceo: Returning the favor

EARLY this year, Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, the former governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), announced that the overseas Filipino workers remitted a record-breaking US$ 34.88 billion in 2021.

The amount is said to account for 8.9 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Most of the cash remittances can be attributed to land-based workers with lock-in contracts for one year and more, mostly health workers.

The US$ 34.88 billion is around Php1.953 trillion if converted to peso. For easy math, let us count how many school buildings can be built from that money.

If one school building measuring 63 square meters costs Php1,000,000, then this amount can be used to build 1.953 million school buildings. That is assuming that the construction rate for school buildings is P16,000 per square meter.

Meanwhile, a three-storey hospital with a 180 square meter area can cost Php 9.36 million at Php52,000 per square meter. Then the remittances can be used to build 208,683 public hospitals. There are only 42,046 barangays, 1,488 municipalities and 146 cities in the country. The OFW remittances are more than enough to construct school buildings and hospitals for every local government unit (LGU).

Last December 30, 2021, former President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed into law the act creating the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW). Whether Mr. Duterte was aware that it was Rizal day or not, still it is a providential sign that befits our OFWs. Remembering the death of our national hero is commemorating his heroism.

Under Republic Act 11641, all the functions and powers of government agencies related to overseas employment and labor migration were merged into one department with an exemption to the charter and mandate of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). The agency will, however, be attached to the DMW.

Section 20 of RA 11641 states that “the OWWA, created under the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Act, is hereby attached to the Department for purposes of policy and program coordination. Except as provided under this Act, the OWWA shall continue to function in accordance with its Charter.”

The DMW will integrate all regulations, processing systems, skills and knowledge training, and benefits pertaining to labor migration and overseas workers. The primary goal of the government is to protect the rights and promote the welfare of OFWs, regardless of status and of the means of entry into the country of destination.

The consolidation and merger covers the following agencies: a) The POEA, as created under the Executive Order No. 247 and Republic Act No. 8042, as amended; b) The office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers' Affairs (OUMWA) of the DFA as provided under Republic ACt 8042, as amended; c) All Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) under DOLE; d) The International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) under the DOLE; e) The National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) under the OWWA; f) The National Maritime Polytechnic (NMP) under the DOLE; and g) The Office of the Social Welfare ATtache (OSWA) under the DSWD.

Section 14 of the new act also created the Agarang Kalinga at Saklolo para sa mga OFW na Nangangailangan (AKSIYON) Fund to provide legal and other forms of assistance to OFWs, separate from the funds managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). The DFA is mandated to retain Assistance-to-Nationals (ATN) and legal assistance funds for the benefit of other Filipinos overseas for consular assistance services.

The DMW could be said as one of the legacies of the Duterte administration - in simplifying and streamlining the systems in the bureaucracy. The OFWs truly deserve this. The creation of a single department that will address all their concerns is not only long-overdue but also logical and reasonable. The one-department policy also cuts red tape, a problem that bled OFWs for decades. For every step in every agency, they were sucked dry by corrupt agents like vampires would devour their prey.

The OFWs will also be represented well in the government because they will now have a greater voice at the Cabinet with a designated Secretary. The offices of the department in every region and in every province will also be accessible to the people. What a relief, not only for those applying for overseas jobs but also for the families of workers seeking benefits. For the OFWs’ valuable and substantial contribution to the country’s development, it is only but just to do something good for them.


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