MANILA - Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday called for the creation of a cabinet cluster to address issues concerning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).
This as the matter of protecting Filipino migrants took the spotlight anew following reported deaths of OFWs in Kuwait, including that of domestic worker Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment in the Gulf state earlier this month.
Cayetano said such a cluster would fast-track government response to OFW concerns.
"We're pushing for a cabinet cluster on OFW concerns and then afterward, magkaroon ng interagency (body) for all of our OFWs," he said in a press briefing.
Cayetano also noted that creating a cluster would lessen confusion among OFWs in need of assistance on which agency they should contact for help.
Currently, the cabinet has clusters for participatory governance, infrastructure, human development and poverty reduction, security, justice, and peace, climate change adaptation and mitigation and disaster risk reduction, and economic development.
Cayetano cited the case of Demafelis, whose family had reported being given the run around by government agencies whose help they sought when they lost contact with her in 2016.
"As you see in the case of Joanna, may complaint nagsabi na sila (family) pero di pa naaksyunan so this is not an isolated case. In the past, there's been finger-pointing," he said.
The Demafelis family reportedly informed officials of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) of the Filipina worker's condition in Kuwait as early as 2016.
The agency, however, referred the family instead to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) which in turn, referred them back to the POEA.
OWWA had said its officials tried their best to contact Demafelis when her family sought help, but failed to reach her since her agency had already closed down.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Tuesday said he has demanded an explanation from Philippine officials in Kuwait who allegedly took no action on Demafelis' disappearance.
The Philippines has banned the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait and encouraged migrant workers there to come home.
Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered an increase in assistance funds for OFWs from P400 million to P1 billion.
There are roughly 2 million Filipinos working in different parts of the world.