MANILA — An executive department dedicated solely to the needs of Filipino migrant workers will be "advantageous" as it will give existing agencies the time to focus on local concerns, a migrant workers' rights advocate said Saturday.
"I think given the size of population of Filipino workers overseas, it might be advantageous to have a separate agency because it will give the DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) the chance to focus on the problem and challenges of our local workers," Susan "Toots" Ople told ANC.
Ople heads the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute (Ople Center), a non-government organization that specializes in labor migration.
President Rodrigo Duterte promised Friday to establish a separate executive department to handle matters concerning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by December this year.
Sen. Bong Go, author of Senate Bill No. 202 that seeks to create the new office, said functions of various executive offices tasked to handle concerns of Filipino migrant workers will be streamlined and consolidated under the proposed Department of Overseas Filipinos.
These agencies are: the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Department of Foreign Affairs – Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA), Commission on Filipino Overseas, and International Labor Affairs Bureau.
The President said a framework for the new government office would be available by the second week of August.
But as stakeholders, Ople said they want to have a first look at the framework and give recommendations before it rolls out.
"I do hope the framework that the President said will be ready by August can also be presented to us, the stakeholders, so we can weigh in and share our recommendations."
The government may also find "best practices" in other countries that have the same kind of department for migrant workers, Ople noted.
"In other countries there are dedicated offices that already deal with migrant workers so I think we can look at their best practices... It's not gonna be easy because [it's] unlike the [other agencies] where the stakeholders are locally-based."
According to Ople, the new department will be welcomed by OFWs who have grown confused as to which agency they should call their "home."
"Ang tanong nga ng mga OFWs: 'Alin ba talaga ang tahanan namin sa bureaucary?' Kasi there are different agencies catering to their needs eh," Ople said.
Government estimates indicate that there were 2.3 million OFWs deployed between April to September 2018.
Filipino migrants often grapple with labor issues and recruitment woes while some need legal assistance for alleged involvement in criminal activity.