MANILA — Vice President Leni Robredo on Friday listed her plans for Filipino migrant workers should she win the presidency in May's elections, which included pacts with other countries, a reintegration task force, and a resource center, among others.
Robredo, during a virtual meet and greet with supporters based abroad, argued many migrant workers would have chosen to stay in the Philippines if they had local employment opportunities.
"Lagi ko naman itong inuulit, na sana 'yung pangingibang bansa is by choice, not by necessity. Hindi 'yung kaya ka mangingibang bansa kasi wala ka nang opportunities dito. Sana nangingibang bansa ka kasi 'yun talaga 'yung gusto mong daan na tahakin," she told the group "Solid Leni-Kiko Global."
(I always say that I hope going abroad is by choice, not by necessity. I hope people do not go abroad because they lack opportunities. I hope you go abroad because that is the path you want to take.)
"So papaano natin ito magagawa? Unang una, kailangan natin ayusin 'yung ating economy para mas maraming opportunities sa trabaho," said Robredo.
(How will we do that? First of all, we need to fix our economy so that there are more opportunities for work.)
She said this requires a trustworthy government that will fight corruption and speed up processes, which will in turn encourage investments, spur the economy, and create more jobs.
Robredo said her second plan is to set up a system so that OFWs who already have health coverage abroad will no longer need to make contributions to PhilHealth.
"Siguro, ang kondisyon lang dapat nito, dapat may PhilHealth 'yung mga naiwan na pamilya dito sa Pilipinas, para siyempre, para magkaroon sila ng access sa universal healthcare system natin," she said.
(Perhaps the only condition for this is their family here in the Philippines should have PhilHealth so that they have access to our universal healthcare system.)
"Pangatlo, para sa talagang pipiliin mangibang bansa, sisiguraduhin natin protektado at may matibay na support system ang OFWs," Robredo said.
(Third, for those who will choose to go abroad, we will make sure that they are protected and OFWs have a solid support system.)
Authorities can do this by signing more labor agreements with countries that host Filipino workers. The government must also ensure that existing pacts are being enforced, especially in territories where OFWs are concentrated, like the Middle East, she said.
"Kung hindi sila willing pumasok sa mga bilateral agreements, baka mas mabuti na i-review natin kung magpapadala pa ba tayo, magpapadala pa ba tayo ng mga workers sa bansa nila considering na hindi natin sila kayang protektahan," Robredo said.
(If they are not willing to enter bilateral agreements, perhaps it's better that we review if we will continue deploying workers to their country, considering that we cannot protect them.)
Robredo said a task force must take care of the reintegration of OFWs who are repatriated because of a crisis, those who return to the Philippines temporarily, and those who plan to come back for good.
"Lilikha din tayo ng OFW reintegration pension fund at ng mga reintegration pathway na magbibigay ng opportunities na makapag-skills training ang mga returning OFW para matulungan silang makahanap ng trabaho dito," said the Vice President.
(We will also create an OFW reintegration pension fund and reintegration pathway, which will give opportunities for skills training for returning OFWs to help them find work here.)
"Kasi minsan din, talagang gusto nilang umuwi kasi gusto na nilang makasama 'yung mga anak nila, hindi makauwi dahil wala sila noong necessary skills para makapasok sa mga specialized na mga trabaho na available naman dito sa atin."
(Sometimes, they want to go home to be with their children, but they could not because they lack the necessary skills to get specialized jobs that are available here.)
Key provinces and cities must have "one-stop migration resource centers" that will help the families of OFWs with financial preparation and the social costs of migration.
"Meron dito sa Naga," she said, referring to her hometown. "It is very easily replicable in many other places."
(There is one here in Naga.)
Robredo said the government should also harness the knowledge and experience of returning OFWs.
"Kaya siya brain gain kasi pagbalik niyo dito marami kayong kaalaman na pwede niyong ituro din sa iba... Kailangan natin itong i-map out at iakma natin sa development at government-sponsored projects para hindi masayang," she said.
(It will result to brain gain because when you return, you will have knowledge that you can share with others. We need to map this out and incorporate it into government-sponsored projects so it is not wasted.)
There were some 2.2 million overseas Filipino workers in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced about half a million OFWs to go back home, officials have said.