Senator Imee Marcos has cautioned the government against rushing to establish a Department of Filipinos Overseas (DOFil) without resolving the issues that will hamper its effective operation as a Cabinet-level agency.
Among these issues, Marcos cited the government’s tight budget amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the lack of specialized training for DOFil’s future officers and personnel, and the overlapping functions and programs that remain unresolved among different government agencies.
“I am not against a new and discrete government agency for our beleaguered OFWs, but the establishment of a full-blown department is not a magic wand that will make our OFWs’ woes simply and instantly disappear. For one, there is no Php1.1 billion to be pulled out of the government’s hat,” Marcos said.
The Department of Budget and Management also said during a Senate hearing in February that the Php1.1-billion minimum budget required to create DOFil does not yet include funding to implement the potential department’s programs.
“The practical and critical solution in these financially challenged times may be an expansion of POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administrtion), integrating it into the new agency and extending its presence regionally, with satellite and mobile offices,” she added.
Marcos has pushed for a “budget-conscious and right-sized alternative” to the DOFil through Senate Bill 407, proposing to create a National Overseas Employment Authority (NOEA) that will absorb the POEA, Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA), and other OFW service offices in the labor, foreign affairs, and social welfare departments.
“We can most likely assist our OFWs faster and quicker by expanding and strengthening POEA, OWWA, CFO (Commission on Filipinos Overseas) and the other offices of DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and international desks of the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development),” Marcos said.
Marcos added that downsizing the DOFil will keep the government from replicating the “sorry examples of so-called departments of illusion,” citing the DHSUD (Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development), DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology), and DOST (Department of Science and Technology) as “existing in name but short of funding, adequate personnel, or sometimes even measurable objectives.”
Nor is staffing DOFil a simple task of filling job vacancies, Marcos said, but hiring officers and personnel with specialized skills that require experience and training to properly address OFW concerns.
“There has been no targeted effort to train specialized personnel for the said new department – migration being a multi-disciplinary and complex field. How do we instantly conjure experienced international negotiators to represent the Philippines at the ILO (International Labor Organization) or pull out psychosocially adept diplomats out of a hat?” she asked.
“I worry that DOFil may simply result in an unseemly pirating of staff from POEA, OWWA, and other offices under DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment),” Marcos added.
Marcos also cited that overlapping functions of government agencies made OFWs feel they were being given the runaround and made it more difficult for them to seek redress for labor abuses.
“A detailed delineation of the tasks and functions of the new department vis-a-vis the DFA and DOLE has not resolved overlapping and confusion – such that the new department may merely worsen an already miserable conviction rate at the DOJ (Department of Justice) of illegal recruiters and human traffickers!” Marcos said.
Marcos added that maintaining the POEA as an independent agency and excluding it from the organic set-up of the DOFil will be “fatal to any effort to assist our OFW victims.”