Arab world Filipino diaspora hopes new OFW body will end bureaucratic labyrinth

Arab world Filipino diaspora hopes new OFW body will end bureaucratic labyrinth
From illegal recruitment to workplace or domestic violence and even human trafficking, millions of expatriate workers risk running a potential gauntlet of abuse when they decided to leave home. (AFP)
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Updated 03 July 2021

Arab world Filipino diaspora hopes new OFW body will end bureaucratic labyrinth

Arab world Filipino diaspora hopes new OFW body will end bureaucratic labyrinth
  • If passed, the law creating DOFIL would merge all existing agencies handling migrant workers concerns
  • Yearly OFW remittances represent almost a tenth of Philippine gross domestic product

DUBAI: More than 2 million Filipinos living across the Arab world hope a planned government department focused on their welfare will provide a desperately needed backstop after the pandemic highlighted their vulnerability in times of economic hardship.
Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte, whose term ends next year, is promoting a bill to create the Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos (DOFIL) – one of his original key campaign promises.
It would replace the existing labyrinth of government agencies currently involved in overseas worker welfare.
If passed, the law creating DOFIL would merge all existing agencies handling migrant workers concerns and create a dedicated department to help overseas Filipino workers, often known by the abbreviation of “OFWs.”
“President Duterte wants to have a department that will be solely devoted to taking care of our OFWs,” labor secretary Silvestre H. Bello III told Arab News.
“At least now they will have a department solely devoted to attending to the needs of our OFWs. The present set-up is that we have a secretary of labor, who is handling the problems of our OFWs, at the same time he is also attending to the needs of our local workers.”

 

Some 10 million Filipinos are estimated to work overseas – about one in five of them in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar among the most preferred destinations for those seeking work abroad. Many were left stranded and penniless across the region after the rapid spread of the coronavirus forced governments to close borders while hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs.
“We have so many OFWs in the Middle East, especially in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. You are probably talking of about 2.5 million to 3 million overseas Filipino workers, and when it comes to their welfare and interest, and their safety, it is best that there is an agency that will be fully focused on their welfare and protection,” Bello said.

 

Lilian P. Cajuelan, who has spent 13 years working in Abu Dhabi’s retail industry, hopes that the new department will make it easier for people like her working overseas.
“If it is being established for the welfare of the OFWs … then it would be able to definitely extend convenience and aid,” she said.
Melissa L. Macapagal, who has worked in Bahrain for 16 years in the education sector, also welcomed the plan but added a note of caution.
“The proposed department must not be another venue for political agenda and corruption,” she said.
Both hope the new department will mean a reduction in the bureaucracy associated with working overseas while also easing renewal of passports, social security coverage and also offer help on rows with employers.
Other Filipino expatriates hope a dedicated department at home will reduce the potential for exploitation abroad.
LJ and Eugiene Lo, a Filipino couple based in Singapore said they took some comfort from “knowing that their government back home is thinking about their well-being. Especially for people who are not confident enough to assert themselves in times of abuse, or if they are already being taken advantage of by their employers.”
“It will give us such comfort to know that whatever happens to us, while living or working abroad, there will be a government agency specifically created for us to seek help and assistance,” LJ told Arab News.

 




Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a meeting with the Filipino community in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh on April 12, 2017. (AFP)


Emmanuel S. Geslani, an expert on the Philippine government’s overseas employment program, expects the planned department to address some of these common concerns.
“The Senate bill intends to unify the (OFW-related) agencies under one roof and workers will benefit from the line functions of the agencies to swiftly attend to their complaints,” he told Arab News. Among the government agencies that will be subsumed into the new department are the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, National Reintegration Center for OFWs under the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs currently under the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Commission on Filipino Overseas currently under the Office of the President, all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices currently under the Department of Labor and the International Social Services Office under the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Despite the OFWs’ massive contribution to the Philippines economy, with some $33.19 billion in personal remittances last year representing 9.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, welfare-related problems continue to hound Filipinos working abroad.

 


“While there are metrics for the economic returns of migration, there is none for its social costs. And the sad truth is that OFWs risk their limbs and lives abroad because of a lack of employment opportunities at home,” Senator Joel Villanueva, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in an earlier interview.
From illegal recruitment to workplace or domestic violence and even human trafficking, millions of expatriate workers risk running a potential gauntlet of abuse when they decided to leave home.
Geslani hopes the new department will at least provide a central government organization to address some of these issues. For the millions of expatriates working across the Arab world, that hope comes with some caution.
“May the department be a place where overseas Filipino workers feel protected and not corrupted,” Melissa said.