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A department for OFWs, a bill that is long overdue

Will the remaining 11-months of the Duterte administration address the dilemma faced by land and sea-based overseas Filipino workers (OFW) which are the problems of the decreased and limited inbound passenger capacity in the country’s airports and insufficient quarantine facilities for returning overseas workers?

A bill filed by Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, a long-time aide and closest associate of President Duterte has been languishing in Congress. A bill that is long overdue. 

 

The Senate Bill 1949, one of the priority measures highlighted by President Duterte during his 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA) was certified as urgent measure by Malacañang for its immediate enactment into law, creating an agency, the Department of Overseas Filipinos. 

 

Congress must take a long and hard look at the issues and concerns being raised by land and sea-based OFW sectors, lamented Senator Go. 

 

A group of 57 licensed manning agencies, the Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA) that deploys 160,000 Filipino seafarers on international sea-going vessels have asked Senator Go to support calls to upsurge the inbound flight passenger limit and increase of the limited quarantine facilities used by arriving OFWs, particularly seafarers.

 

Unlike land-based OFW, seafarers have shorter contracts because of international maritime laws stop them from being a sea for more than 11 months. Seafarers have to come home to their families from months of seeing nothing but water and ports. 

 

“Because of this inbound flight passenger limit, international flights flying into the country could only offer limited seating. And, to keep up with their operational expenses, airlines either increase their fares or prioritize selling the most expensive seats, or simply cancel the flights. Both increase the costs of crew changes,” stated the position letter of ALMA addressed to Senator Go. 

 

On the issue of the OFW bill, TUCP Party-list Representative Raymond Democrito C. Mendoza, House Chair, Overseas Workers Affairs, one of the principal authors, have done his homework. In fact, during deliberations in the House he was able to request cooperation from his fellow lawmakers for the enactment of the law as fulfillment of Duterte’s vision. 

 

Indeed, it was an undaunted task because there were 30 similar bills filed before his committee for the creation of a new government agency.  

 

House Bill 5832 was passed on third and final reading on March 11, days passed before the first lockdowns were imposed due to health crisis. It was voted unanimously, 173-11.

 

It is the House expression of “gratitude” to the immense and valuable contributions of the OFWs to the country’s foreign exchange earnings, a lawmaker commented.

 

Our economy is insulated not because of our direct foreign investments (FDIs) coming into the country but because of the annual increase of remittances from land based and sea-based OFWs. 

 

This, amid the economic downturn of the economies worldwide due to the current pandemic, hardly hit developed countries considered as favorite destinations of our overseas workers, the sustained improvement in the OFW remittances point to a strong 2021 finish line.  

 

Nonetheless, the OFWs account an annual foreign exchange earnings of around US$32 billion dollars, records from Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) stated.

 

The long overdue bill is about engaging, employing, and enhancing the dignity of Filipino labor in and out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The OFW bill is an act of social justice, nothing more, nothing less.