ON Tuesday, May 25, Senator and member of the Senate Committee on Labor Christopher “Bong” Go co-sponsored Senate Bill 2234 which, if passed, will establish the Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos. This is a consolidated version of his earlier proposed measure that aims to create the Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOFil).
In a speech delivered before the Senate, Go said the bill has been a long time coming after President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly appealed for its swift passage in his past State of the Nation Addresses.
The proposed department will be granted Cabinet status and shall be primarily responsible for protecting the rights and promoting the welfare and interests of migrant workers and other Filipinos overseas.
“Our goal is simple in this measure: to give our migrant workers and all other Filipinos abroad the best government service that we could give them,” began Go.
“Sa panukalang batas na ito, tapos na ang panahon na pinapagpapasa-pasahan natin ang ating mga kababayan. Tapos na ang panahon na nauubos ang pasensya, pera at pagod ng kapwa natin mga Pilipino dahil sa burukrasya at bulok na sistema. Tapos na ang panahon na ang mga ahensya at opisina sa gobyerno na nagtuturuan [kung] sino ang dapat umako sa responsibilidad,” he declared.
The Senator spoke of the struggles experienced by OFWs with the current bureaucracy and expressed deep regret over the suffering experienced by millions of OFWs when being forced to leave their families behind to take up temporary employment abroad.
“Hindi nababayaran ang lungkot. Napakahirap magtrabaho sa ibang bansa at naiiwan ang pamilya. Mas nanaisin nila magtrabaho na lang dito sa ating bansa kaysa mapalayo sa pamilya. Pero kailangan nilang pumunta sa ibang bansa at maghanapbuhay dahil mayroon silang mga pamilya na pinapakain,” continued Go.
“Ito ang panahon na sana ay tulungan natin sila, na mayro’ng nakatutok na ahensya na mag-aasikaso sa kanila, na hindi na nila kailangan manawagan sa radyo, sa Facebook, sa television … Tinatawag nga natin silang mga modern-day heroes [kaya] bigyan natin sila ng departamentong para sa kanila,” he appealed.
Go went on to highlight that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disparate impact on Filipinos around the world. Out of the ten million currently estimated to be working abroad, over one million OFWs have been rendered jobless and are under great financial stress as they are forced to return home.
The proposed department, Go continued, will be uniquely poised to aid in the OFWs at a time when the long-term impacts of the pandemic are still uncertain. Based on the bill, the DMWOF shall be tasked with formulating, planning and implementing policies, and developing systems for regulating, managing and monitoring the overseas employment of Filipino workers as well as reintegration of OFWs.
“Ang importante dito, mabigyan natin sila ng importansya at matutukan natin ang kapakanan nila. Ang importante dito ay magkaroon sila ng isang pupuntahan at ‘di na kailangang magpapaikot-ikot para lamang makahingi ng tulong,” he added.
Go also issued an urgent an appeal to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases to consider the unique challenges facing OFWs, especially seafarers, many of whom cannot return to their receiving countries of destination due to the preference of some countries for Western vaccines.
“Marami sa ating OFWs ang hindi makaalis ng bansa dahil mayro’n pong preference ang mga bansa na pupuntahan nila na mga Western brands of vaccine. They are being discriminated upon … sana ay bigyan sila ng prayoridad doon sa mga single dose vaccines, para hindi na sila kailangan mag-antay at kailangan pang bumalik dito para sa kanilang second dose,” he explained.
“Marami ang naantala sa kanilang pag-alis para makapag-hanapbuhay. We are urging the IATF to take this into account. In fact, through this bill, we are urging the entire government to look into the plight of our OFWs!” pleaded Go.
Finally, Go urged his fellow Senators to remember the sacrifices of the OFWs who deserve more than that is currently provided for them. He vowed to do everything necessary to ensure they receive the support and protections they need, especially during the pandemic.
“To all our fellow Filipinos abroad, I want to emphasize that we are doing this for all of you. Para sa inyo ang lahat ng ito. Malapit kayo sa puso namin ni Pangulong Duterte at sa puso namin dito sa Senado at Kongreso. Kaya sa hangarin naming mabigyan kayo ng mas maginhawang buhay, sisikapin ko at ng aking mga kasamahan sa Senado na isakatuparan ang mga inisiyatibong ito para gumaan, kahit papano, ang mga pinapasan ninyo,” promised Go.
“Tulad nga ng pangako ko, para sa Pilipino, walang tigil ang trabaho, walang tigil ang serbisyo. Layunin namin na maramdaman ninyo ang malasakit ng inyong gobyerno kahit nasaan man kayo sa mundo,” he ended.
Filed on Tuesday, May 25, SBN 2234 is sponsored by Senator Joel Villanueva and co-sponsored by Senators Go and Ramon Revilla Jr. Go previously filed SBN 1949, otherwise known as the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2020, in December 2019. It is the third iteration of a measure filed by the Senator in 2019.
Go also thanked Committee on Labor Chair Senator Joel Villanueva for sponsoring the bill and commended him for his efforts to champion the welfare of workers especially Filipinos abroad.