CAMARINES SUR Rep. LRay Villafuerte has urged the new secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) to give priority to running after illegal recruiters and traffickers, and in providing legal aid and other necessary assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in distress.
Villafuerte, one of the principal authors of the DMW law, said there are several features in this measure aimed at protecting OFWs against unscrupulous and erring recruiters and employers.
“A key feature of the law that the newly appointed Secretary Abdullah Derupong Mama-o should immediately set up is the provision of an online database system to share with other agencies so that the department and other offices can easily track and deliver timely legal and welfare services to our migrant workers, especially distressed OFWs,” said Villafuerte.
Villafuerte, who has been a champion of digitalization even before the pandemic broke out two years ago, is also a principal author of the proposed “e-governance” law.
He said the DMW’s online database will encourage and enhance information and resource sharing among related agencies and will help improve the delivery of services to OFWs.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte earlier announced the appointment of Mama-o as the new secretary of the DMW.
A law practitioner and labor lawyer, Mama-o was the former presidential adviser on OFW concerns.
Under the DMW law, the department is empowered to regulate the recruitment, employment, and deployment of OFWs.
The DMW “shall consist of the Department Proper comprising of the Office of the Secretary, the offices of the Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries, the Service Units, the Bureaus, Regional offices, and Overseas offices which shall be called Migrant Workers Office (MWO),” the law states.
The Department can investigate, initiate, sue, pursue, and help prosecute, in cooperation with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), cases of illegal recruitment and human trafficking, Villafuerte said.
It also has the power to issue subpoena or subpoena duces tecum to any person for investigation for illegal recruitment or trafficking of person cases and hold or cite any person in contempt as may be provided by the law’s implementing rules and regulations, he said.
Villafuerte said that to protect OFWs from abuse, the DMW is also authorized under the new law to create a system for the blacklisting of persons, “both natural and juridical, including local and foreign recruitment agencies, their agents, and employers,” who are involved in trafficking.
“The Department shall create and update a database of blacklisted persons which will be shared within the concerned agencies of the Department and with the IACAT. It shall also establish a monitoring system for cases involving trafficking and illegal recruitment of OFWs…,” the law states.
Villafuerte said Section 14 of the law also establishes the “Agarang Kalinga” at “Saklolo para sa mga OFWs na Nangangailangan” (AKSYON) Fund to finance legal and other forms of assistance to OFWs, separate from the funds managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
The law also mandates the creation of a MWO, which shall absorb all the powers, existing functions and personnel of the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO), and the Office for the Social Welfare Attaché (OSWA) and the powers and functions of existing assistance to nationals (ATN) units of Foreign Service Posts with regard to OFWs in all Philippine embassies and consulates.
Among others, the MWO is tasked to ensure the promotion and protection of the welfare and interests of OFWs and assist them in all problems arising out of employer-employee relationships including violation of work contracts, nonpayment of wages and other benefits, illegal dismissal, and other violations of the terms and conditions of their employment; verify employment contracts and other employment-related documents, and manage cases of, and provide psychosocial services to, OFWs in distress, such as victims of trafficking in persons or illegal recruitment, rape or sexual abuse, maltreatment and other forms of physical or mental abuse and cases of abandoned or neglected children.
The MWO is also in charge of regularly updating the online database system to facilitate and ensure the delivery of appropriate, timely, and effective welfare services to OFWs and their families; facilitate the repatriation of distressed OFWs and their families, including the shipment of remains and personal belongings; provide assistance, legal or otherwise in labor, criminal, immigration and other cases filed by or against OFWs, whether detained or not; and provide appropriate assistance to victims of illegal recruitment and trafficking in persons, kidnapping, hostage victims, and other victims of other crimes in cooperation with the DFA.