On the creation of a “Department of OFWs”

digong-inaugural Indeed, there has been a growing clamor among (overseas Filipino workers) OFWs and their families for a “one-stop shop” that would cater to better services and  the protection and promotion of OFWs. This is mainly because the present “one-country-approach” being implemented by agencies tasked to provide direct services to OFWs, namely, the DFA, DOLE, OWWA and POEA, has been deemed dysfunctional, anti-migrant and inoperative.

Migrante International therefore sees and appreciates the rationale behind President Duterte’s proposal of establishing a “Department of OFWs (DOFW)” that seeks to systematize, consolidate and strengthen government efforts to protect our OFWs. This proposal in itself is already an initial critique of the performance of the above-mentioned government agencies over the years.

Migrante International, however, forwards serious apprehensions on the basis of its assessment of the performances of existing agencies concerned with dealing with OFW services and welfare. If a DOFW is to be established, it is imperative that the Duterte administration first thoroughly investigates how current concerned agencies, as well as existing laws and policies, benefited or failed our OFWs and their families.

In the last four decades, Philippine governments have been aggressive in crafting programs and services aimed to facilitate and encourage forced migration and labor export. While acknowledging the many social costs, these were effectively downplayed by the hailing of OFW remittances. Rather, the Philippine government has unfailingly and resolutely promoted the labor export policy as unequivocally beneficial for OFWs and their families. This is particularly done by overstating supposed development benefits for the economy and the income benefits for households.

The economic compulsion of past Philippine government to keep exporting Filipinos to maintain or, especially, to increase remittances unfortunately overrides and precludes any measures that, directly or indirectly, constrict the flow of migration, as enshrined in Republic Act of 8042 (amended by RA 10022), or the Migrants’ Act of 1995.

The Migrants’ Act of 1995 created the existing concerned agencies, laws and policies that are effective to this day. And twenty-two years after its enactment, the plight of OFWs has worsened.

This two-faced law is riddled with embellishments of migrants’ rights but treacherously traps OFWs into the worst possible scenario of commodification. It allowed past regimes to renege any responsibility in the protection of our rights and welfare while permitting the continuance of government financial exaction.

It is in this light that Migrante International poses this qualification: the creation of a DOFW should not work to merely further institutionalize labor export, but instead address the decades-long clamor of OFWs and their families to put an end to it.

Filipinos are being forced to migrate because of desperation as a result out of the economy’s lack of development resulting in job loss, low wages and lack of livelihood at home. OFWs have borne witness to how insincere, insensitive and inept past governments have been in upholding and securing the protection and welfare of OFWs. The past four decades of Philippine labor export has showcased a more blatant and unapologetic policy that continues to exploit OFWs’ cheap labor and foreign remittances in accordance to US imperialist interests and dictates.

Migrante International firmly believes that the Duterte government should strive towards ending forced migration and scrapping the bankrupt labor export policy. It is very open to work closely with the Duterte administration to ensure that this thrust is realized.

It will support the formation of a DOFW if, and only if, it would work towards the irrelevance of such a department and instead strive for a society in which families do not need to be torn apart just to survive. ###