Bill creating OFW department clears Senate hurdle

Published by rudy Date posted on December 14, 2021

by Philstar.com, 14 Dec 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved on third and final reading a bill that would create a separate department for overseas Filipino workers despite opposition from economic officials who have warned about bloating the government with new agencies.

The upper chamber voted 20-0-0 to give final approval to Senate Bill 2234 or the Department of Migrant Workers bill. The measure was among the priority bills identified by Senate President Vicente Sotto III when the 18th Congress opened its third regular session in July.

The House of Representatives approved its own version of the bill in March last year. A bicameral conference committee must reconcile disagreeing provisions and garner approval from both chambers before the measure can be transmitted to President Rodrigo Duterte for his signature.

“One in 10 Filipinos work overseas and their generous remittance…is P3 million every minute. It comprises 12% of our national income,” Sen. Joel Villanueva, the bill’s principal sponsor, said on the Senate floor.

“This moment is for every Filipino abroad who has sacrificed so much for their family and our beloved country,” Villanueva added.

In 2020, Duterte certified as urgent a version of the bill authored by his longtime aide Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go. Prior to this, two bills authored by Villanueva and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri had languished at the upper chamber since 2016 despite their alignment with administration priorities.

Critical contributors to the delay were the reservations of no less than Duterte’s economic managers, who saw the creation of another agency as ballooning an already bloated bureaucracy. Instinctively, an agency needs manpower to function, but limited resources shared across a constantly expanding government means newer agencies get miniscule budget to operate at the onset, or sometimes even years after. Take the housing department built in 2018 as an example. In 2021, its budget was even cut 36% year-on-year to P4.98 billion.

Meanwhile, critics of the OFW department bill also pointed out that the measure, if enacted into law, would inadvertently affirm a Marcos-era band-aid solution of labor export. Among the agencies resisting was the National Economic and Development Authority, which wanted Congress to limit the new agency’s life.

That suggestion from NEDA did not fall on deaf ears. The Senate’s version of the bill now stipulates that a “Congressional Oversight Committee may recommend the abolition of the Department should circumstances prove that there is no more need for its existence.”

“The relevance and practicality of maintaining the Department shall be reviewed every five (5) years after the ten (10) year mandatory review period,” the bill reads further. — Bella Perez-Rubio

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