On Tuesday, December 28, 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to sign into law a proposed bill creating a government department – the Department of Migrant Affairs – dedicated to addressing the many needs of land and sea-based overseas Filipino workers.
This was confirmed by Representative Raymond Mendoza of the TUCP Partylist, the bill’s principal author in the House of Representatives and the Chair of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs (HCOWA), which dealt with the bill in the lower house.
The Department shall be the primary agency of the government’s Executive Branch tasked with protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of OFWs, regardless of status or mode of entry into the country of destination.
Agencies Under Department of Migrant Affairs
The following agencies are merged and consolidated into the new Department, and their powers and functions are absorbed:
- POEA (shall serve as the core agency)
- The Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA) of the DFA
- All Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) under the DOLE;
- The International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) under the DOLE;
- The National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) under the OWWA;
- The National Maritime Polytechnic (NMP) under the DOLE; and
- The Office of the Social Welfare Attaché (OSWA) under the DSWD.
The Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) is not absorbed by the new Department.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), established under the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Act, is hereby attached to the Department for policy and program coordination. Except as otherwise provided in this Act, the OWWA shall continue to operate in accordance with its charter.
The Department shall be divided into the Department Proper, which shall include the Office of the Secretary, the Offices of the Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries, the Service Units, the Bureaus, Regional offices, and the Overseas Office, which shall be known as the Migrant Workers Office (MWO).
The Four Undersecretaries
(a) The POEA Deputy Administrator for Management Services will be replaced by an Undersecretary for Internal Management and Administration.
(b) Undersecretary for Foreign Employment and Welfare Services – assumes the responsibilities of the POEA’s Deputy Administrator for Employment and Welfare. It will also take over all of the functions of the DFA’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA).
Other features include:
- Undertake program and policy coordination with the OWWA;
- Provide prompt and appropriate response to global emergencies or crisis situations affecting OFWs, including ATN and other services;
- Administer the AKSYON Fund and authorize disbursements therefrom;
- Ensure effective coordination and cooperation with other government agencies and the Philippine Foreign Service Posts in the provision of legal assistance and other ATN services utilizing the AKSYON Fund;
- Manage and supervise the Migrant Workers Office as created under Section 15 of this Act;
- Develop and monitor the implementation of a full-cycle national reintegration program under Section 17 of this Act;
- Exercise control and supervision over the 3 Assistant Secretaries heading each of the following: (i) Welfare and Employment Office; (ii) Pre-Employment Service Office; and (iii) the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO)
(c) Undersecretary for Licensing and Adjudication, which shall take over the functions of the POEA Deputy Administrator for Licensing and Adjudication. It shall exercise control and supervision over one (1) Assistant Secretary and of the regional operations of the Department.
There shall be an Office for Land-based OFW Concerns and an Office for Sea-based OFW Concerns under the Office of the Secretary, which will cater to the needs and concerns of land-based and sea-based Filipino workers, respectively. Each office shall be headed by an Assistant Secretary. The National Maritime Polytechnic (NMP) shall be under the control and supervision of the Office for Sea-based OFW Concerns.
Migrant Workers Office (MWO)
The MWO will take over all of the powers, existing functions, and personnel of the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) and the Office of the Social Welfare Attache (OSWA), as well as the powers and functions of existing ATN units of Foreign Service Posts in relation to OFWs in all Philippine embassies and consulates.
The Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW)
Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) – refers to a Filipino who is to be engaged, is engaged, or has been engaged in remunerated activity in a country of which he or she is not an immigrant, citizen, or permanent resident, or is not awaiting naturalization, recognition, or admission, and thus, FiIipino immigrants or permanent residents in other countries will now be looked after by the Department of Foreign Affairs rather than the Dep
Of course, so-called “undocumented” or “irregular” OFWs will be Iooked after by this new Department.
Similarly, under this new Iaw, it is now clear that a person who has been contracted for overseas employment but has yet to leave the Philippines, regardless of status, is already considered an OFW.
The Agarang Kalinga at Saklolo (AKSYON) Fund
The Agarang Kalinga at Saklolo para sa mga OFWs na Nangangailangan (AKSYON) Fund is established to provide legal and other forms of assistance to OFWs, separate from the funds managed by the DFA.
An appropriate amount shall initially be provided for the AKSYON Fund in the General Appropriations Act of the year following its enactment into law and an appropriate amount for every year thereafter to provide assistance to OFWs at Foreign Service Posts where MWO have been established and staffed.
The DFA shall retain ATN Fund and the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) for the benefit of other Filipinos overseas and for consular assistance services.
The existing POEA Governing Board will be renamed the Advisory Board on Labor Migration and Development and will serve as an advisory body to the Department’s Secretary.
The Advisory Board on Labor Migration and Development will be made up of the Secretary of Labor and Employment, as well as one representative from each of the land-based OFWs, sea-based OFWs, and private sector.
Existing employees of the subsumed agencies will be given tenure and absorbed by the Department in accordance with their staffing patterns and the selection process outlined in the Republic Act. No. 6656, also known as the Government Reorganization Act.
Employees who are affected by the Department’s creation and are separated from service within six months of the Act’s effective date as a result of the Department’s organization and reorganization shall be entitled to separation benefits under the Government Reorganization Law and other applicable laws, rules, and regulations.
The transfer of functions, assets, funds, equipment, properties, transactions, and personnel of the affected agencies, as well as the formulation of the Department’s internal organic structure, staffing pattern, operating system, and revised budget, must be completed within two (2) years of the Act’s enactment.
The Transition Committee composed of:
- Department of Migrant Workers Secretary
- Undersecretary for Overseas Migrant Workers Affairs of the DFA
- Administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration
- Director of the International Labor Affairs Bureau of DOLE
- Director of the National Reintegration Center for OFWs
- Director of the National Maritime Polytechnic of DOLE
- Director of the Office of the Social Welfare Attache of the DSWD shall facilitate the complete and full operation of the Department which shall not be later than two years after the effectivity of this Act. It shall likewise promulgate the implementing rules and regulations necessary to effectively implement the smooth and orderly transfer to the Department of the subsumed agencies.
The Congressional Insights
There shall be a Congressional Oversight Committee on Migrant Workers to monitor and oversee the implementation of the provisions of this Act composed of six members from the Senate and six members from the House of Representatives with the Chairperson of the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs of the House of Representatives and Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development of the Senate as Co-chairpersons.
Five (5) years after the effectivity of this Act, or as the need arises, the President shall constitute a Reorganization Commission which shall conduct a systematic evaluation of the accomplishments and impact of this Act, as well as the performance and organizational structure of its implementing agencies, for purposes of determining remedial legislation.
The Commission shall include the secretaries of this Department, the DFA, the DOLE, the NEDA and the DBM as members.
A 24/7 Emergency Response and Action Center is estabIished under the Department to take care of the emergency needs of OFWs and their respective famiIies.
A training institute to heIp produce weII-trained personneI who are masters in their respective fieIds under the Department shaII be estabIished to ensure that OFWs and their famiIies wiII receive services from reaI experts.
The bIack-Iisting of erring foreign empIoyers, foreign agencies, and IocaI recruitment and manning agencies shaII be made systematic and aImost automatic to Ieave no room for human subjective judgment as much as possibIe in order to prevent corruption and unfairness.
The Shared Government Information System for Migrant Workers estabIished under Sec. 20 of RA 8042, as amended, shaII be strengthened under this new Iaw through the creation of a computer-based “Management Information System.”
RegionaI offices of the POEA shaII become the core of the regionaI offices of the Department and wiII further be expanded up to the provinciaI IeveI as far as practicab