Friday, September 9, 2016

PMRW Statement on the Proposed OFW Department/ Department of Migration and Development


Philippine Migrants Rights Watch
September 9, 2016

In his first State of the Nation Address, President Duterte revisited one of the promises he made during the campaign period: the creation of a department for OFWs that “shall focus on and quickly respond to their [OFWs’] problems and concerns.” In his speech, he referred to leasing a building dedicated to OFWs so that they don’t have to commute, get stuck in traffic, and go to different government offices to put together all the needed documents. He also urged the use of computers to speed up the process.  About two weeks later, on 15 August 2016, the first One-Stop-Service Center for OFWs was launched at the ground floor of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). Other such centers will be established in the regional offices of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and POEA.

The Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW), a registered civil society network established in 1995 to encourage the recognition, protection and fulfillment of Filipino migrants’ rights, is heartened by President Duterte’s attention to the concerns and interests of overseas Filipino workers. The revival of the one-stop-shop in POEA is a welcome initiative that will ease the OFWs’ burden in compiling all the certifications and documents required for overseas employment. At the same time, PMRW has reservations about a proposed new department to govern migration.
The creation of a single department for OFWs dates back to 2010, when a bill was filed for this purpose. Presently, there are five versions of the bill filed in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Two versions call for the creation of the Department of Migration and Development while the other three refer to the envisaged agency as the Department for Overseas Filipino Workers. The reasons for PMRW’s reservations on the proposed new department are the following.

           1)     How will the new department do better than the current system?

It is not clear what specific gaps in migration governance the new department will tackle as well as gaps which cannot be solved under the current system. The proposed bills will not touch the core of the two agencies the migrants mostly deal with (POEA and OWWA). They propose to combine some of the other minor functions/institutions in the new department to reduce migrants’ time and efforts in going from place to place, but this one-stop measure does not seem to warrant a new department. Ultimately, the new department will simply take away the leadership/responsibility of migration policy from the Department of Labor and Employment and transfer it to a new entity. One cannot avoid the question: is the new department addressing real concerns of migration governance or simply creating new administrative positions?

           2)     How many laws will have to be revised?

The international labor migration framework that has been established by the Philippines is based on several laws, notably, the Labor Code of the Philippines provisions on overseas employment, the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act (RA 8042), An Act Amending RA 8042 (RA 10022), POEA Rules and Regulations Governing the Recruitment and Employment of Land-based OFWs (2016), POEA Rules and Regulations Governing  the Overseas the Recruitment and Employment of Sea-based Workers (2016), the 2016 Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Act (RA10801) and others.  All these and other normative instruments required long and intensive discussions, debates, studies, consultations and negotiations. How long will it take for the new Congress to amend all the necessary provisions affected by the creation of the new department? Can the legislative agenda of Congress be hijacked by the requirements of the new institution?

3) Who will be the leading department responsible for the protection of Filipino overseas?

Most issues concerning the protection of Filipinos overseas occur while they are abroad. Currently, the country-team approach established by the Ramos administration confers to the ambassador, and therefore to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the leadership in the protection of Filipinos overseas. However, the bills assigned to the proposed department the task of establishing and implementing the Philippines’ migration policy. This will create some duality in the task of ensuring protection to Filipinos. In this respect, the experience of other countries should not be ignored. In 2004, India established a Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) to take care of all Indian nationals based overseas. In early 2016, MOIA was merged with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) mainly to eliminate a conflict of competencies with MEA, which, through its embassies, was the one primarily responsible for overseas Indians.

4)     What is the main scope of the proposed department?

Currently, the titles of different versions of the bill seem to imply a different goal and/or target group: the Department of Migration and Development implies linking migration to development whereas the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers indicates a focus on OFWs. Upon closer examination of the bills, both departments will actually focus on OFWs. However, some confusion and gaps remain. It is not clear what is implied by development in some versions of the bill, also because the linkage with development agencies, in particular with the National Economic and Development Authority, is not articulated. While OFWs are a major part of the overseas Filipino population, the Filipino diaspora is a lot larger and more diverse. Who are covered in the scope of the proposed department: Overseas Filipinos or Overseas Filipino Workers? Objectives and functions of the proposed department will change considerably, depending on the definition of the scope or population covered by the proposed department.

5)     If the main issue is streamlining and coordination, what is the best solution?

Consultations with government officials involved in the governance of migration, conducted several times in the past, have usually emphasized that improvements need to be enacted at the level of interagency coordination and communication. Difficulties in such area could sometime be attributed to co-chairing functions assigned by law to different departments. However, such difficulties can easily be solved by amending particular sections in the existing laws. For the migrants, the real benefit is having access to one physical place to where the different institutions issuing the required documents are present. In that regard, rather than a new department, which is a political/administrative entity, what is needed is a physical place hosting the various institutions.  The one-stop-service center responds to this need.

As civil society organizations, we have been and will continue to be critical participants in the governance of Philippine migration, trying to ensure that the best interest of the migrants is pursued. We are aware that the Philippines is considered a model of migration policy by other countries of origin in Asia, and has received approval also at the international level, as testified by the report of the Economic Intelligence Unit which was released in April 2016. This does not mean that improvements cannot be pursued, particularly at the level of implementation of the normative framework. At the same time, we are not convinced yet that a new department of migration is needed or that it will drastically solve current shortcomings. It is our impression that it might generate further difficulties. It is also our conviction that the way forward in the governance of migration, which currently involves a variety of migrants, with different capabilities and resources, is not to increase bureaucracy and to impose a one-size-fits-all approach, but to reduce and simplify the bureaucracy. Less government is often better government. We call for a careful study of the gaps in migration governance and for more public discussions and consultations before rushing into the establishment of a single migration agency.


Carmelita G. Nuqui
President, PMRW
Tel:      (63 2) 526-9098
Fax:     (63 2) 526-9101

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