Monday, October 2, 2017

PMRW Reaffirms Stance on its Updated Statement on the Proposed Department of Migration and Development


Philippine Migrants Rights Watch
October 2, 2017

In his first State of the Nation Address in 2016, President Duterte revisited one of the promises he made during the campaign period: the creation of a department for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) that “shall focus on and quickly respond to their [OFWs’] problems and concerns” [italics added]. Soon after, five versions of the bill proposing for the creation of a single migration department-variously referred to as the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers, or the Department of Overseas Filipinos, or the Department of Migration and Development—were filed in the House of Representatives and the Senate. In his second State of the Nation Address in 2017, the president did not forget OFWs: “We now talk about our overseas Filipinos. They are our heroes. They and their families have sacrificed much to the… for the country. We all know how a large part of our economic – economy comes from their remittances. That is why to ensure that their rights are protected, I ordered the increase of our assistance to the OFW from 400 million pesos to more than 1 billion”.

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 OFWs. Reviewing the different versions of the bill, PMRW came up with a position paper on September 9, 2016 indicating that the proposed single department will not necessarily be a better alternative to address the challenges of migration governance.

Various discussion and fora on the proposed department had been conducted in the past years. Despite some changes and updates here and there, the fundamental reservations of PMRW remain based on the following reasons:

1) Will the proposed department do better than the current system?

First and foremost, it is not clear what specific gaps in migration governance the new department will fill as well as gaps which cannot be solved under the current system

While the early versions of the bills do not touch the core functions of the two agencies the migrants mostly deal with (i.e. the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration or POEA and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration or OWWA), parts of both entities are among those which will be transferred to the new department. A recent House version of the bill specifically mentions the abolition of the POEA, OWWA, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) and other attached agencies of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). The reason for absorbing the different offices into one department is to reduce migrants’ time and efforts in going to different agencies. The notion of a one-stop shop does not warrant a new department. The One-Stop Shop Service Center, which was launched at the POEA in August 2016 and which has been established in all regional offices of the DOLE and POEA, are sufficient for this purpose.

Proponents of the single department argue that it will provide services and programs throughout the migration cycle-before migration, while migrants are overseas, and upon their return to the Philippines. The comprehensive approach to migration has been codified by RA 8042, is already in place, and is further strengthened by RA 10022. If there are gaps or inadequacies in the implementation of the law’s provisions, creating a new department is not the answer. Is the new department addressing real concerns of migration governance or is it simply creating new administrative positions?

The Philippines’ multi-agency governance framework has worked well in addressing the multi-faceted aspects of the migration phenomenon and the diverse composition of the overseas Filipino population. The Philippines has, in fact, been considered as a model for other origin countries. If this will be replaced, how has the single migration department actually worked in other countries?

      2) How many laws will have to be revised and how much will be required to create the new department?

We wonder whether a study was done to look into the legal and budgetary requirements towards establishing the new department.

The country’s international labor migration framework was established 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), and the 2016 Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Act (RA10801), among others. Concerning emigrants or permanent settlers, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas was created by Batas Pambansa 79. These legal frameworks and other normative instruments required long and intensive discussions, debates, studies, consultations and negotiations. How long will it take for Congress to amend the necessary provisions affected by the creation of the new department? Will not the legislative agenda of Congress be hijacked by the massive requirements of the single department? Budget-wise, how much will the setting up of a new department cost? The streamlining of the Executive Branch has been identified among the legislative priority of the president—the creation of a new department runs counter to this goal.

      3) Which department will be mainly responsible for protecting Filipinos overseas?

Most issues concerning the protection of overseas Filipinos occur while they are abroad. The country-team approach established by RA 8042 confers to the ambassador, and therefore to the DFA, the leadership in extending protection to overseas Filipinos.

According to the various bills, the proposed department will assume the responsibility of establishing and implementing the Philippines’ migration policy. This will create ambiguities in who will be the lead agency in providing protection to Filipinos while they are overseas. How will the new department relate with the DFA, whose third pillar of Philippine foreign policy is [the] “protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare and interest of Filipinos overseas”?

The experience of India is instructive. In 2004, India established the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) to take care of Indian nationals based overseas. In January 2016, MOIA was merged with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) because of the realization that most of the work of MOIA was being done by the embassies (which also have competencies in providing protection to overseas Indians).

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

The different versions of the bill employ different titles: the Department of Migration and Development implies linking migration to development whereas the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers indicates a specific focus on OFWs (one version mentions OFWs and the families left behind). Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III views a department devoted to OFWs as further institutionalizing overseas employment, which is the very opposite of what this administration wants. Indeed, upon closer examination of the different versions of the bill, all of them actually focus on OFWs.

While OFWs are a significant part of the overseas Filipino population, the Filipino diaspora is a lot larger and more diverse. Which population is covered by the proposed department: overseas Filipinos or OFWs? The objectives and functions of the proposed department will vary 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?

In consultations with government officials involved in the governance of migration, they highlighted the need for inter-agency coordination and communication in the implementation of programs and the delivery of services. One source of such difficulties could be the co-chairing functions mandated by law to different departments, an issue that can be easily solved by amending particular sections in existing laws. For migrants, what could be beneficial is access to one physical place 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. As mentioned earlier, the one-stop-service center responds to this need; online transactions are responding to this need as well.

As civil society organizations, we have been and will continue to be critical participants in the governance of Philippine migration, to help ensure that the best interest of the migrants is met. While the Philippines is considered a model of migration governance by the international community, there is room for improvement, particularly at the level of implementing the normative framework. Nonetheless, we are not convinced 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. In view of the diversity of overseas Filipinos, it is also our conviction that the way forward in the governance of migration is not an encompassing one-size-fits-all migration bureaucracy.

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

PMRW MEMBERS (Philippines)
Apostleship of the Sea-Manila Chaplaincy
Center for Migrant Advocacy
Development Action for Women Network
Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People- CBCP 
Scalabrini Center for People on the Move
Scalabrini Migration Center
Scalabrinian Lay Association

            University of San Agustin (Philippines)
·         International Catholic Migration Commission (Switzerland)
·         Migrant Workers’ Concern Desk (Taiwan)
·         Moyse (South Korea)
·         Scalabrini International Migration Institute (Italy)
·         Seoul Archdiocesan Labor Pastoral Commission (South Korea)
·         Stella Maris International Migrants’ Service Center (Taiwan)

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