PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has given his approval to the creation of an Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Bank, which was one of his three promises to migrant Filipino workers during the last presidential campaign.
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd over the weekend disclosed that he already gave the President a memorandum about the proposal for an OFW Bank.
The OFW Bank, Bello explained, is meant to cater to remittances and other banking needs of Filipino migrant workers all over the world, saying the workers would also become part owners of the bank through shares of stocks and have their own credit facilities.
Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) figures show that the number of OFWs who worked abroad at any time from April to September 2015 was estimated at 2.4 million.
Overseas Contract Workers (OCWs) or those with existing work contracts comprised 97.1 percent of the total OFWs during the same period, while the rest (2.9 percent) worked overseas without contracts.
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) statistics, on the other hand, show that from January to September this year, personal remittances from overseas Filipinos reached $22.108 billion, while cash remittances coursed through banks amounted to $20.025 billion.
In 2015, personal remittances amounted to $28.308 billion while cash remittances totalled $25.607 billion.
According to the BSP, personal remittances are computed as the sum of employees’ net compensation like gross earnings of OFWs with work contracts of less than a year, including all sea-based workers, less taxes, social contributions and transportation and travel expenditures in their host countries, personal transfer and capital transfers between households without anything of economic value being supplied in return.
More than three-fourths of these cash remittances came from the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Japan, Qatar and Kuwait.
The steady demand for OFWs remained a key driver to the growth of remittance inflows.
A preliminary report from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) indicated that total processed contracts reached 2.3 million in 2015, of which 1.2 million were for workers deployed in the same year.
Further, a total of 585,688 contracts were processed in the first quarter of 2016, of which 452,722 were for land-based workers.
The OFW Bank was first conceptualized in 2006 during the administration of then- president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but it never materialized.
In 2010, then-Vice President Jejomar Binay revived the proposal in a formal letter to then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd but the BSP and the Department of Finance also shot it down, citing issues of cost, redundancy, administrative and regulatory unwieldiness and signals that discourage private-sector competition.
Aside from the OFW Bank, President Duterte also promised the creation of a Department of OFW and to make it mandatory for consuls general to keep track of all Filipinos abroad and provide free airfare to abused overseas workers who want to go home.
WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL
Bello, however, said creating a separate department for OFWs may not be practical at all because there are already existing agencies under the DOLE, like the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) that specifically cater to overseas workers.