We think it is timely and strategically sound for the Philippine government to establish an OFW command center that will integrate national efforts to address the needs of our economically vital and growing community of overseas Filipino workers. There are compelling reasons, both positive and negative, that make such a center a creditable and meritorious undertaking of the government.
On the positive side, the proposed center will manifest government assistance for the welfare and well being of OFW communities in a sustained, dependable and effective manner. Second, the center will coordinate or help integrate private and public efforts to intervene on behalf of OFWs who are in distress or who run afoul of the law. Third, the center will show foreign governments and communities that the people and government of the Philippines stand full-square behind our overseas Filipino workers and their communities.
On the negative side, it is realistic to acknowledge that with 11 million of our people working and living in foreign lands, a significant number of them will be victimized by unscrupulous entities or run afoul of the laws and customs of foreign cultures and societies. The center should serve as vehicle for a coherent policy and program to address problems encountered or engineered by our overseas workers.
The proposed OFW command center is envisioned to be jointly operated by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) as a service to OFW communities, as well as to improve significantly the level of government’s response to OFW needs abroad.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has said the DFA will increase the frequency of its meetings with DoLE and its attached agencies specifically addressed to OFW concerns: the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
Cayetano spoke of reforms being implemented by the DFA that will benefit the OFWs, specifically the launch of the new Philippine passports with 10-year validity.
Planned reforms will also include the use of the legal assistance fund to hire lawyers to represent OFWs whose employers have caused them to be incarcerated.
Philippine embassies around the world have also been tasked to keep their records of Filipinos up-to-date for better response in case of emergencies.
On the side of the labor department and with the improved performance of the national economy, DoLE is actively engaged in a program to increase and improve local employment opportunities in a way that will encourage OFWs to return and work in their home country. The long-term objective is to reduce the number of Filipinos who are compelled or are attracted by opportunities to seek employment abroad.
Growth in the OFWs’ number, as well as economic importance, is the product of both deliberate Philippine national policy and geographic, historical, economic and cultural developments across the world. That OFW remittances now contribute annually more than $25 billion in remittances, and has made the economy virtually dependent on the yearly transfusion, is not an accident but a product of a deliberate choice.
We should not regret the policy, which is a legacy from the 1973 overseas employment program. We should rather applaud it for being successful and fruitful.
Scaling down the program and fitting it into the ambitious and dynamic economic program of President Rodrigo Duterte today should similarly be a product of far-sighted and deliberate planning.
What is exciting and promising today is that we can have both: first, a sizable international and highly productive OFW community, and second, an effective program to reintegrate OFWs into a new, dynamic and modern Philippine economy. Either way, our OFWs will contribute substantially to growth of the country’s gross domestic product, or the general economy.
The proposed OFW center should include both of these laudable goals in its long-term vision.