Villanueva: Labor export won’t be PHL policy with new dept for overseas Filipinos

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THE proposed Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos (DMWOF) is being projected to boost job creation in the country so that “overseas employment will just be a choice,” according to Senator Joel Villanueva, as he noted the measure even has a sunset provision – calling for a review of the law after 10 years, with possible abolition of the agency.

Villanueva made this clear as he defended the measure during interpellations at the Senate’s last marathon session Wednesday before suspending plenary deliberations for the two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila from August 6-20.

Senate Bill No. 2234 has a provision requiring mandatory review by a congressional oversight committee on the labor situation 10 years after the creation of the DMWOF to assess if the new department is no longer needed, Villanueva, Labor Committee chairman, pointed out.

“We aspire for the day when Filipinos will not leave the country because they need to, but because they want to,” Villanueva said during an interpellation by Senator Francis Pangilinan.

The Labor committee chairman agreed with the premise that OFWs would not leave their families behind if better opportunities were available for them in the Philippines.

Villanueva cited high unemployment in the country during the pandemic as one of the driving factors for Filipinos to search for greener pastures abroad, despite the difficulties that migrant workers must reckon with as their host countries also grapple with the pandemic.

He recalled that just last June, the unemployment rate was pegged at 7.7 percent while underemployment was in double digits, adding that in April 2020 unemployment soared to 17.7 percent.

“Under those circumstances, you will really consider employment abroad,” Villanueva noted, noting that “at the end of the day, it is best for our government to keep on creating jobs domestically.”

Villanueva, who was previously director-general of TESDA – created with preparing millions of Filipinos for overseas jobs — added: “We are aware that our countrymen leave abroad for greener pastures.”

Reintegration

At the same time, the senator clarified that one of the key provisions of the DMWOF bill includes “reintegration of OFWs returning to the Philippines.”

He projected that the new department would serve as “a catalyst in job creation to keep Filipinos from leaving through a “full cycle” concept of reintegration for OFWs.

“Reintegration is a vital part of this measure,” said Villanueva, adding that two initial tasks that OFWs can perform in nation-building as they transition to a local job from foreign employment is to become tourism ambassadors, or for those teaching in foreign Ivy League schools, to add to the prestige of state universities and colleges by teaching there, Villanueva said.

But while the goal of generating enough employment to keep Filipinos from leaving has not been reached yet, the senator said the DMWOF would serve as a one-stop-shop for OFWs and overseas Filipinos for repatriation or emergency purposes.

“As of now, there is confusion even in data for OFWs and overseas Filipinos,” he said, adding: “there is more confusion when it comes to repatriation or assisting Filipinos in times of emergency.”

Despite the seeming overlaps in mandates, the repatriation program – led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) – has managed to bring home over half a million Filipinos during the pandemic, overcoming travel and administrative restrictions in both the host countries and Philippines, as well as financial constraints.

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