Bong Go urges gov’t to improve response to OFW concerns amid COVID-19 crisis; pushes for passage of DOFW bill
“Both the legislative and executive branches should work together to make government more responsive to the needs of Filipinos abroad who are about 10% of our population.” This is the appeal of Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go to his fellow lawmakers as they tackle various bills relating to the concerns of overseas Filipino workers during a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday, June 24.
In a public hearing of the Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development, Go acknowledged the contributions of OFWs to society and the economy which should be reciprocated with increased responsiveness to their issues and concerns.
“Matagal na po nating itinuturing na bagong bayani ang ating mga OFWs. Malaking tulong po ang kanilang kontribusyon hindi lang sa ating ekonomiya, kundi pati na rin sa pag-ahon sa kanilang mga pamilya at komunidad,” Go said.
In light of the current pandemic, the Senator expressed his concern for the welfare of OFWs, referencing to the fact that some of them have lost their jobs and now struggle to provide for their families.
“My fellow legislators, hirap na hirap na po ang ating mga OFWs ngayon. Marami po sa kanila ang nawalan ng mga trabaho dulot ng pandemya. Apektado rin po ang mga pamilya na umaasa sa OFWs sa kanilang pang araw-araw na pangkabuhayan,” he said.
“Ngayon, marami po talagang mga OFWs ang hindi alam kung ano ang gagawin sa kabila ng mga pagbabagong dala ng COVID-19. Marami sa kanila ang namomroblema kung ano ang ipangtutustos sa kanilang mga pamilya o makakapagtrabaho pa ba silang muli,” Go mentioned.
“Marami rin po sa kanila ang kasalukuyang stranded at hindi nakakauwi dahil sa paghihigpit sa biyahe sa buong mundo. Bukod pa dito, nandiyan din po ang psychological stress na dulot ng mga nabanggit na suliraning ito,” the Senator remarked.
Expressing President Rodrigo Duterte’s compassion for OFWs, the Senator enumerated some of the programs that the government has implemented, with the help of the private sector, to address some of the pressing concerns of OFWs even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Alam naman po nating lahat na malapit sa puso ni Pangulong Duterte ang OFWs kaya hindi po tayo papayag na mapabayaan lang sila sa oras ng kanilang pangangailangan,” he added.
“Meron na po tayong OFW Bank na naitayo ni Pangulong Duterte noon pang 2017 through Executive Order No. 44 which offers financial products and services tailored to the requirements of OFWs. This bank can lend to OFWs especially at this time na naapektuhan ang kanilang trabaho abroad at kakailanganin nila ng kabuhayan dito sa Pilipinas,” Go said.
He also mentioned the first OFW hospital which will provide free medical services to OFWs and their immediate family members. “Bukod po sa OFW bank, mayroon na ring tayong itinatayong kauna-unahang OFW hospital sa San Fernando City, Pampanga kung saan naimbitahan po ako sa kanilang groundbreaking noong February 18 this year,” he said.
Despite these, the Senator emphasized that there is much to be done. Go encouraged his fellow senators and policy stakeholders to “review eagerly and intently all the legislative measures at hand to improve policies and programs to address their needs at this time.”
Stressing the need for a central authority to consolidate agencies that handle OFW-related matters, Go called for the consideration and passage of his proposed bill creating an executive department for OFWs.
“Aside from the relevant OFW-related bills we will tackle today, I call on my fellow legislators to also consider the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos to help our kababayans abroad,” said Go.
“Right now, our government is having a difficult time in addressing all the concerns of our OFWs because, considering the sheer number of OFWs, we do not have one unified agency that primarily focuses on their affairs and concerns,” he added.
While the DOFW bill is still pending discussions in the Senate, Go urged concerned agencies to improve on their inter-agency coordination to effectively respond to the needs of OFWs, especially the Department of Labor and Employment.
“Marami po ang naguguluhan. Naguguluhan po sila, mukhang kayo rin po ay naguguluhan. Hindi natin napaghandaan itong krisis na ito, itong pandemic. Kaya nga po sana suportahan ninyo ang ating hangarin na ma-streamline ang serbisyong dapat nakukuha ng overseas Filipinos mula sa ating gobyerno.” Go explained.
“Kung iba po sa inyo ay ayaw ng DOFW, kasi sa tingin nyo mababawasan kayo ng saklaw, ayusin na lang po natin ang inyong serbisyo at sana po tulungan natin na meron pong nakatutok na departamento po. Eleven million po ang mga overseas Filipinos, 10% po ito ng population, napakalaki pong population ang iki-cater ng departamentong ito. Dapat po may nakatutok talaga sa kanila, isang opisina na lalapitan nila. Ngayon, kahit saan na lang sila humihingi ng tulong, tatawag rito, mananagawan sa Facebook, hindi po nila alam kung saang opisina po ang kanilang tatawagan.
“Hanggang ngayon po, nananawagan pa rin po ang mga kababayan natin (kung) saan sila hihingi ng tulong. Hindi ko naman po sinasabing hindi kakayanin ng DOLE, kaya niyo naman po, pero sana meron talagang nakatutok na departamento para sa ating mga overseas Filipinos, kawawa po sila,” he added.
Noting that the DOFW has already been passed in the Lower House, Go thanked their counterparts in the House of Representatives for supporting the proposed measure. He also recognized the efforts of the Senate Committee on Labor for prioritizing measures to help OFWs and other workers affected by the crisis.
“I would like to express my gratitude to Senator Joel Villanueva, Chair of Senate Committee on Labor, for prioritizing these important measures for our beloved OFWs, especially those who are affected during this pandemic,” he also said.
Go also expressed his support to the well-meaning measures proposed by his fellow senators being tackled in the committee hearing.
“Our overseas Filipino workers have been among the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why this committee hearing is very important as we will tackle legislative measures that will help them during their hour of need,” said Go.
“Thus, I express my support for the many bills to be taken up today. Malaki talaga ang magagawa para sa mga OFWs ng credit assistance program at iba’t ibang incentives para sa mga magtatayo ng negosyo,” he added.
During the hearing, the Senate Labor Committee tackled various measures concerning OFWs and workers affected by the pandemic. Among these are the Overseas Filipino Workers Credit Assistance Act (Senate Bill No. 317); Business Incentives for OFWs Act (SB No. 566); Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) Act (SB No. 1456); National Digital Careers Act (SB No. 1469); and Credit Assistance for OFWs (SB No. 801).