President Rodrigo Duterte has requested for the swift formation of a separate department for Filipino migrant workers appears to pave the way for the contentious priority legislation to be implemented.
In view of this, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, his long-time assistant, certified Duterte as an urgent 1949 Senate Bill just filed the last 14th of December. The bill creates a Cabinet-level agency to deal with foreign Filipino workers’ issues that are currently handled separately by the foreign affairs and labor departments. In fact, there is a parallel bill that has also been approved in the House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, before Go’s measure, despite being an administrative priority bill, two bills from Villanueva and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri have been stuck in the upper chamber since 2016. Reservations from no less than Duterte’s economic executives who see another department as merely ballooning an already bloated bureaucracy is a key factor in the pause. Thus unwittingly making a Marcos-era band-aid labor export solution irreversible.
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), which while endorsing the measure, wants Congress to restrict the existence of the new agency, was among those agencies that resisted. Villanueva in this part obliged to follow this suggestion, placing the OFW department in a sunset provision of 10-12 years.
Morever, The acting Chief Karl Kendrick Chua at NEDA shared that lawmakers should be aware of the timing of the bill, in the face of rising public needs from the health crisis. This was the same issue for the departments of finance and budget, which would eventually fund the new agency. Both agencies highlights in previous Senate hearings that a new department will eventually increase government costs and potentially expand the budget deficit already under pressure from pandemic needs. A big deficit means that there is a need to borrow more.
In response to a request for comment, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III did not asnwer it. So, a separate organization, indeed, means costs. The OFW department will have one secretary and four under-secretaries under the new bills, all of which would contribute to the existing government payroll.
Consequently, There will also be new assistance-to-nationals offices, which will also have a broader mission to fulfill when absorbing the existing functions of Philippine overseas labor offices, and thus need larger budgets.
The costs of the OFW department will also fall on top of those of the relatively new housing agency just formed in 2018. The Shelter Office is unable to fulfill its mandate, with senators arguing that the budget plans of the Executive Department have left the agency seriously underfunded.