Filipinos working overseas have been dubbed as the country’s modern-day heroes.
The remittances that they give to families back home fuel household spending that help power the Philippine economy.
Former Angkla Representative Jesulito Manalo, among the authors of a bill calling for the creation of the Office for Social Welfare Attaché to assist overseas Filipinos (OFs), in a speech on Wednesday during the ceremonial signing of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the newly enacted Social Welfare Attache Act or RA 11299, said the new measure is “a milestone” for OFWs.
“OFWs, especially those who are distressed will feel that they can depend on the government,” he said.
Manalo added that huge remittances sent by overseas Filipinos put emphasis on the “unique trait” of Filipinos among other citizens who stay abroad.
“Migration laws of other countries attract/lure people [foreigners], so they work and spend their earning there to build that country’s economy. That’s why America grew because of migration. The uniqueness of our country is our people work there but send their money here,” he said.
In a Philippine Statistics Authority data released in April 2019, the total remittance sent by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the period of April to September 2017 was estimated at PHP205.2 billion.
These remittances included cash sent home (PHP146.8 billion), cash brought home (PHP48.3 billion) and remittances in kind (PHP10.1 billion).
In 2017, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) recorded USD28 billion or around PHP1.46 trillion in cash remittances from OFWs.
These remittances constituted more than 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the BSP report.
Manalo added that while overseas Filipinos play important roles in building the country’s economy, they also face various risks due to the distance and isolation, and through this law, the government ensures the protection of their rights.
“We have to care for the people that remit close to 30 billion dollars because if these people will no longer remit, we will not have the money to create jobs and get the money going here,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed RA 11299 in April 17, 2019.
It highlights the establishment of the Office of the Social Welfare Attaché (OSWA), which will be managed by Social Welfare Attachés (SWAtts) and will serve as the arm of DSWD, through its Home Office and Foreign Posts, in protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of OFs and their families, especially those in distress.
“The social welfare of our workers abroad is now a necessity. It is an important factor, because eventually, these workers will come back and who will prepare them socially and mentally and reintegrate them back to society, they must be ready to pick up the data and information,” Manalo added.
The law requires that the social welfare attache shall also establish and maintain a data bank and documentation of OFWs and their families so that appropriate services can be effectively provided; give information about the DSWD and its attached agencies and services; and perform other related function in the delivery of social services as may be directed by the head of the diplomatic post in the area of assignment.
DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista, during the ceremony, said they are planning to put five more SWAtts to countries with huge number of Filipinos this year.
By 2020, the Department will recommend having 18 SWAtts.
Currently, the DSWD has seven SWAtts in the following embassies and countries: Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, and Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Philippine Embassy in Kuwait; Philippine Embassy in Malaysia; Philippine Consulate General in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Philippine Embassy in Qatar; and Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong.
He said that in coordination with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the DSWD is eyeing to establish additional SWAtts in other Middle Eastern countries and South Korea.
They are also planning to send their people to “some parts of Europe.”
“We have to confirm this because the discussion is ongoing and it depends on the DFA,” Bautista added.
Under this year’s General Appropriations Act, they have allocated some PHP90 million for the establishment of OSWA.
The Social Welfare Attaché shall possess the minimum qualifications set by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the preferred qualifications prescribed by the DSWD.
The Social Welfare Attache shall perform the following functions and duties at the overseas post:
1) manage cases of OFWs and other overseas Filipinos in distress needing psychological services, such as victims of trafficking or illegal recruitment, rape or sexual abuse, maltreatment and other forms of physical or mental abuse, and cases of abandoned or neglected children;
2) undertake surveys and prepare official social welfare situationers on the OFWs in the area of assignment;
3) establish a network with overseas-based social welfare agencies and/or individuals and groups which may be mobilized to assist in the provision of appropriate social services;
4) respond to and monitor the resolution of problems and complaints or queries of OFWs and their families;
5) submit regular reports to the DSWD and DFA home office on plans and activities undertaken, recommendations, and updates on the situation of OFWs particularly those encountering difficulties in the host country. Said report shall form part of the semi-annual report to Congress as provided under Section 33 of RA 8042, as amended. (Christine Cudis, PNA)