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Not mutually exclusive

In his recent official trip to countries in the Middle East, President Rodrigo Duterte announced before the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) the creation of “Department of OFWs” – a national government agency that will be responsible for the design, production and delivery of services to Filipinos working abroad. Such services obviously include interventions on OFW problems like illegal recruitment, employer maltreatment, and criminal case convictions.

The creation of such government agency was a campaign promise of President Duterte. While some have concerns about what seems to be a “preferential” treatment to OFWs, many will agree with such treatment given the significant contributions of OFWs to our national development efforts. The treatment is additionally justified by the fact that OFWs are able to make such national development contributions by sacrificing their physical presence with their families.

However, the President’s initiative was watered down by a pronouncement from Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III about a “Department of OFW” being against the fundamental goal of the Duterte Administration to develop the Philippines such that no Filipino will ever need to be an OFW.

Such goal is also a campaign promise of President Duterte and no one can argue against it.

But should fundamental goal render the plan of establishing a national government agency dedicated to the welfare of OFWs unnecessary?

Can the Duterte Administration achieve its fundamental goal of developing the Philippines so that no Filipino will ever need to work overseas until the end of its term? Can the Duterte Administration lay the foundation of such development so that such fundamental goal will be achieved in the next 10 or 20 years?

Even if the Durterte Administration can, how should the government advance the welfare of OFWs in the meantime?

Should the government simply continue with the current arrangement of giving such responsibility to the Department of Labor, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)?

If the government is really committed to “giving back” to our OFWs for their contributions to our national development efforts, it should continue to aggressively pursue the achievement of its fundamental goal, and it should also aggressively provide all the needed services to OFWs, including the establishment of the Department of OFWs, while such fundamental goal is not yet achieved.

Given the heroism of our OFWs, these two government initiatives should be pursued because they deserve both. After all, these initiatives do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.
(Dr. Ramon Ricardo A. Roque, CESOI, Diplomate)

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