MANILA – The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) has achieved major accomplishments, started by the late Secretary Susan Ople, in its first full year of operation.
Amid the many challenges, officer-in-charge Undersecretary Hans Leo Cacdac said the death of Ople in August had the biggest impact on the youngest government agency.
The DMW, however, is undeterred and will continue the legacy of Ople, who was a staunch advocate of overseas Filipino workers’ (OFWs) rights.
“We confronted and hurdled the many challenges we faced in 2023 on a somber note with the passing of our dear secretary and were fully determined to carry on with her legacy as we’ve already started to do in 2023 fully determined to carry on with her legacy in 2024,” Cacdac said.
Ople founded the Blas Ople Policy Center (BOPC), named after his father who was a former Senate president and Labor minister, and established the One Repatriation Command Center in 2022 for faster government assistance for distressed OFWs.
To help safeguard the jobs of Filipino seafarers, the DMW forged international cooperations to enhance the global competitiveness of Filipino workers.
The DMW agreed to a continuing partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for safe and fair labor mobility and climate change resilience for OFW families and with the United Nations on the Defense of Philippine Compliance with the UN Convention on Migrant Workers or “Revalida”.
To sustain the continuous increase in the number of issued Overseas Employment Certificates (OECs), the DMW has 38 pending bilateral labor agreements and Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with 25 countries. Of these, 18 are from Europe and the United States, 16 from the Middle East and Africa, and four from Asia and the Pacific.
In December 2023, the DMW launched its Japan desk to ensure the continuous protection of OFWs in Japan.
Meanwhile, bilateral agreements were also signed with Austria, which has a current vacancy of about 200,000 posts for foreign workers.
OFWs trapped in crisis situations in Sudan, Turkey, Kuwait, Syria, and Lebanon were repatriated and received assistance.
Cacdac said the DMW is continuously helping the Saudi claimants with their concerns while continuing its efforts to further enhance the labor and reform initiatives in the Middle East.
The DMW is in communication with Overseas Filipino (OF) Bank to help Saudi claimants to receive the checks.
“We’re keeping our expectations modest and cautiously optimistic at this stage kasi yun nga hindi pa natin nakikita yung release ng (because we have not seen the release of) claims, the checks are yet to be encashed, and number two, hindi pa lahat ay nakausap or may communication na (they have not talked or communicates with everyone yet) so the coordination and discussion with our Saudi counterparts continuous,” Cacdac said.
Aware of the difficulties faced by OFWs in securing their OECs, the DMW Mobile App and OFW Pass were launched in July for convenient and tamper-proof transactions.
The agency also formulated a reintegration program to provide returning OFWs and their families livelihood assistance, educational scholarships, and training on financial literacy, entrepreneurial development, and techno-skills.
Cacdac said DWM is committed to implementing the program in full swing in 2024.
DMW also intensified its anti-illegal recruitment and anti-human trafficking programs to protect those planning and dreaming of working abroad from scammers.
It has assisted 382 human trafficking victims from Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar; 372 illegal recruitment victims in Italy, launched 105 surveillance operations and implemented six closure orders against consultancy firms offering fake jobs abroad; took down 7,442 illegal recruitment posts on Facebook, and filed 12 illegal recruitment criminal cases.
It also established and used the Agarang Kalinga at Saklolo para sa mga OFW na Nangangailangan (AKSYON) Fund to help victims of trafficking and other forms of exploitation.
In June, the DMW issued simplified and balanced rules and regulations on the hiring of land-based OFWs to protect their rights.
The new rules provide 20 cardinal sins that may lead to the cancellation of a recruitment agency’s license, including acts of graft and corruption, attempts to bribe DMW officials and personnel, and the recruitment and deployment of minors and underaged workers.
It also requires licensed recruitment agencies to employ a full-time and trained Welfare Desk Officer who will monitor and assist in resolving problems and complaints at job sites.
In the same month, the agency also held and facilitated the first-ever Seafarers Jobs Fair.
In June, the DMW signed an MOU with the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development and the Pag-IBIG Fund for socialized housing for OFWs to help them realize their dream of having their own home.
The DMW also continued to strengthen its International Cooperation and Labor Diplomacy with countries where there are a majority number of OFWs to enhance safe and fair labor mobility and strengthen bilateral relations.
Accomplishments in numbers
For 2023, the DMW issued 2.4 million OECs as of Dec. 28, reflecting an increase of 18 percent from 2022.
Data from the Maritime Research and Skills Development showed that 85 percent of seafarers-trainees found employment a year after completion of training, which is up by 7 percentage points from 2022.
In terms of emergency responses, the DMW helped 7,205 OFWs during the Jan. 1 NAIA Emergency after a power outage caused air traffic mess leading to cancellations of flights, assisted 87 OFWs during the Türkiye earthquake, and repatriated and provided post-arrival assistance to 555 OFWs affected by the Israel-Hamas conflict and 731 OFWs and their dependents displaced by the Sudan conflict.
The agency helped 382 human trafficking victims from Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar; and 372 illegal recruitment victims in Italy; conducted 105 surveillance operations and implemented six closure orders; was able to take down 7,442 illegal recruitment posts on Facebook; and had 12 agencies convicted for illegal recruitment.
A total of 17,624 or 70 percent of repatriation requests by OFWs and their families were resolved through the One-Repatriation Command Center, while an average of 1,000 distressed OFWs reunite with their families monthly.
To date, the DMW has utilized PHP529 million from its Aksyon Fund for the legal assistance of 2,727 OFWs facing various charges abroad; welfare and humanitarian assistance of 24,258 OFWs; and the shipment of remains of 910 OFWs who died abroad.
Under its legal assistance and conciliation, the DMW reported that 17,886 OFWs have been provided with legal assistance, while 4,023 conciliation cases were settled with PHP219.615 million in monetary benefits.
For 2024, the DMW plans to implement a rights-based approach to migration policy and governance; enhance the digitalization for OFW convenience in documentation through the OFW Pass; push for safe and fair labor mobility markets; and continue implementation of the Aksyon Fund.
The DMW also seeks to increase closures of illegal recruiters and prosecute them; strengthen its Anti-Investment Scam Campaign; forge more bilateral labor agreements; and establish more Migrant Workers’ Offices and regional offices. (PNA)