Experts

Align OFWs’ repatriation with PH economic plans – experts

In the 2016 elections, Duterte received overwhelming support from OFWs – majority of whom voted for him on his promise to make working abroad an option instead of a necessity.

Published 1:00 PM, September 03, 2017

Updated 1:00 PM, September 03, 2017

JOB SEARCH. OFWs search for jobs online inside POEA.Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Integrate the repatriation of oveseas Filipino workers (OFWs) with the country’s economic plans.

Labor officials and advocates aired this sentiment on Friday, September 1 during a roundtable discussion that tackled issues affecting OFWs, as well as President Rodrigo Duterte’s migration policy. (READ: How can we ensure onsite protection for OFWs?)

“Reintegration should not be taken in a vacuum or in isolation, but should be plugged into national economic strategies,” said Attorney Hands Cacdac, Administrator of the Overseas Worker and Welfare Administration (OWWA).

In the 2016 elections, Duterte received overwhelming support from OFWs – majority of whom voted for him on his promise to make working abroad an option instead of a necessity.

During the discussion, panelists pointed out that a driving force of OFWs’ migration is the continued lack of decent job opportunites in the Philippines. Aligning the country’s economic plans with the repatration of OFWs may be one way to give returning Filipinos with a viable option to return and stay home. (READ: How the Duterte Administration plans to bring OFWs back home)

Levinson Alcantara, Director of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), echoed this and shared that the migration of Filipino workers took part of the National Economic and Development Authority’s (NEDA) Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022, which aims to generate some 10 million jobs by the end of Duterte’s term in 2022.

“Migration and development, pre-deployment and on-site protection, return (of OFWs) – these things are on the medium term of (PDP 2017-2022) and it is a sign that we are gearing towards not only temporary labor migration but plotting actually our (country’s) development and maximizing the benefits of labor migration to feed it into the national mainstream of development,” said Alcantara.

COMING HOME. CMA Executive Director Ellene Sana and Unlad Kabayan Executive Director Maria Angela Villalba discuss long-term solutions to repatriating OFWs. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

COMING HOME. CMA Executive Director Ellene Sana and Unlad Kabayan Executive Director Maria Angela Villalba discuss long-term solutions to repatriating OFWs. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

Translate to action

While the creation decent and sustainable job opportunities is necessesary in keeping OFWs who return to the Philippines home, Maria Villalba, Executive Director of Unlad Kabayan, said these proposals must be able to translate to action.

“At a policy level and at the level of national bodies, the programs and proposals are good. The question is, how is this translated to the families of migrant workers on a very practical level, to those on who are really on the ground?,” Villalba said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Ellene Sana, Exectuive Director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy, also said that while the issue of creating stable and decent work for Filipinos at home is not new, it remains essential to long-term solutions in ensuring that migration becomes a choice for Filipinos, instead of a necessity.

“We always ask the question, ano ba yung long term solution kasi ang gusto natin, may option ang manggawa natin, to stay (in the Philippines) or to go abroad,” said Sana.

(We always ask that question: what are the long term solutions? Because what we want is for workers to have option to stay (in the Philippines) or to go abroad.)

She added, “Inadmit naman ng ating gobyerno kaya nasa point number 4 ng 8-point agenda ni [Labor] Sec. [Silvestre] Bello – to create these job opportunities in the country so that migration will not be out of complusion. Sinabi na rin yan ng mga previous administration but I think it’s very serious so we do not say stop migration pero bigyan mo ng option na dito ang desenteng trabaho para sa mga kalalakihan at kababaihan.”

(The government admitted this, that’s why it’s point number 4 of (Labor Secretary Silvestre) Bello – to create these job opportunities in the country so that migration will not be out of complusion. Previous administrations have also said this but I think it’s very serious. So we do not say, “stop migration” but give an option that there is decent work for men and women here)

Villalba also pointed out that specific and concrete actions must be spelled out. “If we don’t talk about the basics and nitty gritty, we will just be talking and saying “come home Filipinos from abroad” without much to offer even at the policy level and strategies.”

Lack of access

Also part of the problem is the OFW’s lack of access to government support when they start new jobs.

“We have had migrants workers – groups of migrant workers who have come home and started their own businesses… These business have been sustainable: an integrated farm, investments in a rice mill, etc., and it’s very sad to say that they’ve been applying for support from OWWA and until now, they haven’t received support. This has been going on for years, they already went through two OWWA heads)” said Villabala in a mix of English and Filipino.

Cacdac also said that the government’s reintegration programs should be connected to employment generating activities job options for returning OFWs and that these should be aligned with the interests of various government agencies.

“We will have to make sure that all the business that are in the menu of options for our workers are aligned with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Agriculture, NEDA, and the Department of Labor and Employment and are those where the chances of success in reintegrating workers are very high,” Cacdac said.

He added, “We will not an encourage an OFW who comes home to get into a business that will not be successful in the local or international market anyway.”

ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION. Representative from different government agencies and NGOs discussed some of the issues OFWs face. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION. Representative from different government agencies and NGOs discussed some of the issues OFWs face. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

‘Change the narrative’

Meanwhile, Sana and Villalba also proposed that a change in narrative of the labor migration can help OFWs empower themselves to not only return home, but also actively protect their rights and interests.

“We need to change the narrative of labor migtration. It can’t always be the perspective that “we’re unfortunate, there is no work and so we leave.” I think we need to hear more employers saying “we value the work of Filipino migrants.” Engineer or domestic worker, they are doing important work,” Sana said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Villalba added, “Hindi lang sila victims (they’re not just victims) and they’re not just clients but they should be empowered to be part of the planning, part of the implementation of all this.”

#OFWRights Duterte’s Migration Policy is roundatble discussion organized by Rappler, the Center for Migrant Advocacy, and the Working Group on Migration from the Department of Political Science at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Hosted by freelance journalist Ana Santos, the panel discussion tackled issues affecting OFWs including streamlining government offices, expansion of benefits, long-term solutions, and onsite protection. –Rappler.com

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