Perhaps no other candidate in the last presidential elections has successfully made a stronger impact on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) than Rodrigo Duterte. During the campaign period, he has promised that the welfare of OFWs will be among his top priorities if he wins.
After 100 days of sitting in office, it can be said that President Duterte was true to his word. His administration has achieved a lot in such a short span of time!
1. Reducing the red tape.
During a rally in May, Duterte said that he will streamline government process for OFWs. The reason? He said he “hated to see Filipinos lining up and waiting.”
Fast forward to his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), Duterte announced his plan to create a separate department for OFWs and has instructed Silvestre Bello III, Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), to establish a one-stop shop for OFWs.
The country’s first one-stop shop for OFWs was eventually launched in August by DOLE and the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) in the POEA building in Mandaluyong. In the said office, OFWs will be able to avail of various services while saving time and transportation expenses at the same time.
More one-stop shops are soon to open across the country.
2. Faster processing of documents, longer passport validity.
After a week of being President, Duterte’s first order to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was, according to Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr, to “make sure that our overseas Filipino workers’ needs and problems are specially and adequately addressed.” Duterte likewise instructed the Congress to stretch the passport’s validity to up to 10 years.
In August 15, Martin Andanar, head of the Presidential Communications Office (PCO), said that the government has started issuing new passports with additional security features. Issuance has also become faster by 35%.
On top of that, two resolutions were passed by POEA to increase the speed of OFW document processing namely the removal of the overseas employment certificate (OEC) and the online registration for seafarers.
Come the first week of October, the Senate committee on foreign relations has also begun studying the proposal of extend passport validity.
3. Fight against human trafficking and illegal recruitment.
Duterte’s first SONA also touched on the government’s battle against human traffickers and illegal recruiters – problems that have long-plagued OFWs.
In response, the POEA has since endorsed 35 cases for preliminary investigations which involve a total of 59 victims from January to August 2016 to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
17 establishments have likewise been closed for illegal recruitment activities.
4. Ongoing aid for repatriates.
One of the biggest challenges that Duterte immediately encountered was with the OFWs in Saudi Arabia getting affected by the global oil crisis. Thousands have since been stranded and unpaid by their respective employers.
The DFA immediately went to work and formed a Rapid Response Team (RRT) to assist Filipinos stranded in Saudi Arabia work camps. The RRT delivered humanitarian assistance to the effected OFWs and communicated their concerns to the companies and the Saudi government.
OWWA, on the other hand, has given financial aid amounting to Php 20,000.00 each and Php 6,000.00 for their families as part of their Relief Assistance Program (RAP).
In August 12, Duterte formally ordered a “forced repatriation” for the stranded OFWs, said Secretary Bello who pointed out that a total of Php 249 million has been allocated by the President for the repatriation.
In August 31, Duterte greeted 128 of these repatriated OFWs upon their arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
In October, DOLE;s first 100 days report said that 1,392 OFWs have been repatriated and that 16,509 distressed OFWs and their families have been beneficiaries of RAP.