SENATE Minority Leader Franklin Drilon vowed to oppose any move that will expose the use of around P19 billion overseas Filipino workers’ trust fund to the “sticky hands of politicians”.
At the Senate Committee on Labor and Employment’s hearing on the proposal to create the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers on Tuesday, Drilon wondered why there’s an apparent change of heart in the position of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), which is previously opposed to the proposal. It will be noted that in the 17th Congress, the DOLE opposed the creation of a separate Department of OFWs.
“Does the plan to create a separate Department of Overseas Filipino Workers have anything to do with the disposition of the P19 billion trust fund?” he asked.
It was raised that the trust fund containing around P19.4 billion, which comes from the contribution of OFWs, is lodged under the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). The fund, which is used is used to provide assistance to OFWs, is currently administered by the Board of Trustees. Aside from heads of relevant agencies as well as the departments of Finance and Budget and Management, representatives from the various labor sectors are also included as members of the Board of Trustees.
The trust fund is expected to grow to P40 billion in the next 10 years, he noted.
The OWWA fund is a trust fund. It provides for a fund similar to the state insurance under the Social Security System and the Government Service Insurance System, where OFWs can look into for purposes of assistance, he explained.
Drilon expressed his concern that creating a separate department would open the use of trust fund to the hands of politicians.
“Whoever will have control of this department being proposed to be created will have in his control P40-B in 10 years time. It is even beyond the scrutiny of Congress, because the Congress delegated to the Board of Trustees the disposition of these public funds contributed by OFWs,” he said.
The chair of the committee, Sen. Joel Villanueva, and Sen. Nancy Binay also grilled the labor department for changing its position.
“What has changed? For the longest time, the mindset is not to create a separate department for OFWs,” Drilon asked.
The labor officials present during the hearing, Undersecretaries Ciriaco A. Lagunzad III and Jacinto Paras, could not provide definite reasons to justify the need to create an OFW department nor the sudden change in its position.
Paras pointed out that the bill will eliminate excess fats in the labor department and address duplicating functions and pointed to the Commission on Overseas Filipinos as an example.
Drilon grilled Paras over his statements and asked the undersecretary to submit a report on his answer and indicate functions that are duplicating each other.
“You are caught with your erroneous rationalization. I still do not see the point in creating the department,” said Drilon, as he clarified that he is for the promotion of the welfare of millions of OFWs. “We can improve the current setup to address the challenges confronting our OFWs.”
In the past Congresses, Drilon authored the Overseas Absentee Voting Act and the Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act.
A former labor secretary, Drilon also took exception to statements that the labor department failed to act on concerns of millions of OFWs.
“By creating a new department, the inevitable conclusion is the DOLE is lacking the abilities to protect the OFWs, which I don’t agree. Alam ko po ang capability ng ating bureaucracy sa DOLE. I take exception to that. I will defend the DOLE insofar as their ability to discharge their duties in protecting our OFWs is concerned,” Drilon told Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipinos Abdullah Mama-o.
Drilon also said that the creation of a separate department would be a recognition of the failure of the government to bring back overseas Filipinos and provide them job opportunities in their own country.