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Creation of Department of Migrant Workers almost a done deal

16 December 2021

By Daisy CL Mandap

OFWs stranded at Bangkok Airport at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic early this year

It looks like the much-talked about Department of Migrant Workers will be in place in time for next year’s presidential election.

This emerged after the Senate unanimously approved on third and final reading on Tuesday the bill creating a separate department to handle all concerns related to overseas Filipino workers.

A migrants rights advocate who took part in the long deliberations on the bill said President Rodrigo R. Duterte is expected to sign the measure shortly. 


“It will be signed in a matter of days as PRRD’s offering to OFWs,” she said.

Senate Bill 2234 was passed with all 20 senators sitting in five different committees giving it their approval. Once signed into law, a Transition Committee will formulate its implementing rules and regulations within 60 days, and then promulgate the same within 75 days.

This means that even if the bill is signed within the month, it could be implemented only in March at the earliest.


The creation of a separate department that focuses primarily on OFW concerns was one of the campaign promises of President Duterte.

The new department will take over the functions of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and six other government units, including the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs, currently under the Department of Foreign Affairs.

All Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (Polo) currently under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will be replaced with Migrant Workers Offices (MWO) at all government posts abroad, while the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration will be an attached agency.


In a speech after the Senate’s plenary vote, Senator Joel Villanueva who sponsored the bill as chairman of the Senate labor committee, said the new department will serve as “a dedicated service arm” for 10 million OFWs, who account for 10% of the population and 12% of the national income.

 “This moment is for every Filipino abroad who has sacrificed so much for their family and our beloved country,” he said.

Villanueva also maintained that the department, while servicing the needs of OFWs, would still uphold the state policy of not promoting the employment of Filipinos overseas.


 “Naniniwala po tayo na balang-araw—at hindi po tayo mawawalan ng pag-asa—na darating ang panahong hindi na kailangang mag-abroad ng Pilipino at mawalay sa kanyang pamilya para lang mabuhay,” Villanueva said. (We believe that someday, and we do not lose hope, that time will come when Filipinos will no longer have to go abroad and be separated from their loved ones just to earn a living).

But a prominent OFW leader in Hong Kong disagreed with this view, saying the new department is unnecessary and will only serve to strengthen what he says is the government’s labor export policy.

Villanueva says the new department will only promote the government's labor export policy

Eman Villanueva, chairman of Bayan Hong Kong and Macau chapter, said the DMW is not the answer to the problems currently faced by OFWs. Its creation would only result in greater bureaucracy, red tape and corruption, he said.

Ang DMW ay naglalayong pabilisin ang proseso ng labor export at koleksyon ng iba’t-ibang bayarin na sinisingil sa mga OFWs. Gagawin lamang nitong mas sistematiko ang pangungulekta sa ngalan ng “convenience” para kuno sa nga nagpo-prosesong OFWs. Ganito din naman ang inilakong “improvement” ng DoLE at POEA nang ginawa ang mala one-stop shop na proseso sa POEA,” he said.

Pindutin para sa detalye

(The DMW will only speed up the labor export process and collection of different fees from OFWs. It will only systematize the exactions in the name of so-called convenience for OFWs processing their documents. This was exactly the ‘improvement’ promised by DoLE and POEA when they initiated the one-stop shop processing at POEA).

Villanueva said the DFA should just be allowed to deal with matters affecting all Filipinos abroad, as what other countries who send workers overseas do.

Originally, the Senate proposed to create a Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos, but this was later amended to exclude non-OFWs during deliberations on the floor.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon suggested the amendment in order to limit the new department’s role to overseas employment and labor migration, with the DFA continuing with its task of looking after other Filipinos abroad.

Thus, all consulates and embassies abroad will retain their assistance to nationals section, and work with MWOs in promoting the interests of OFWs through bilateral and multilateral agreements with host governments.

Apart from OUMWA and POLOs, the other agencies whose functions will be subsumed by the DMW include: 

1) International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) under DoLE 

2) National Reintegration Center for OFWs under OWWA

3) National Maritime Polytechnic (NMP) under DoLE 

4) International Social Services Office (ISSO) under the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)

Among the DMW’s functions is to regulate the recruitment, employment and deployment of OFWs, formulate national plans and policies that will ensure the protection of OFWs and their effective reintegration on their return home, provide skills training to overseas workers in cooperation with the various educational bodies and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and establish a 24/7 emergency response unit that will assist OFWs and their families who need immediate help.

A key feature of the bill is the mandatory review after five years of its viability, with stakeholders including OFWs, workers organizations, employers and civil society being consulted by a Reorganization Commission to be set up by the new president.

The Commission will be tasked to recommend the reorganization, consolidation or even abolition of the DMW “should circumstances prove that there is no more need for its existence.”

Thereafter, there will be a similar evaluation of the Department’s tasks and performance to be conducted every five years. 

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