Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople has expressed confidence and optimism that she would be working with a “dream team dedicated to wholeheartedly serve” the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Meanwhile, a House leader pushed for the passage of a measure seeking to save the OFWs over P95 billion in remittance fees.
Ople made the remarks in her speech during the oath-taking ceremony for 11 new DMW officials consisting of “new faces and seasoned government officials. The event was held on Monday at the Patricia Sto. Tomas (PST) Hall in Ortigas, Mandaluyong City.
Ople described her team as “a mix of seasoned government officials and new faces who share a commitment to serve our OFWs”.
“I’m looking for someone who has clean and pure intentions for our OFWs. What I’m looking for is someone who can take responsibility for every decision, draw every ounce of patience, and have the heart to serve every OFW – even the undocumented,” Ople said.
Laywers Bernard Olalia and Hans Leo Cacdac, who have previously served as heads Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), respectively, were designated as DMW undersecretaries. Olalia will head the licensing and adjudication services, while the latter will be chief of welfare and foreign employment services.
“This mix of familiar faces and new names reflect our desire for continuity and innovation. The DMW’s “dream team” is now in place, and we vow to serve our OFWs faithfully and with the utmost professionalism,” Ople said in a press statement.
The DMW has also appointed Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones as as Undersecretary for finance and internal affairs, while lawyer Patricia Yvonne Caunan was named Undersecretary for Policy and International Cooperation.
Also appointed at DMW assistant secretaries were Jerome Alcantara for Land-based services and concurrent chief of staff, Levinson Alcantara for pre-employment services, Felicitas Bay for migrant workers welfare services, Francis Ron de Guzman for licensing and adjudication services, Jerome Pampolina for sea-based services, and Violeta Illescas for internal management and administration.
In a press briefing, Olalia disclosed that the application for the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) will be digitized, replacing the existing manual process which requires the applicants to secure a hard copy of the document.
Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales Jr. filed House Bill 185, tagged as OFWs Remittance Protection Act, which provides a 50-percent reduction in remittance cost.
“We hope we could enact it this time around for the sake of our 2.3 million OFWs and their families,” Gonzales said.
Citing a March 2022 World Bank monitoring report, Gonzales, who represents Pampanga’s third district, said the cost of global remittances coursed through banks averaged 10.94 percent of the amount remitted.
“That means our OFWs paid $3.44 billion in fees on the $31.4 billion they sent to home to their families last year. Had the bill been enacted, it would have saved our workers $1.72 billion or P95.67 billion at the exchange rate of P55.70 to one US dollar,” he said.
“That is P95.67 billion in extra money going to OFW families, instead of that huge amount accruing to banks that are raking in tens of billions in profits. Let us choose to help our OFWs and their families, rather than make bank owners richer,” he said.
Gonzales pointed that if P95.67 billion were divided equally among 2.3 million OFW families, each would have received an additional P41,600.
He added that banks would still have earned $1.72 billion.
Under HB 185, banks and non-bank financial intermediaries could claim the 50-percent remittance discount for OFWs as an expense deductible from their gross income.
They would be prohibited from increasing their fees without prior consultation with the Department of Finance (DOF), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the POEA.
These remittance establishments would also be required to post in conspicuous places in their premises the prevailing foreign exchange rate to be used in converting OFW remittances into Philippine pesos.
The proposed law enumerates several prohibited acts, including misuse of remittances received in trust by banks and non-bank financial intermediaries, taking or converting remittances without the consent
of the OFW or his beneficiary, failure to post the exchange rate, and failure to coordinate with the DOF, BSP and POEA in adjusting fees.
It imposes penalties for violations, ranging from a prison term of two years to 10 years and a fine of P6,000 to P750,000, in addition to sanctions the BSP may impose on erring banks and non-bank financial
The bill also calls for mandatory financial education for OFWs and their families to be provided by the DOF, BSP and POEA.
The bill has been referred to the House committee on overseas workers’ affairs.
It has been approved by the House on third and final in December 2020 during the 18th Congress, but the Senate failed to pass it. With Chelsea Din