Gov't to put up more offices to screen OFW employers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 25) — The Philippine government plans to establish four offices tasked to screen potential employers of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to prevent human trafficking.

Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Undersecretary Bernard Olalia said officials are now finalizing the locations as well as building the teams for four migrant workers offices (MWO).

"Inaayos na lang po 'yung lugar, opisina, personnel. Naghahanap na tayo ng labor attache," he added during a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

[Translation: We're just fixing the place, office, personnel. We are looking for a labor attache.]

An MWO is the department's operating arm in several host countries, serving to screen potential employers of OFWs.

He noted that there is no MWO in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia.

Olalia said the DMW seeks to make the planned offices operational as soon as possible, but Senators Raffy Tulfo and Risa Hontiveros pressed the official to provide a specific timeline.

In response, Department of Foreign Affairs Usec. Eduardo de Vega said the opening of these offices is possible within a month.

De Vega said the DMW might need more funds to put up MWOs in more countries.

This plan was floated as the DMW admitted there was no MWO in Cambodia, where Filipinos were being lured into working as crypto scammers.

READ: Hontiveros: Filipinos lured to work as crypto scammers in Cambodia

DFA to transfer legal cases involving OFWs to DMW

Meanwhile, with the DMW fully operational, the DFA will turn over cases for legal and other forms of assistance involving OFWs to the new agency.

At the hearing of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, DMW Undersecretary Hans Cacdac said the agency aims to complete the turnover of cases involving OFWs from the DFA by March 31.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Paul Cortes said a joint memorandum circular would be released by the DFA and DMW soon outlining the mandate and tasks of each agency when it comes to extending assistance to Filipinos overseas.

"Mahirap din kasing gumastos ng ATN (assistance to nationals) fund for migrant workers kung walang legal basis. Ayaw nating ma-COA. That’s why we’re talking about this joint circular. Basis 'yan ng DFA to spend on migrant workers," he said.

[Translation: It is also difficult to spend the ATN (assistance to nationals) fund for migrant workers if there is no legal basis. We don't want to (be cited by) COA. That's why we're talking about this joint circular. That is the basis of DFA to spend on migrant workers.]

The DFA currently has two funds for helping Filipinos overseas. The Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) is used for expenses related to pursuing legal action on Filipinos’ behalf, such as hiring of lawyers, and payment of bail bonds and court fees. The Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Fund, meanwhile, covers costs related to repatriation, shipment of remains, providing welfare and medical aid, rental of shelters, and payment of immigration penalties.

For 2023, DFA has a ₱1-billion ATN fund and ₱259-million LAF.

DMW, meanwhile, has a ₱1.2 billion AKSYON fund for 2023. It will be used to provide legal and medical assistance to distressed OFWs around the world.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.