MANILA – Officials of different clusters of the Duterte Cabinet have reassured the government’s full support for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

At the pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2018 forum on Wednesday, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello said the government has done a lot to help OFWs since President Rodrigo Duterte took his oath of office in mid-2016.

Bello said the Duterte administration has established at least 17 One-Stop Shop Service Centers where OFWs can avail of government services.

In his accomplishment report, Participatory Governance Cluster (PGC) co-chair Benjamin Diokno said 1.22 million OFWs have been assisted by One-Stop Shop Service Centers.

Bello said the first-ever OFW Bank has also been created to respond to the financial needs of Filipino migrant workers and their families.

“We have also put up hotline 1349 where all request of the OFWs will have to be acted upon in 72 hours,” he said.

Bello also mentioned the iDOLE OFW ID Card that can serve as Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) of the OFWs.

“This is free of charge for our OFWs. That’s unprecedented because that’s what the President wanted to give to our OFWs,” the labor chief said.

Recently, Bello said the Kuwaiti and Philippine governments, through Duterte’s request, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that provides protection to more than 250,000 OFWs in the Gulf state.

“Right now the cellphones of our OFWs in Kuwait cannot be confiscated by their employers while they have now specific eight hours of works and enough sleeping hours and other benefits,” he said.

He said at least 13,000 OFWs were stranded in Saudi Arabia when Duterte came into office but through the President’s intervention, and with the help of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, “we were able to bring them home.”

“Through our integration programs, when they (OFWs) came home, they were given financial assistance and livelihood worth PHP20,000,” Bello said.

Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Manny Piñol also said his department and DOLE have put up a program, under which, OFWs could apply for loans to start business in food production.

For the past two years, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has been providing livelihood and entrepreneurship training courses and seminars for returning OFWs. 

On the other hand, Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones informed the audience about the DOLE-initiated program called “Sa Pinas Maam at Sir Ka”.

“Those principals and teachers working abroad, we encouraged them to come back and apply again because our salaries for teachers are now higher or equal to what they have been getting abroad,” Briones said.

Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Officer-in-Charge Prospero de Vera III, for his part, said the Philippine government has been coordinating with different education ministries abroad to provide mutual recognition degrees for OFWs.

Recently, de Vera said Duterte has signed Republic Act No. 11035 or the Balik Scientists Law that seeks to provide incentives to Filipino scientists to entice them to return home and fill in the gaps in scientific and technological expertise in the country.

“We have done a lot of programs and projects and we intend to do more for our OFWs in the coming years,” Bello said.

The forum, themed “Tatak ng Malasakit”, is the second of the three-part pre-SONA 2018 Forum prepared by the Office of Cabinet Secretary and the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).

It aims to inform the public about key policies, programs and initiatives implemented by each Cabinet cluster during the second year of the Duterte administration.

The third and last part of the forum, entitled “Tatak ng Katatagan”, will be held on July 18, six days before Duterte’s third SONA, which he said will be finished in not more than 35 minutes.  (PNA)