House panel tackles bills to protect, improve OFWs' remittances

By Zaldy De Layola and Jose Cielito Reganit

October 13, 2022, 4:54 pm

<p><em>(File photo)</em></p>

(File photo)

MANILA – The House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs gained good momentum in the initial deliberations on Thursday of House Bills 185, 1190, 2944, 3020, 4170, 4257, 4343, 4397 and 4469 -- all seeking to protect the remittances of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Kabayan party-list Representative Ron Salo noted that these measures seek a 50-percent discount on remittance fees, which would eventually be granted as tax deductions for the service providers.

Tarlac 2nd District Rep. Christian Tell Yap, author of HB 1190, raised that there are OFWs not informed by service providers about certain money-transfer fees and charges when sending money to their families.

Yap said his proposal would require intermediary financial institutions to actively disclose their service fees, thereby ensuring compliance with proper and just practices under the law.

Citing the OFWs’ high contribution to the Philippine economy through remittances, Yap said the bill could help protect the financial welfare of OFWs, as well as sustain the country’s economic growth.

For his part, Rep. Antonio Legarda Jr. of the lone district of Antique, author of HB 3020, said the bill would prohibit any fees imposed without prior consultation with the Department of Finance and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

The committee approved the consolidation of the nine bills, as well as the consideration of position papers to be submitted by concerned agencies and organizations in crafting the substitute bill.

Meanwhile, lawmakers also tackled HBs 365, 1188, and 3378, establishing a credit assistance program for OFWs.

In her sponsorship speech for HB 3378, Cavite 2nd District Rep. Lani Mercado-Revilla noted that the measure would allow prospective OFWs with a valid contract certified by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to apply for a loan of up to PHP50,000 from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

This, she said, is to cover the living expenses of their families at the start of employment, and other expenses incurred during pre-employment.

The panel likewise approved the consolidation of these measures.

Financial literacy

Valenzuela City 1st District Rep. Rex Gatchalian, author of HB 4379, emphasized the need to promote the economic well-being of OFWs and their families by teaching them how to protect their hard-earned money through financial literacy.

“Our OFWs are called modern-day heroes because they contribute to the economic growth of our country through their remittances and, most importantly, their personal sacrifices to give their family a comfortable life despite fighting homesickness,” Gatchalian said in a statement on Thursday.

Recent data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that about 2.3 million OFWs are working abroad who, according to the central bank, sent USD3.06 billion in personal remittances in June 2022, up 4.4 percent from the USD2.94 billion in the same month last year.

“Unfortunately, despite their sacrifices that contributed a lot to our national economy, the OFWs are still facing economic struggles,” Gatchalian said.

He pointed out that among the issues faced by OFWs that hamper their economic growth are "usurious rates and exorbitant fees" charged by financial intermediaries that deplete the value of their remittances, the lack of educational and financial literacy for OFWs and their families, and the lack of source of livelihood after their overseas employment.

“House Bill 4379 aims to address these concerns by providing discounts for remittance services rendered by financial institutions to OFWs and providing financial education programs for OFWs and their families to ensure a source of livelihood even after their deployment,” he said.

Under Gatchalian’s proposed measure, bank and non-bank financial intermediaries may impose remittance fees “subject to a 50-percent discount.”

All financial intermediaries offering remittance services are also mandated to post the Philippine peso equivalent of the foreign currencies being transacted in a conspicuous place within the establishment’s premises.

They are likewise prohibited from raising their current remittance fees without prior consultation with the Department of Finance (DOF), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

Other prohibited acts under the measure are misappropriation or conversion of foreign exchange remittances; taking of foreign exchange remittances without the consent of the OFW or beneficiary, and the imposition of remittance fees more than those prescribed by the measure.

“At the same time, the DOF, together with the BSP, POEA, and other concerned agencies, shall ensure that a mandatory financial education program will be provided to OFWs and their families to help ensure a source of livelihood even after their overseas employment,” Gatchalian said.

The program shall include instructions on financial management, budgeting, investment options, and similar topics, which shall educate the OFWs and their families in the handling of their earnings and remittances.

“The passage of this measure is a big step towards protecting the hard-earned money of our OFWs, while at the same time ensuring that they will have a source of livelihood even when they return home,” he said. “Thus, we earnestly urge for its immediate passage.” (PNA)