By Charissa Luci-Atienza, April 10 2019; Manila Bulletin

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The bill calling for the creation of the Office for Social Welfare Attaché to assist overseas Filipinos, especially those who are maltreated, abandoned, and abused, has been transmitted to the Malacañang for President Duterte’s signature.

House Bill 8908, which was adopted by the Senate on February 6, 2019, was transmitted to the Palace on March 20, 2019, according to the records of the House Bills and Index Service.

The bill seeks to amend Republic Act (RA) No. 8042, otherwise known as the “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995”, as amended. It calls for the deployment of social welfare attachés in countries with large concentration of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

It is principally authored by Deputy Speaker and Bulacan Rep. Linabelle Ruth Villarica and Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano.

Alejano and Villarica pushed for the enactment of the bill into law, citing the need to provide adequate and timely social, economic, and legal services to Filipino migrant workers, especially for workers who are vulnerable to physical, emotional, and psychological stress or abuse.

“The deployment of social welfare ambassadors will go a long way in safeguarding the well-being of our workers abroad and giving them immediate aid,” Alejano said.

While, noting that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has been deploying social workers in countries with high concentration of OFWs since 2002, he laments that there is not enough Social Welfare Attachés under the employ of the government to cater to the number of OFWs deployed around the world.

“The bill seeks to institutionalize social welfare attaches, who help these OFWs, as a permanent component of the country’s foreign posts,” Villarica said.

Under the measure, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is mandated to deploy social welfare attachés in countries with large concentration of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), as determined in coordination with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

The Social Welfare Attaché shall possess the minimum qualifications set by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the preferred qualifications prescribed by the DSWD.

The Social Welfare Attaché shall perform the following functions and duties at the overseas post: manage cases of OFWs and other overseas Filipinos in distress needing psychological services, such as victims of trafficking or illegal recruitment, rape or sexual abuse, maltreatment and other forms of physical or mental abuse, and cases of abandoned or neglected children; undertake surveys and prepare official social welfare situationers on the OFWs in the area of assignment; establish a network with overseas-based social welfare agencies and/or individuals and groups which may be mobilized to assist in the provision of appropriate social services; respond to and monitor the resolution of problems and complaints or queries of OFWs and their families; and submit regular reports to the DSWD and DFA home office on plans and activities undertaken, recommendations, and updates on the situation of OFWs particularly those encountering difficulties in the host country. Such report shall form part of the semi-annual report to Congress as provided under Section 33 of RA 8042, as amended.

Under the bill, the Social Welfare Attaché shall also establish and maintain a data bank and documentation of OFWs and their families so that appropriate social welfare services can be more effectively provided; provide information about the DSWD and its attached agencies and services; and perform other related function in the delivery of social services as may be directed by the head of the diplomatic post in the area of assignment.

The DSWD Secretary shall include in her agency’s programs the implementation of the Act, the funding of which shall be included in the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).

The DSWD, in consultation with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and other relevant stakeholders, shall within 60 days after the effectivity of the Act, formulate the necessary rules and regulations for its effective implementation.

The DSWD shall also provide the criteria for determining the selection of Diplomatic Posts to which Social Welfare Attaches will be deployed and the minimum qualifications and attributes of the Social Welfare Attaches.

Other authors of the HB 8908 are Reps. Jesulito Manalo, Rolando Andaya Jr., Micaela Violago, Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales Jr., Francisco Datol Jr., Fernando Gonzalez, Rosanna “Ria” Vergara, Josephine Sato, Jose Tejada, Federico “Ricky” Sandoval II, Michael John Duavit, Carlos Cojuangco, Celso Lobregat, Mark Aeron Sambar, and Isagani Amatong.

The Senate counterpart measure – Senate Bill 1819 – is authored by Senators Joel Villanueva, Loren Legarda, Sonny Angara, and Sherwin Gatchalian.