The Philippines is one of the very few countries, if not the only one, that has government agencies that look after its citizens working beyond its jurisdiction. From their recruitment and deployment (POEA) to their well-being and assistance in case of labor disputes or security concerns (OWWA), the Philippine government has at least tried to ensure that Filipino citizens are in good shape while they fulfill their tour of duty overseas.
But despite the good intentions the government has been putting together, including programs for families, livelihood and repatriation assistance, many overseas Filipino workers still express their dissatisfaction over the performance of its agencies, notably the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. Does this mean OFWs are a bunch of whiny folks who are hard to please? Before we can answer that question, it’s better to dig deeper and assess what caused the hostile attitude of some Filipinos abroad towards OWWA.
OWWA procedures are either impractical or complicated
Aimed at establishing proper documentation of Filipino workers abroad and a handy system to provide appropriate help when needed, the overseas employment certificate was also established to deter human trafficking activities. While all these intentions are good, until recently, obtaining OECs have become a very tedious process for OFWs to comply. Which was why we urged its abolition before OWWA introduced an online system.
A recent offer to issue a rebate to OFWs who have been members for ten consecutive years without availing of any OWWA benefit was also met with derision not only because of the rebate amount but also on the process of how to avail of the amount.
Audit the current process of engaging with members and simplify it. OFWs have limited time to visit OWWA offices or gather documents so having an online profile where they can upload passport numbers, apply for Balik Manggagawa/OEC, submit an application for a child’s scholarship or submit a nominated bank account for OWWA rebate or terminal fee refunds to be credited to.
Lack of understanding of OWWA services
The anger might be due to a lack of understanding of OWWA’s mandate and what services it can and can’t do. It should be understood that OWWA’s P2.4 billion of its P3.8 billion budget in 2019 has been allocated to its programs and services. While this serves a portion of OFW and their families such as repatriation costs for distressed OFWs or scholarship grants for deserving OFW children, it is not enough to cover many other needs many OFWs would like to receive. Even if you add up the US$25 every member pays every two years, it is not enough. There’s no doubt OFWs are hailed as modern-day heroes and they enjoy several benefits and privileges.
As an extension of the Department of Labor and Employment, OWWA’s purpose is primarily to look after OFWs and their families especially in times of distress such as wars and violence abroad, and work-related matters such as employer abuse and maltreatment. OWWA needs more budget if OFWs start demanding for more livelihood assistance, pension for all ex-OFWs, or scholarship grants to every OFW child.
Lack of proper information dissemination
OFWs who harp against OWWA in social media are probably unaware of its role, and no one can’t blame them. On its part, OWWA has not leveraged on its online presence. For example, its website may be rich in content, but it’s not well organized and less accessible than it should be. Important programs are hidden in favor of news, and the main navigation highlights OWWA and its board of trustees rather than a complete list of its programs. Which is why OFWs might look for information elsewhere.
In the age of fake news, what is fed online isn’t always accurate. In social media, some profiles provide outdated information while others feed content based on hearsay, and OFWs who limited have access to other reliable sites tend to believe what they read, especially when their friends say so, as well as a chorus of affirmation from comments.
For OWWA to gain the trust of OFWs online, it needs to position itself as an accessible government agency. It needs to revamp its website’s content. Add an extensive list of FAQ items, organize its social media presence, build infographics of its programs and procedures, and announce new programs on YouTube.
OWWA is a testament to the Philippine government’s service to the Filipino people. Having everyone understand its fundamental purpose will help educate its main stakeholders and reduce ignorance.