The Philippine government is negotiating with Saudi Arabia to reopen the kingdom to Filipinos, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said on Monday, as he vowed to ensure the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families.
In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), Marcos said his administration is holding talks with officials of Saudi Arabia so that OFWs could get appropriate wages and protect their rights and well-being.
“Muli nating pagtitibayin ang respeto at pagkakaibigan ng ating dalawang bansa tulad ng namagitan sa aking ama at sa kanilang hari,” the President said in his SONA.
“Sa mga susunod na buwan ay magtutungo si Secretary Susan Ople sa Saudi Arabia upang tiyakin na may sapat na puwersang magsisiguro na mabubuksang muli ang empleyo sa bansa, at para maisulong ang ating kampanya laban sa human trafficking.”
To recall, former Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III had ordered the temporary deployment ban on Filipino workers bound for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in October last year, following the failure by Saudi employers to settle the unpaid wages and end of contract payments of some 10,000 OFWs amounting to some P4.5 billion.
Bello was adamant that the claims had been lying idle for more than four years and remained unattended despite a final and executory ruling by a Saudi court favoring OFWs.
During his SONA, Marcos also announced his administration’s programs for the children and families of OFWs leaving the country.
He stressed that the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), through the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), will ensure that they could get high-quality education on financial literacy, mental wellness, sports, culture, and arts.
This will be done through strong collaboration between government agencies, he explained, adding that the state will take care of the future generation of Filipinos.
“Sa ating mga kababayan na nasa ibang bansa: You deserve a Home in Government not only for the money that you send home, but you are not cold tools of the economy. You deserve it for your sacrifices, for our country and your perseverance and excellence in the global arena,” he told OFWs.
“You OFWs represent the fighting faith of the Filipinos as a nation and as a people. Let us transform your overseas journey into inspirational stories for all time.”
At the same time, Marcos said that the newly-created DMW would ensure the welfare of OFWs as they work overseas.
He vowed to eliminate red tape by pushing for digital empowerment, as he called for the automation of the verification of contracts, as well as the issuance of secure Overseas Employment Certifications (OEC) that can be stored in smartphones.
He wants the DMW and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to make the reform a top priority.
The President also called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to work with the DMW to ensure that all diplomatic posts are assisting OFWs in finding new jobs after losing employment opportunities in recent years.
Foreign employers, who wish to hire Filipino workers, will be mandated to shorten the document processing time to three weeks from three months.
The government is also working to simplify a complicated OFW rules and regulations handbook, downsizing it to a simple pamphlet from the 240-page handbook, according to the President.
“Mahirap na nga ang buhay, kaya naman ayaw pa natin makitang lalo pang nahihirapan ang ating mga manggagawang mandarayuhan sa pagtupad sa kanilang mga pangarap,” he said.
The government will also respond quickly to OFWs facing abuse or danger through the launching of the One Repatriation Command Center or ORCC.
Marcos said a social media platform and a hotline managed by the DMW would respond to OFWs needing assistance. PND