For the longest time, the Philippines has been losing “by default” Filipinos in search of greener pastures abroad, senatorial candidate Susan “Toots” Ople said on Tuesday.
And the least the government can do is create a separate department for them, Ople added.
“I guess all of us—if you’re a self-respecting government—don’t want to see our countrymen leave their families behind to work as domestic workers abroad. We’d rather that they stay here, and improve their lot in their own backyard,” Ople said in an INQLive interview at the Inquirer office on Tuesday night.
“By default we’re losing our countrymen because we don’t have a clear jobs road map,” she added.
In a growing diaspora, at least 10 million Filipinos are working in more than 200 countries abroad as nurses, caregivers, domestic helpers, welders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, engineers and factory workers, among others.
Since it could not stem the tide of Filipinos leaving the country due to lack of job opportunities, the least thing the government could do was to address the needs, and protect the rights and welfare of the “modern-day heroes,” Ople said.
One way of doing so, she said, would be to create a separate department for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), which she would propose should she win a seat in the Senate.
“I personally believe that it’s time to create a separate department catering to the needs of OFWs, just like in India and Indonesia. It should be headed by someone with a Cabinet rank; there should be a Cabinet secretary for OFWs,” said the daughter of the late senator and foreign secretary, Blas Ople.
Through such a department, the government could assist Filipinos while they’re still being recruited, instead of being merely reactive, said Ople, a former labor undersecretary, without going into details.
“If a Cabinet secretary is focused on the challenges of labor migration, the government can anticipate problems to be encountered by the OFWs and facilitate the deployment,” she said.
To stop Filipinos from leaving, Ople said the government should also focus on improving the economy, and address issues such as transportation and infrastructure.
If she lands in the Senate, Ople vowed to prioritize job generation in her legislative agenda, saying “the best ally of poverty is unemployment.”
“If I make it to the Senate, I have only one question for department heads and project proponents: How many jobs will that project generate? How many Filipinos will benefit from your budget? Given our huge fund, we need to be laser-focused,” she said.
Ople, president of Blas F. Ople Policy Center, also vowed to institute reforms in the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and fight age discrimination in the workplace.
“All my life, every breath and every skill that I have, I feel like I have reserved them for every modern-day hero. I consider them part of our family because my father loved them so much. I will fight for them. We will fix the system to protect their rights and we will not keep silent when they are being abused. I am already doing these things now. What more if I will be in the Senate? What drives me to do this is I can already imagine the reforms that I am capable of doing,” she said.
In terms of championing OFWs, the Aquino administration got a “passing” grade from Ople, who said the country needed a President who has the political will to implement reforms benefiting OFWs.
“Whoever wins the presidency, I’m very optimistic about our country. Even if the campaign period has been very toxic, I have high hopes that we will come together as a nation after the elections. Nothing is impossible. We just need a President who will inspire us to be the best that we can be,” Ople said.
Ople is a common candidate of presidential aspirants Sen. Grace Poe, Vice President Jejomar Binay and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago. She was also endorsed by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who is also running for President but has no senatorial lineup.
Ople said her own father, who served as labor minister of then President Ferdinand Marcos, inspired her to advocate for the rights of overseas workers.
And by doing what she does, she said she was merely honoring the legacy and memory of her late father.
“I have to be relevant. I can’t hug my father anymore and I can’t bring him back to this world. But with every OFW that I get to help, I feel like being able to hug my father again. It feels like planting a flower in his garden. And as a daughter, that’s all I really want,” she said.
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