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OFW Month in Bicol highlights mainstreaming of migration issues

OFW Family Day in Albay
LEGAZPI CITY, Albay – As the number of Filipinos leaving to work or join their families overseas continues to increase, public and private sector entities are increasingly bringing migration-related issues to the mainstream level in the Philippines. This milestone highlighted the recently concluded celebration of the Month of Overseas Filipinos (MOF) in the Bicol Region of the Philippines last month.

To date, there are over 10 million Filipinos outside the homeland according to the Latest Stock Estimates of Filipinos overseas from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) and over 3,000 Filipinos continue to leave every day for overseas work or migration according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA). The same agency as well as Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reveal that it processed job orders totaling 771,635, of which 44 % have been processed.

As the numbers are increasing, these agencies, including other government agencies such as Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA), multi-lateral institutions, together with OF circle or communities (OFCs) and with full support from media partners such as The Filipino Channel (TFC), are addressing the needs and bringing the issues of OFs to the local government level, especially in areas with high deployment rates of OFs such as Region 5 or the Bicol Region.

In the province of Camarines Sur, the City Government of Naga in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the European Union- commissioned the JMDI-Bicol Project with key government agencies in launching the Migrant Resource Center (MRC) in the heart of the Naga City business district to converge government services and provide a one-stop shop for OFs covering the following: passport processing from DFA; to the Pre-departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS) or Pre-employment Orientation Seminar (PEOS) of POEA and OWWA and skills trainings from the Technology, Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

Aside from the fact that Bicol region is one of the areas in the country with high OF deployment, Naga City was chosen because it is one a pioneer in mainstreaming migration issues, according to LGU Head Mayor John Bongat. Mayor Bongat explained: “This means that in the city development plans and medium-term development plans, the city government takes an active role in helping the OFs and their families left here. After their work abroad, upon retiring, the government will continue to give them attention. The issues of the OFs were previously not part of LGUs.”

JMDI focal person Atty. Golda Roma of UNDP shared that the role of migration in development will continue to be an agenda for JMDI based on the comprehensive agenda of the European Union in 2016 and it hopes to make this priority for both sending and receiving countries.

On the private sector side, specifically the OF families themselves, the families continue to organize themselves into OFCs which aim to gather families of distant Pinoys and lay out a 360 degree support system for both returning and migrating OFs, including their families.

The OFCs were first organized by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in 2004 where about 1000 OFCs were formed. To date, there are about 2,264 OFCs which include 78 in the whole of Bicol Region and 6 (formed under the JMDI) from Camarines Sur. These organizations include pioneer Pamilyang Migrante kan Naga (PAMANA).

For Joseph Lee, president of the PAMANA, he is not just happy that the MRC was launched during the MOF to provide a one-stop shop for OFs but more importantly because their group now enables OFs to help each other. “I am happy and proud that we have organized today. This MRC is a great help for us. But more than that, the more privileged OFs can help us less fortunate OFs.”

Further on the private sector side, more opportunities were provided for the OFCs to find out more ways to invest the remittances and savings of their OF relatives as well as to showcase their livelihood programs in two early Christmas celebrations: the “Pamaskong Handog Para sa OFWs” at SM City Naga and Overseas Workers’ Welfare (OWWA) “OFC Family Day” in Albay Astrodome.

In the “Pamaskong Handog para sa OFWs,” hundreds of members of the six OFCs communed with their fellow OFs, shared learnings and discovered investment opportunities from subject matter experts from the private sector, in what is perhaps the most memorable time for Filipinos.

Meantime, in nearby Albay province, the Overseas Workers’ Welfare (OWWA) brought together over 600 OFC members in the annual Family Day at the Albay Astrodome also to tackle issues that beset OFs and their families and present solutions. The Family Day, an annual, institutionalized event created by OWWA for the OFCs, brought together families not only for merriment but most essentially, like the “Pamaskong Handog,” to showcase community amongst OF families and to propagate their livelihood programs. To date, there are 13 OFCs in Albay.

According to OIC Teresita Bantinan, the Family Day, while a yearly tradition, always does a different take each year. Bantinan said: “The Family Day’s goal is to recognize the OF families’ efforts and to recognize the modern day heroes. This year, we featured the products of their livelihood projects so they can be recognized and put out in the market.” The Family Day this time injected an interesting twist by putting the spotlight on OF families’ talent and skills as well with the Family Day “The Voice.”

During the two events, TFC, a purveyor of service beyond a showcase of Filipino talent and entertainment, shared one of the crucial issues that OFs need to face – that they can still play a role in nation-building despite the distance. Through TFC’s social advocacy (We Believe in the Power of Good), intellectual property rights (Don’t Pay A High Price for Free) and
Overseas Voting, the network showed the OFs and their families that by donating; patronizing original content & exercising their right to vote, OFs can help their kababayanin need, protect the hard-work of their fellowmen & choose their next leaders.

Earlier in December, TFC was cited for bringing migration issues to the fore as exclusive production “EDSA Woolworth” and exclusive program “JuanEuKonek” won best movie and TV Show, respectively in the Migration Advocacy and Media Awards.

Bicol local products
With the organized Filipino communities, more tangible support from government and the continued vigilance of media, OFs face more opportunities for them and their families to reap the fruits of their hard earned labor while continuing to be a part of nation-building.

The IAC for the celebration of MOF is chaired by the PMRW and co-chaired by the CFO with members from the government agencies and civil society. TFC is a partner of the CFO, OWWA, COMELEC and the DFA in propagating the rights, protecting the welfare and promoting the interests of OFs.

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