A policy brief on migrant desks in local government units (First of three parts)

The Institute’s policy briefs are conversational, evidence-based policy prescriptions on identified migration-and-development issues in the Philippines.

The author, a policy analyst of the Institute, is a graduating Political Science student (2012) of the University of Santo Tomas.

WHAT’s with a desk?

If that desk is intended to serve lots of people, such as a locality’s overseas Filipinos, someone working on that desk will surely get out from behind it.

If a local government unit (LGU) has a migrant desk, surely the scope of work that desk will handle (to quote Gaylen Freeman) is big and “there’ll be a lot that will come across this desk”.

Overseas migrants are scattered worldwide, and their families are across the locality. Desk people will surely come out to serve them given the magnitude of the social and economic issues facing overseas Filipinos —especially migrant workers.

But a local government unit’s overseas migrant desk is not a common sight among many local governments, especially in rural Philippines. The question lies if addressing the issues facing overseas migrants is a thing a local government can handle.

Migrant desks

There has been a noticeable trend in the last few years that local governments are forming migrant desks (called by others as “OFW desks” to cater to overseas Filipino workers).

Remember the repatriation of mostly female domestic workers from Lebanon in 2006? When these workers returned and went home to their hometowns, some local government units responded and provided economic help to them. What followed was that some LGUs started forming OFW desks. That was a turning point in Philippine local governments’ involvement with overseas Filipinos (Jeremaiah Opiniano, 2011a).

The first months of 2011 saw a déjà vu of what happened in 2006: given ongoing civil conflicts in Middle East and North African countries (e.g. Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen), some Filipino workers repatriated and got assistance from not just the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), but from local government units.

A consequence of these episodes of migrant repatriation would be that repatriated workers who went back to their hometowns will be part of the unemployed workforce. And since many of these repatriated workers’ hometowns have limited local employment opportunities, the tendency is —not surprisingly— for many of the returnees to go back overseas. Opportunities in the local economy are simply too limited to absorb these returning overseas workers.

Thus, overseas migration’s consequences unto a hometown’s overseas workers and, ergo, to the local community is supposedly a local government’s concern. If addressed well, the situation can turn into an opportunity for these local governments.

Mandating migrant desks

Employment facilitation is not among the devolved services that are mandated by Republic Act 7160, or the 1991 Local Government Code. Among the basic services devolved to local governments are health, social welfare, managing environmental resources, agriculture, local infrastructure development, constructing school buildings, tourism, among others (IIRR et. al, 1999).

But thanks to Republic Act 8759, which encouraged all provinces/cities/municipalities nationwide to form public employment service offices (PESOs), employment facilitation was de facto devolved to LGUs. PESOs, says RA 8759, have some functions related to employment facilitation: three of these functions relate to overseas workers.

For one, PESOs regulate recruitment activities for local and overseas jobs. As for overseas employment, the PESO implements a certification processes for recruitment agencies seeking out workers for overseas jobs: recruiters submit documents and their job vacancies, to which these LGUs validate with the records of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). And once the request to recruit is approved, the PESO gives local residents information about this overseas work opportunity.

(To be continued)