Missing ‘migrant desks’?
There are reasons why many local governments have no migrant desks.
For one, even with RA 8759, not many LGUs have a PESO (Dominador Aquino, key informant interviewee). The only way a local government unit can set up its own migrant desk is to set up a PESO1. The nationwide Bureau of Local Employment (BLE) handles the PESOs and conducts regular training activities on how to handle a PESO. But while the BLE is aware of the OFW related activities of PESOs, it has yet to coordinate with the POEA and OWWA in relation to the OFW-related work of these PESOs and their migrant desks.
1 In some local governments without a PESO, the social welfare development office (SWDO) can form a migrant desk.
Should the LGU form a PESO and, eventually, a migrant desk, many —if not all— of the mandates given to the migrant desk will be unfunded. The question lies also if the municipal / city / provincial council will allocate funds for the personnel of the migrant desk and, more importantly, on their work.
Since a migrant desk is only but another service of PESO, the PESO has the greater mandate of serving both overseas- and locally-based constituents —all finding local and overseas work opportunities. Limited personnel doing additional functions, like serving overseas Filipinos, are a visible concern of many PESOs.
Analyses and conclusions
The trend now is that local governments are “emerging” actors in overseas migration and development (Scalabrini Migration Center, 2011). Given past and recent laws (RA 9759 and 10022), handling overseas migration is already brought down to the level LGUs. The reason is a no-brainer: it is in these communities where most overseas Filipinos and their families come from.
Overseas migration does not only affect the migrant itself, but also affects the community as a whole. As well, overseas Filipinos are possible partners in hometown development —especially if the LGU helps them. This is the long-term potential of local government investment in helping out constituents who are based overseas: they who have been helped by the local government can eventually invest back home (Alvin Ang, 2010).
However, a lot of LGUs remain less aware about the overseas migration phenomenon —how migration directly affects local communities, and how these local communities can eventually make overseas migration work to their benefit. The establishment of migrant desks can be an initiative of the local government, and serving migrants (through the mandate of the PESO, for example) is part of the powers of local governments given decentralization.
Should migrant desks be established, whichever is the LGU office that will handle it (e.g. PESO, social welfare and development office or SWDO), that desk must facilitate coordinated action to serve overseas Filipinos’ social and economic needs as one local government team.
Institutionalizing the said migrant desk in local governments (which means, having devoted personnel and a budget for the said desk) is another matter that is dependent on the local government’s will to serve its overseas migrant population2.
As for national agencies (e.g. POEA, OWWA) promoting local government involvement in overseas migration, all the more that their coordination with relevant agencies (e.g. BLE, Department of Interior and Local Government) is needed so that they are better able to build LGUs’ capacities in handling migrant desks. For now, the services offered by migrant desks are products of self-learning by these LGUs.
2 An example is the municipality of Mabini in Batangas, a municipality known to have visible numbers of overseas Filipinos as evidenced by their concrete houses. Though the municipality has no PESO, the mayor has a designated OFW affairs officer and an OFW center.
As for the existing migrant desks in different parts of the country, we can hope that they are actively serving their overseas migrant constituents. One can look at these migrant desks’ tables as an indicator: to quote Harold Geneen, if that desk “isn’t cluttered, you probably aren’t doing your job.’#