In the Service of Our OFWs

For Alan, our migrant workers are not only instruments of development but, first and foremost, human beings in need of protection.

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Alan’s compassion for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) is not just for show. The beginning of his term as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was marked with “listening missions” to the plight, pleas, and pains of our migrant workers.

“Ang mga problema ng ating mga OFWs, alam ko sa puso ko kasi nakausap ko kung nasaan sila, napuntahan ko kung saan sila nagtatrabaho, whether they are in Hong Kong, Saudi, or Japan,” Alan said. “There are many things, big and small, that we have done at DFA to help make the lives of our OFWs and their families more comfortable and convenient.” Once he had a thorough understanding of their situations, it was time to roll up his sleeves and get to work.

In 2017, Alan initiated the campaign for the abolition of the Kafala system in the Middle East, a visa sponsorship system which was prone to abuse by employers who wanted total control over their employees. The Philippines even brought this advocacy to the United Nations and other international fora. Three years later, a milestone was achieved with progressive reforms in Saudi Arabia which will ensure the protection of almost a million Filipino migrant workers employed in that country starting March 14, 2021.

With this, all professional migrants and most foreign workers in Saudi Arabia will no longer be required to secure their employer’s consent should they decide to leave or change jobs. They will also be allowed to travel even without approval from their employers. The easing of restrictions upended the old system where an employer can confiscate the foreign worker’s passport and can even pursue a case if the worker leaves the employer without obtaining consent.

“There are millions of OFWs all over the world and sometimes, we ‘reduce’ them to numbers. If we hear OFWs in dire situations – such as those who experience hardships, abuse, or violence – we often say that they are just a small percentage of the total number. This should not be the case as each and every migrant worker matters because tunay na tao ‘yan – may pamilya, may anak, may magulang. You will not understand this unless you realize that we are all God’s creation and each one has a purpose in life.”

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the Philippines lauded the new labor reforms of the Saudi Arabian government, describing it as a “game-changer” in terms of worker protection. They also recognized efforts of the DFA in pushing hard for the reform to ensure the welfare of OFWs.

Aside from the anti-Kafala system campaign, Alan also worked on increasing the allocation for the Assistance to Nationals Fund from P400 million to P1 billion, and that of the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) from P100 million to P200 million.

The pro-OFW programs that Alan initiated did not stop after his term at the DFA. He brought this mission to Congress. When he became the House Speaker, he pushed for the passage of the bill for the creation of the Department of OFW that will focus on the welfare and protection of the Filipino migrant workers. In March 2020, the Department of OFW bill authored by Alan passed the third and final reading before the House of Representatives. Its counterpart bill before the Senate is currently pending.

These accomplishments, among others, exemplified Alan’s outstanding and dedicated service as DFA Secretary. In recognition of his efforts, President Rodrigo Duterte conferred on him the Order of Sikatuna with the rank of Datu in 2018, the highest honor bestowed to Foreign Affairs Secretaries and Filipino diplomats.

More than awards and accolades, Alan values his time with the OFWs and has big plans for them. “We can do a lot of things with our OFWs who number in the millions all over the world. If we only change our perspective and start thinking big, we can start having more faith in God and faith in our fellow Filipinos.”

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