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Gatchalian’s pet bill ‘OWWA Act’ finally signed into law by PNoy

Photo by George Calvelo

Senator-elect Win Gatchalian today welcomed President Aquino’s signing last week of the “Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Act” (Republic Act 10801) as the landmark legislation would protect the contribution of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) from misuse by concerned government agencies.

Describing the OWWA Act as a “victory for OFWs and their families,” Gatchalian maintained that the new law would limit the use of the OWWA Fund only for the welfare of member-OFWs and their immediate families.

“The OWWA Act provides the safeguards in the usage and management of OWWA funds to make sure contributions will only benefit OFWs and their families. It cannot be used to respond, aid, supplement, or in any manner augment any required expenditure by other government agencies,” explained Gatchalian.

Gatchalian, who is currently serving as Valenzuela City’s first district congressman, is one of the principal authors of the OWWA Act. The senatorial neophyte has long been an advocate of OFWs’ welfare and protection.

Earlier this year, Gatchalian rendered assistance to the family of Mary Jane Veloso that made it possible for them to visit the jailed OFW in Jakarta, Indonesia. The lawmaker’s father, William, helped convicted OFW Sarah Balabagan raise the P1 million blood money that led to her pardon and eventual release from the United Arab Emirates jail.

The newly-signed OWWA Act ensures that Congress shall provide a budget for personnel salaries (PS) and the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) of OWWA. This yearly appropriation fulfils the demand by various migrant groups for a budgetary support from the government for such purposes.

The new law also requires the “affirmative vote of the absolute majority of all the members” of the OWWA Board of Trustees for any policy needing the disbursement of P100 million and above.

The said Board, to be chaired by the secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), shall have the power to adjust membership contribution based on actuarial studies and in consideration of the welfare of member OFWs.

Along with the Labor secretary, the Board will be composed of the OWWA administrator; ministers of the Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Budget departments; and the POEA administrator. It will also have two nominated and appointed representatives each from land-based and sea-based OFWs, and one each from the women, land-based recruitment, and sea-based manning sectors.

As reintegration is mandated to be a core program of OWWA, the law also attaches the National Reintegration Center for OFWs to the agency. At least 10 percent of the agency’s collected contribution for the immediately preceding year shall be allocated annually for the reintegration program.

The measure sets membership in the OWWA, either compulsory or voluntary, effective upon payment of the $25-contribution. Membership will be active until the OFW’s existing contract expires or after two years from contract effectivity, whichever comes first.

It also explicitly mandates that contributions to the OWWA Fund must be paid by the employers, or in their default, by the recruitment agency in the case of new hires. Agencies who fail to do so shall have their license revoked and its officers and directors perpetually barred from engaging in recruitment overseas workers.

The OWWA Act, which is a product of nine years of interactive consultation with migrant workers and OFW groups, also allows the agency to extend appropriate services to non-members. (Monica Cantilero)