by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
MANILA—WHAT type of an agency is the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)?
If officials of the agency answer that OWWA is a government-owned-and-controlled corporation (GOCC), then the world’s largest welfare fund for migrant workers might have to abide by the provisions of a new law for GOCCs.
President Aquino III signed last June 5 the GOCC Governance Act of 2011 or Republic Act 10149, aimed to ensure financial viability and fiscal discipline of these GOCCs and make them responsive to public needs. President Aquino prodded the passage of this law after his 2010 State of the Nation Address where he bared allegedly overpaying salaries by officials and board members of some GOCCs.
But during a hearing on a proposed charter for OWWA at the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs (COWA), a migrant NGO thinks that OWWA officials aren’t aware of what the new law implies unto their work.
OWWA as a GOCC may have to be governed in accordance with the said law, said Ellene Sana of the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA). But there is a transitory provision of the law that may impact on OWWA’s work, Sana said in a report of the latest House hearing on OWWA.
“Under the transitory provision of the law, the direction for GOCC is towards privatization or abolition,” Sana reported.
She is referring to Section 5, item a of RA 10149, which mandated this task: “Evaluate the performance and determine the relevance of the GOCC to ascertain whether such GOCC should be re-organized, merged, streamlined, abolished or privatized, in consultation with the department or agency to which a GOCC is attached.
Item k-1 of Section 5, for its part, also tasked government to “Review the functions of each of the GOCC and, upon determination that there is a conflict between the regulatory and commercial functions of a GOCC, recommend to the President m consultation with the Government Agency to which such GOCC is attached, the privatization of the GOCCs commercial operations, or the transfer of the regulatory functions to the appropriate government agency, or such other plan of action to ensure that the commercial functions of the GOCC do not conflict with such regulatory functions”.
OWWA administrator Carmelita Dimzon, who was present during the recent House COWA meeting, was quoted by Sana as saying that OWWA “will study the GOCC act and rethink their position”.
Determining what is the precise and current nature of OWWA as a government agency is important, even if its history shows that it was once an office under the Department of Labor and Employment.
The House’ COWA hearing on OWWA sought to find out how the agency, which charges US$25 per contract to departing overseas Filipino workers, can have its own charter.
The confusion as to what OWWA is, Sana said, stems from how varied government agencies view OWWA: the Congress of the Philippines “has always classified OWWA as a national government agency,” while the Department of Budget and Management tags OWWA as “an attached agency of the DOLE”.
It is the Commission on Audit, in its annual audit reports of the various government agencies, that classifies OWWA as a GOCC. However, a July 29, 1991 opinion by the Department of Justice wrote that “OWWA was claiming it (is) not a GOCC”.
OWWA, through Letter of Instruction 573 (May 1, 1977) was initially a “Welfare and Training Fund for Overseas Workers”. On May 1, 1980, Presidential Decree 1694 formalized LOI 537 and created a “Welfare Fund for Overseas Workers” or the WelFund.
On January 31, 1987, when Executive Order 126 mandated a reorganization of DOLE, the WelFund was renamed into what is known today as OWWA.
If indeed OWWA is a GOCC, RA 10149 has required all GOCCs to be transparent and show their performances and financial reports in a website “for unrestricted public access”.
As for OWWA’s fiscal and financial performance, the 2011-2016 Philippine Labor and Employment Plan (under the item “Social protection”) mandated to “audit (OWWA) to rationalize the management of its funds, in terms of the benefits provided as well as how the funds are invested”.