Local governments getting involved in serving overseas Filipinos

MANILA—THE PUBLIC’s accustomed to seeing acronyms such as POEA, OWWA, DOLE, and DFA in news items whenever there are issues facing overseas Filipinos.

But slowly emerging is an acronym that is becoming part of the alphabet soup of government actors helping the country’s major dollar earners: LGUs (local government units).

LGUs include provinces, cities, and municipalities — all given local autonomy two decades ago to address local issues and directly provide services that national government agencies do in the pre-democracy era.

In the case of overseas migration, obviously a national issue, line agencies such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and ministry-level agencies such as the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Foreign Affairs are at the forefront of addressing overseas Filipino-related concerns.

While overseas migration-related services are something that the 1991 Local Government Code did not provide (unlike other devolved services such as health, agriculture, among others), some LGUs are independently operating services for their overseas migrant constituents, or are collaborating with the national migration agencies.

Three policy briefs produced by the nonprofit Institute for Migration and Development Issues (IMDI) provide such examples of increasing local government involvement for overseas Filipinos.

One is through the local public employment service office (PESO), which was actually mandated by a law to facilitate local folk’s search for domestic and overseas jobs, wrote IMDI policy analyst Nerissa Camille Natalicio.

Given such role by the local PESO, the local government can actually issue regulations governing the hiring of local residents for overseas employment, Natalicio added.

In case overseas Filipinos (particularly migrant workers) and their families from a said hometown face problems, some LGUs’ social welfare and development offices (SWDOs) can directly serve them, IMDI policy analyst Maria Patrese Claveria wrote.

Take the case of the fourth-class municipality of Cuenca in Batangas, a town with an estimated 1,429 overseas Cuencueños: with prodding from a non-government group, Atikha, Cuenca’s SWDO has been operating an OFW (overseas Filipino workers) Desk for over a year now. That desk is organizing migrant families, does some counseling services, and makes house-to-house welfare visits.

And if overseas Filipinos feel that their hometown is concerned for their welfare, it might be easy to lure them to invest back home, says IMDI policy analyst Paula Jane Escasinas in her policy brief.

It might also need some ingenuity on the part of these hometowns, Escasinas added — citing the case of Ilocos Norte province.

In 2009, the provincial council (sangguniang bayan) enacted provincial ordinance no. 042-2009, or “An Ordinance Providing for Benefits and Investment Benefits for Balikbayans.”

If an overseas Ilocano, whether a migrant worker or a permanent resident abroad, wants to invest in Ilocos Norte, they will get discounts on hospital fees, rental of provincial government-operated facilities, lease of provincial buses and coasters, and certifying official records issued by the provincial government.

That is on top of what the province’s local investment code provides: tax breaks for certain levels of investment in the province, Escasinas’ policy brief wrote.

Serving overseas Filipinos and their families can be a “corollary strategy” by the LGU while it pursues improving the overall efforts at running local hometowns, a fourth IMDI policy brief, written by Jeremaiah Opiniano, wrote.

Global migration analysts have remarked the Philippines’ national-level migration bureaucracy as a global model in managing the overseas migration phenomenon.

But with the slowly-growing involvement of LGUs, this development “will be the next phase of the Philippines’ management of the overseas migration phenomenon,” Opiniano wrote.

LGUs, even though they are considered a minor actor in migration management, are the “slowly emerging actors in migration and development,” a book by the Scalabrini Migration Center wrote.

As the Philippines currently has an estimated 8.5 million Filipinos scattered in over-220 countries and territories, the nation’s local government units are celebrating today the 20th year of local autonomy that the 1991 Local Government Code (Republic Act 7160) mandated.