Along the bustling streets of the Metro amid the crowded Lucky Chinatown street market, the Commission on Overseas Filipinos (CFO)’s BaLinkBayan Team convened a total of 49 Local Government Unit (LGU) representatives and 4 Filipino associations overseas (FAOs) during the conduct of the 2022 BaLinkBayan Stakeholders Conference last November 16-17, 2022 at the Hotel Lucky Chinatown–the first face-to-face gathering of the party since the onset of the pandemic.
In his welcome remarks, CFO Undersecretary Abdulgani M. Macatoman expressed his appreciation and recognition of the BaLinkBayan partners’ commitment to promoting inclusive and extensive development by unleashing the potential of the diaspora to spur societal advancement. He also expressed gratitude for its allegiance with various government agencies such as the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA), Social Security System (SSS), Pagtutulungan sa Kinabukasan: Ikaw, Bangko, Industriya at Gobyerno (PAG-IBIG), and Cooperative Development Authority (CDA). “The project mainstreaming has been a major focus for our team over the past few years, and this has been accomplished by forging ties with numerous organizations with rich affiliations and strong constituencies.“
The two-day event was packed with several talks from a long line of speakers composed of overseas Filipino community organization leaders, key persons on digital transformation and empowerment, experts from different government agencies, and BaLinkBayan project officers, who discussed their respective advocacies and shared their best practices in re-engaging overseas Filipinos with the Motherland.
BaLinkBayan Project Accomplishments and Updates
Kicking off the event, Ms. Princess Mayumi Kaye Peralta of the CFO Project Management Division (PMD) presented a summary of the BaLinkBayan Project’s accomplishments during the past administration, together with recently set deliverables, other updates, and future goals.
Among the Project’s recent successes is the conceptualization of the BaLinkBayan Mobile Application, which was introduced to the audience by Engr. Romeo Rosas, Co-Project Manager of the BaLinkBayan. The BaLinkBayan Mobile Application offers the flexibility of reaching overseas Filipinos and FAOs anytime and anywhere in the world, allowing Philippine embassies, consulates, and posts to digitally accredit overseas Filipino organizations under their respective jurisdiction and providing an avenue for Filipino associations overseas for smart internal communication and information access.
Digital Empowerment in the Public Sector
Experts on technological innovations were invited to discuss key issues in website management, digital marketing strategies, and recent advances in citizen-centric digital transactions. Guest speaker Ms. Mary Joie Cruz, the founder of the startup Limitless Lab, spoke on digital transformation in the local setting, focusing on techniques to enhance citizen engagement and deliver better public services while reducing costs. Mr. Elmo Nazareno, President of Rameses Inc., introduced Filipizen, an initiative that allows Filipinos to transact with LGUs on an integrated online platform and in real-time while integrating the LGU taxation called Enhanced Tax Revenue and Collection System (ETRACS). Meanwhile, Ms. Rosemarie Abarquez and Ms. Alexandra Dizon from Globe Fintech Innovations Inc. (Mynt) introduced GLife and E-government GCash. GLife puts together various merchants’ and brands’ mini-app into a single page within the GCash dashboard, while the E-Government GCash strives to provide secure and practical digital financial solutions, making government transactions for millions of Filipinos faster and safer.
On Day 2, Mr. Raf Lopez, a Digital Tayo Trainer at Meta/Facebook, tackled digital literacy and empowerment. He highlighted the importance of using social media to drive social change, equipping BaLinkBayan partners with newer and more relevant techniques in navigating the digital landscape to promote their various advocacies and services.
Digital creativity promotes the innovation of digital transactions and empowers the digital capabilities of the government sector, reinforcing the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018, which aims to streamline the currently existing systems and procedures of government services.
Responding to the Challenges of Migration and Development
Director Marie Del Rosario-Apattad, Chief Emigrant Services Officer of the CFO and Co-Project Manager of the BaLinkBayan Project, later took the stage to provide participants with recent statistics and valuable insights relating to Filipino migration vis-a-vis development at the local level. She noted that migration has now become a part of Filipino culture–the country being one of the Top 10 origin countries of migrants and the Top 3 migrant-sending country, following China and India. Due to the large population of Filipino migrants today, Filipinos based abroad hold great potential to serve as economic development actors. This benefit, Dir. Apattad emphasized, should be maximized by pursuing coherence between employment and migration policies while reducing its entailed social costs and challenges.
Dir. Apattad gave a preview of the CFO’s LINKAPIL (Lingkod sa Kapwa Pilipino) Program, a mechanism for transferring various forms of resources from Filipinos abroad to support small-scale, high-impact projects that address the country’s social and economic development needs. She also underscored some of the steps taken by the government to assist Filipinos living abroad.
Diaspora Philanthropy and Engagements for Nation-Building
Three speakers from different Filipino community organizations overseas discussed philanthropy in the diaspora. Ms. Solita Wakefield, the President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Feed the Hungry (FTH), a charity organization and a 1998 Presidential LINKAPIL Awardee, discussed the initiatives of her organization to provide underprivileged Filipinos with food and nutrition, education, infrastructure, calamity aid, rehabilitation efforts, livelihood, and other special projects.
Guest speaker Ms. Rizalina Labanda, Board Member of the Association of the Fil-Am Teachers of America, Inc. (AFTA), a group of teachers lobbying efforts to support Philippine literacy and a 2018 Presidential LINKAPIL Awardee, introduced Balikturo, an initiative to bring together Filipino teachers working abroad and their counterparts in the Philippines to exchange innovative ideas and experiences in various areas of education to help improve literacy among the Filipino youth.
Speaker Engr. Danica Rose Alcantara, Chairman of Media Relations of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) – Qatar Chapter, also detailed its efforts to extend a helping hand not only to Filipino civil engineers and students abroad but also to Filipinos in need in the country. Among their activities are the Special Professional Licensure Examination Review Program, several tree planting activities, blood donation drives, outreach programs for distressed OFWs, and scholarship programs for students in the Philippines.
There is still a lot to be done concerning the economic development of the country and the Filipino diaspora, but overseas Filipino organizations and BaLinkBayan partners believe that fostering alliances amongst themselves across the globe, creating bridges where there is none, is one huge step towards a long-term and sustainable development in various localities of the country.
Mainstreaming Local Volunteerism
Among the esteemed guests during the conference was the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency’s Deputy Executive Director, Ms. Ela Victoria Sarmago, who spoke about mainstreaming volunteerism at the local level to harness the potential of Filipino volunteers to contribute to local development efforts. She precipitated her talk with the background and fundamentals of volunteerism.
Pursuant to the Volunteer Act of 2007, the PNVSCA aims to adopt and strengthen the practice of volunteerism as a strategy in order to attain national development and international understanding. Integrating volunteerism as a development strategy engenders greater private-sector participation in governance and development and rekindles in every Filipino the time-honored tradition of bayanihan to foster social justice, solidarity, and sustainable development.
In her call to action, Dir. Sarmago urges LGUs to mainstream volunteerism by including it in situational assessments and analyses, integrating volunteerism in existing programs and services, and building volunteer management capacities.
Ms. Maria Eva Basalo, Public Employment Service Office (PESO) Manager of the Provincial Government of Bataan, officially closed the two-day program by sharing LGU Bataan’s best practices in implementing the Project and extending her gratitude to its Project partners and the CFO.
The 2023 BaLinkBayan Stakeholders Conference was attended by LGUs in Aklan Province, Bacoor City, Bataan Province, Batangas Province, Bayambang, Pangasinan, Cabanatuan City, Camarines Norte Province, Carmona – Cavite, Dagupan City, Guinobatan Municipality, Ilocos Norte Province, Iriga City, Kidapawan City, Laguna Province, Legazpi City, Ligao City, Los Baños Municipality, Mercedes – Camarines Norte, Naga City, Pangasinan Province, Quezon City, Rosales – Pangasinan, Tabaco City – Albay, and Tagbilaran City; Filipino community organizations Association of Fil-Am Teachers in America (AFTA), Feed the Hungry Inc (FTH), Institute of Electronics Engineers of the Philippines (IEEP) – Singapore Chapter, and Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) – Qatar; Philippine government agency Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA); experts on digital transformation representing Mynt, Limitless Lab, and Rameses Systems, Inc.; focal persons from CFO Project Management Division (PMD) and Management Information Systems Division (MISD), and officers from CFO Office of the Executive Director (OED).
CFO conducts a stakeholders’ conference annually since the inception of the BaLinkBayan Web Portal Project in 2013 to reconnect with its project partners to ensure the effective implementation of the program and provide a platform for its LGU partners to share their best practices in further improving their portals and promoting migrant engagement in their respective localities.
The BaLinkBayan is an initiative of the agency to strengthen partnerships between the Filipino diaspora and local communities and fuel Philippine economic development. For more information on the BaLinkBayan Web Portal Project, visit https://balinkbayan.gov.ph/.