Recognizing the heroism, sacrifices, and important contributions of our overseas Filipinos (OFs) during these trying times of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Inter-Agency Committee on the Celebration of the Month of Overseas Filipinos (IAC-MOF) organized a “Virtual National Forum on Migration” on December 17, 2021, via Zoom and Facebook Live.

It was graced by DOLE Secretary Silvestro Bello III, CFO Secretary Francisco P. Acosta, and PMRW President Carmelita Nuqui. Co-chaired by the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW) and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), the IAC-MOF is a civil society and government partnership for the benefit of migrants, tasked to organize activities for the MOF celebration every December.

Overseas Filipinos are among the affected sectors badly hit by the pandemic; thousands had to be repatriated to the Philippines due to job loss, while some, especially frontline health workers, lost their lives in fighting the still ongoing battle against the corona virus.

The forum, with the theme “Overseas Filipinos in the New Normal: Supporting Resilience Towards the Post-COVID Era”, highlighted various reintegration services for returning overseas Filipinos, as well as the experiences of overseas Filipinos during the pandemic, including returnees who are beneficiaries of government programs.

Secretary Francisco Acosta of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas expressed his gratitude for the sacrifices and significant contributions of our overseas Filipinos. He shared three pieces of good news – significant awards that the CFO is organizing to provide due recognition to the accomplishments of our OFs namely, the HiMigrasyon Songwriting Contest, the Migration Advocacy and Media Awards, and the Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas.

Secretary Bello hailed the OFWs as the country’s “modern-day heroes”, and conveyed that President Rodrigo Duterte deeply cares for them. He said that it is the government’s priority to protect their rights and welfare through agencies such as the POEA and OWWA, in partnership with other government agencies and civil society partners. He noted that this year’s celebration coincides with the 70th foundation year of the International Organization for Migration and how the IAC-MOF members are aligned with its advocacy of protecting the welfare of migrants.

Ms. Nuqui provided an overview and history of the MOF, which was institutionalized in 1988 as a month-long celebration every December, with the national forum as its culminating activity. She said that this year’s celebration aims to increase public awareness on the issues and challenges faced by migrants, as well as the government initiatives and policies that benefit overseas Filipinos.

The first segment of the forum discussed the reintegration programs and other services for returning and displaced OFs during the pandemic.

Deputy Director-General John Bertiz of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) shared the agency’s various skills training and scholarship programs that could be availed by OFs affected by the pandemic, to increase their competitiveness for local employment and entrepreneurial undertaking.

Mr. Jo Mari Rifareal of the Department of Labor and Employment shared the repatriation assistance extended by DOLE, i.e., the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) and DOLE-AKAP, a financial assistance program for OFWs affected by the pandemic. The OWWA showed a video presentation on the quarantine procedures and the agency’s assistance to returning OFWs, the program “Tabang Ease”, and some of their successful livelihood assistance beneficiaries.

Ms. Freya Palad of the National Reintegration Center for OFWs presented NRCO’s reintegration programs and job opportunities such as the Balik Pinay! Balik Hanapbuhay, Sa Pinas Ikaw ang Ma’am/Sir, AgriNegosyo (ANYO) Loan Program, Business Plan Competition for Seafarers, and the Tulong Pangkabuhayan sa Pag-unlad ng Samahang OFWs (Tulong Puso). They also presented two success stories of beneficiaries of the Bayanihan Cares Loan (COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises) program, a financing mechanism that aims to help existing businesses recover during the pandemic.

Ms. Elena Clemente of the Social Security System shared the benefits available to SSS members locally and overseas, highlighting the enhancement to the existing retirement benefits and the expanded benefit for unemployed Filipinos.

Mr. Miguel Aurelio of the Pag-IBIG Fund provided an overview of their savings program, housing and short-term loans, calamity loans, as well as the eligibility and documentary requirements.

Ms. Janice Lagasca of PhilHealth shared the COVID-19 testing and isolation centers and health insurance services they can provide for returning overseas Filipinos. Ms. Allison Umandap of the Department of Health presented the DOH Malasakit Centers where returning OFs can avail medical and financial assistance in SUC, LGU, and military hospitals. She also presented services covering assistance on medicines, diagnostics, blood testing, clinical procedures, hospitalization, rehabilitation, and subsidy of hospital and professional fees.

The second segment of the Forum is the sharing of the OFW success story. Ms. Mylene Dionedo, a former OFW from Kuwait, shared her migration journey after working for several years in the Middle East. She came home for good in 2020 and availed of the SPIMS reintegration program of OWWA-NRCO. She expressed her gratitude that if it weren’t for the reintegration programs, she might still be unemployed during this pandemic.

Mr. Lance Velasco of PMRW led the book launching of the Migrant Stories, Migrant Voices, 2021 Edition. The book contains challenging yet inspiring stories of migrants from around the world, as well as their families left behind in the Philippines during the pandemic.

Musical intermission numbers from Enrique Custado of CFO and the Philippine Women’s University (PWU) Indayog Gong Ensemble were also shown between segments.

Attended by over 90 participants on Zoom and with more than 3,000 viewers on Facebook Live, the forum was hosted by Mr. Christopher de Onon of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

About the Month of Overseas Filipinos. The celebration of the MOF in the Philippines started in 1988 when then President Corazon Aquino issued Proclamation No. 276, which institutionalized the month-long celebration every December. This is in recognition of the significant contributions of overseas Filipinos to Philippine development and the restoration of Philippine democracy. In the global scene, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed December 18 each year as International Migrants Day in 2000. On this important date, all member-states, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, will commence the occasion and disseminate information regarding the fundamental rights and freedom of migrants. Other members of the IAC-MOF also include the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Health, Department of Tourism, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Social Work and Development, Presidential Communications Operations Office, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Film Development Council of the Philippines, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, National Reintegration Center for OFWs, Bureau of Immigration, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, Pag-IBIG Home Development Mutual Fund, Social Security System, Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, League of Provinces of the Philippines, League of Cities of the Philippines, League of Municipalities of the Philippines, Philippine Migration Research Network, and Migrant Forum in Asia.