The Commission on Overseas Filipinos (CFO) recently marked 42 years of service to meet the needs and promote the welfare of Filipinos migrants, proud that it had fulfilled its mandate under the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
CFO Chairperson Francisco P. Acosta, retired Court of Appeals Justice, highlighted in his message during the Commission’s anniversary celebration at the historic Manila Hotel what the government agency had accomplished to strengthen the ties between overseas Filipinos and their home country.
(Left to right) Ms. Mufaidah Macatoman, Undersecretary Abdulgani Macatoman, Undersecretary Astravel Naik, Secretary Francisco Acosta, Undersecretary Ricojudge Echiverri, Assistant Secretary Adelio Angelito Cruz
The anniversary celebration theme was “4WARD 2GETHER!”
Acosta, who holds the rank of Cabinet secretary until the end of his term of office on the 30th of this month, pointed out that the CFO’s efforts to strengthen the ties that bind overseas Filipinos to the Philippines does not only involve migrants but their children, too, who might have been born in the foreign lands where their parents had moved to.
He said that, among other things, they launched a new Ugnayan Series and increased its frequency. “CFO developed the Ugnayan to fulfill its mandate to strengthen ties and relations with Filipino communities overseas. It aims to keep the overseas Filipinos well informed on developments in their homeland and to bring government services closer to them.”
The Commission formed Ugnayan teams that met with Filipino communities in the United States territory of Guam, Japan, South Korea, the US State of Hawaii, and the American cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco in California and Las Vegas in Nevada.
When the corona virus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic struck in 2020, Acosta said the Ugnayan adapted to the new situation and shifted from face-to-face meetings to digital interactions through Online Ugnayan.
Acosta, who is leaving his post at the end of President Duterte’s term, expressed his gratitude to Henry Bensurto, former Philippine Consul General in San Francisco, and Adelio Cruz, former Philippine Consul General in Los Angeles, for their invaluable assistance in the conduct of Ugnayan in their cities of assignment.
Online Ugnayan, Acosta said, was an “unparalleled success”. “We were able to reach / engage with more overseas Filipinos and Filipino organizations” by working with already established big Filipino organizations and Filipino media organizations.
“Our Online Ugnayan Series enabled us to reach our kababayan in their offices and in their homes. Through our Online Ugnayan, we successfully interacted with our kababayan in the US East Coast and Hawaii, South Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia, the Middle East and Europe, “the CFO Chair said.
Oath taking of the new Commission on Filipinos Overseas Employees’ Association (CFOEA) officers
CFO sought to reconnect overseas Filipino youth to their Philippine roots and promote and preserve their ties with the country through YouLeaD or the Youth Leaders in the Diaspora Project. The project conducted two face-to-face sessions pre-Covid-19 and two online meetings during the pandemic. The sessions were attended by a total of 292 Filipino youth.
Acosta said CFO had received several requests for more YouLeaD sessions.
The Commission continued to help Filipinos moving to other countries, serving 441,093 outbound Filipinos through pre-departure orientation seminars for permanent migrants and J1 (exchange visitor non-immigrant) visa holders, peer counseling, guidance counseling for marriage migrants and country familiarization seminars for au pairs (young foreign persons, typically women, who help with housework or child care in exchange for room and board).
The pre-departure services were meant to ensure that every Filipino had adequate information on the immigration policies and basic laws of their host countries, rights and obligations overseas, and support services available to them.
Acosta reported that during the term of President Duterte, the CFO opened an office in Davao, expanding the reach of the Commission’s pre-departure services to
To perform its mandate and continue to deliver its services even during a pandemic that kept the country in almost total lockdown for more than a year, the Commission, as early as March 2020, digitally adapted its systems and procedures to bring its services online.
It developed the CFO Electronic Payment and Collection System (CFO-EPCS) to allow clients to pay their registration fees through the electronic wallet GCash, credit and debit cards and Bayad Centers nationwide.
The CFO, with the Department of Education, also currently supervises and renders assistance to 35 Filipino elementary and high schools overseas for children of overseas Filipinos. More than 35,000 Filipino students are enrolled in these schools, which have a total of 2,000 teachers and non-teaching staff.
Through LinKaPil, CFO received a total of P65M in donations from Filipino Organizations whose memberships included some 5,159 overseas Filipinos, Acosta said.
The BaLinkBayan Project linked overseas Filipino communities to various services of the Philippine government and provided information on various investments and re-integration opportunities and programs for returning overseas Filipinos and their families back home.
CFO partnered with 13 local governments and five Filipino organizations for the BaLinkBayan Project.
The Commission also provided assistance to about 900 stateless Filipino children in Sabah by providing them with educational materials and books.
In March, CFO honored individuals and groups that helped promote awareness and understanding of Filipinos ’plight abroad through the Joint Migrant Advocacy and Media Awards (MAM) and the first-ever HiMigration Songwriting Competition.
On June 29, Acosta said the Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Overseas Organizations (PAFIOO) would be presented to 56 recipients from all over the world. The awards are given to overseas Filipinos and organizations in recognition of their contribution to Philippine development or for promoting the interests of Filipinos abroad. It is also given to those who have distinguished themselves in their professions and have brought honor to the country.
Acosta also mentioned that, during the pandemic, the Commission partnered with The Manila Times for a weekly CFO feature article, Spotlight. The full-page, full-color feature column highlights inspiring stories of overseas Filipinos. The space, he said, was generously given to CFO by Dr. Dante Arevalo Ang, who was the first Secretary and Chairperson of the Commission.
Through the CFO Spotlight, the secretary said the Commission was able to reach an audience of 19 million Worldwide Web users and 22 million social media users worldwide.
Because of its large audience, Acosta said the weekly feature would continue even after his term.
During the celebration, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go gave a video message to CFO officers and staff. Go is the author and principal proponent of Republic Act 11641, which created the Department of Migrant Workers that will serve as lead agency for formulating and implementing policies, plans and programs to ensure the protection, promotion of interests, timely resolution of problems and effective reintegration into the country of OFWs.
Makati councilor Tosca Camille Puno-Ramos performed a musical number.
The new officers of the CFO Employees Association were inducted by Acosta. Winners in the Commission’s sporting events were awarded and raffles were held.