THE AUTHOR of the Senate bill creating a department for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) expressed support for the position adopted by economic planners that creating the agency is low on the government’s priority list.

The proposed Department of OFWs, declared a priority measure by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, is facing headwinds in the Senate as legislators take the position that the government should be right-sized.

As such, Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara also raised the possibility during Monday’s session that the proposed department have an expiration date.

“The OFW department… shouldn’t be permanent. There must be an exit strategy,” Mr. Angara said, citing Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua, who heads the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

Mr. Angara was speaking as a sponsor of the bill creating the department during the plenary deliberations for the P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.

NEDA has also called for a cost-benefit analysis before the new department is established, which will help improve proposed measures identified during Mr. Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address.

“The NEDA secretary is of the view that perhaps right at this moment or in the near future, we should focus on COVID response; when we get out of these dire straits, then we can focus on the creation of that department,” he said.

Mr. Angara was responding to queries from Sen. Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva, who chairs the chamber’s labor committee, about the NEDA position on the new department.

Some 8,831 more overseas Filipinos returned last week, bringing the total beneficiaries of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ repatriation program to 254,785 since February.

The Department of Finance supports the measure with reservations, citing the ongoing push to right-size the government; while the Department of Budget and Management raised concerns about government functions being devolved to local government units (LGUs).

“The DBM noted that in light of the implementation of the Mandanas decision by fiscal year 2022, the creation may impact the overall personnel services level considering the functions need to be devolved to the LGUs,” Mr. Angara said, referring to a Supreme Court ruling granting a greater share of national government revenue to LGUs.

Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, for his part, stumped for the passage of the right-sizing bill to allow the chamber to proceed with the creation of new departments, particularly the DDR (Department of Disaster Resilience).

Mr. Zubiri pointed out the need for a DDR in light of Typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses that recently hit the country. — Charmaine A. Tadalan