Posted on

2 February 2022

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With support from Ople Center and ASEAN-ACT

In late-December 2021 the Philippines Government enacted legislation to establish a new government agency, the Department of Migrant Workers, which includes direct provisions to investigate illegal recruitment of and human trafficking cases of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

Through ASEAN-ACT’s partnership with Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute (Ople Centre), significant consultation on the drafting of the Department of Migrant Workers Act has ensured legislated protection to vulnerable groups.

The Ople Center works closely across provincial and national levels of government in the Philippines, which has been influential to ensuring counter-trafficking measures are included within the Department.

Through the Coalition Against Trafficking of OFWs (CAT-OFW), co-founded by head of the Ople Center and former Philippine labour undersecretary, Susan Ople, members lobbied to strengthen the counter-trafficking work of the Department and include a blacklist of agencies and corporations known to be involved in trafficking.

Now, the new Department will sit as a member of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), of which Ople Center is the NGO representative for migrant workers and works closely with the Department of Justice to “investigate, initiate, sue, pursue and help prosecute” illegal recruitment and human trafficking cases.  

Programs specifically resourced to protect OFWs against trafficking and ensure the private sector adhere to Fair and Ethical Recruitment standards to further protection for vulnerable groups will also be included through the Department.

In 2019 estimates revealed there are around 2.2 million OFWs deployed internationally at any given time, with the vast majority working in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).[1]

More than 50 percent of OFWs are women, a majority of them domestic workers, and are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and trafficking in persons (TIP).

Research conducted by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Asia Pacific found that in 2020, 75 percent of cases of abuse received by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) involved female overseas migrant workers.[2]

A study presented in 2021 by the IACAT, Ople Center, and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on OFWs.

The data found that 83 percent of more than 500,000 returned OFWs had not secured employment in the Philippines within three months of their return and 59 percent were unable to receive compensation. Many OFWs remain stranded in their countries of work due to the pandemic and grow increasingly vulnerable to human trafficking.

Susan Ople stressed this vulnerability, ‘We [Ople Center] want to flag that these stranded OFWs are potential victims of human traffickers.’

Prior to the pandemic, perpetrators of trafficking were identifying new mechanisms, including third country recruitment and use of social media to recruit, which has been further exacerbated by the pandemic.

Ople Center works with government to identify and strengthen these gaps through advocacy and representing the realities faced by OFWs and other vulnerable groups through their work with the IACAT.


Ople Center and ASEAN-ACT are working in partnership to ensure the Philippine Government and key stakeholders have a Roadmap to ensure the sustainability of good practices and access to justice and reintegration services for OFWs who are vulnerable to trafficking.


A range of significant advancements to the protection of vulnerable groups have been made through Ople Center’s work with the IACAT and the Duterte administration.

The Task Force assisted 2,294 women domestic workers, investigated 233 cases, and filed 10 criminal and 10 administrative cases resulting in three landmark convictions in Bahrain, Malaysia and the Philippines. Ople Center’s direct support has enabled 596 domestic workers who have been victims of abuse and exploitation to gain livelihoods training and start their own businesses; development of the first cloud-based information management system to track cases and complaints from OFWs, and ongoing support to OFWs and their families through policy reform.

For more information about our grants program visit: www.aseanact.org/about/grants-program


[1] Philippine Statistics Authority, https://psa.gov.ph/statistics/survey/labor-and-employment/survey-overseas-filipinos

[2] As OFWs come home, bigger risks add to their uncertain future, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1466919/as-ofws-come-home-bigger-risks-add-to-their-uncertain-future