Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte has appealed to Congress for the speedy passage of a bill seeking provide overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) discounted remittance fees.
Duterte called for the approval of House Bill (HB) 4469 along with other similar measures that aim to protect OFW remittances from oppressive charges as the nation currently commemorates the Month of Overseas Filipinos.
Passing the measure would also complement the OFW-friendly legacy of his father, former President Rodrigo Duterte, which was the establishment of the Overseas Filipino Bank (OFBank), the first branchless and digital-only bank in the country exclusively catering to the financial needs of Filipinos based abroad, the Davao City lawmaker said.
“The billions of dollars in remittances sent home by our OFWs, who we consider as modern-day heroes, have always been one of the country’s major economic drivers. The money they send home helped the country ride out the economic shock triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is
important that we protect their hard-earned earnings,” Duterte said.
HB 4469, which was filed by Duterte with Benguet Rep. Eric Yap and ACT-CIS party-list Reps. Jeffrey Soriano and Edvic Yap as co-authors. The measure also makes it mandatory for OFWs and their families to attend financial education seminars conducted by the government to teach them in properly handling and investing their money.
The bill also backs a proposal setting a 50 percent cut on OFW remittance fees imposed by banks and non-bank financial intermediaries, which, in turn, can claim such discounts as tax deductions on gross income. The total deductions that can be claimed from the grant of the 50 percent discount is capped at P24,000 per OFW every taxable year.
Duterte pointed out that this hefty reduction in OFW remittance fees is possible and can even be lowered further with the use of technology, as shown by the innovations done by financial technology developers who use mobile apps and other digital platforms to offer zero transaction fees and reasonable foreign exchange rates in processing remittances.
These pioneering financial services are now available in the market and are expected to flourish after the pandemic forced a shift to more digital options in transactions, Duterte said.
He recalled that the Duterte administration pioneered digital banking services for OFWs by opening and operationalizing the OFBank.
Duterte noted that the OFBank not only offers 24/7 availability but also shields OFWs from ludicrous foreign exchange rates and unreasonable remittance fees by offering zero charges on transfers between OFBank accounts and Land Bank of the Philippines accounts.
OFBank account holders are also able to invest in retail treasury bonds through the OFBank Mobile Banking App, among other financial
services, he added.
“These innovations pioneered by OFBank can be strengthened by passing House Bill 4469 and the eight other bills now pending in Congress with similar provisions,” Duterte said.
OFW remittances rose 3.8 percent year-on-year in September 2022 alone to USD2.84 billion, according to data from the Bangko Sentral ng PIlipinas (BSP).
Even amid a pandemic, money sent home by OFWs hit a new high in 2021, reaching USD31.42 billion, which exceeded the previous record of USD30.13 billion in 2019.
Cash remittances in 2021 rose 5.1 percent from USD29.9 billion in 2020.
Under HB 4469, banks and other financial service providers are barred from raising their current remittance fees without prior consultation with the Department of Finance (DOF), BSP, and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
Duterte underscored the need for OFWs and their families to be financially literate so that they can learn to spend, save and invest their money wisely, which is why HB 4469 also contains a provision that requires the DOF, BSP, POEA and other relevant government agencies to educate them in handling their earnings and remittances.
Violations committed under HB 4469, such as the misappropriation or conversion of foreign exchange remittances that prove prejudicial to the OFW or his or her beneficiary, and the imposition of excessive remittance fees, among other infractions, are penalized under the bill with imprisonment and fines depending on the amount of money involved.