ISSO – International Social Services Office – Purpose, Functions, and Responsibilities

The Philippines is well-known as a major supplier of international labor. The number of Filipinos migrating to work in other countries has increased steadily since the 1970s. Every year, more than a million Filipino workers are deployed to more than 200 nations and territories throughout the world, where they work in thousands of different occupations.

The Social Welfare Attaché Office (SWATO) was formed as one of the Divisions under the Special Operations Office (SOO) by the International Social Services Offices (ISSOs) in January 2014.

International Social Services Offices (ISSOs)International Social Services Offices (ISSOs)

What is International Social Services Philippines (ISSP)?

The ISSO at the Foreign Post is primarily responsible for safeguarding undocumented and distressed overseas Filipinos (OFs) and their families from abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and other practices that are damaging, destructive, and exploitative to them and their families.

Responsibilities

The ISSPs’ general responsibilities are as follows:

  • Mobilize overseas-based social welfare agencies and/or individuals and groups for coordinated service delivery, depending on defined points of collaboration.
  • Prepare and submit periodic and special reports to the home office, as well as administrative documentary needs and OFW social welfare situations.
  • Provide distressed and undocumented OFs with direct social welfare services.
  • To better respond to the needs of the OFs, serve as a link between the OFs, their families in the Philippines, the home office, and other relevant agencies in the Philippines and overseas.

Benefits

ISSO was created in response to the challenges of a continuous and rapid increase in the number of externally migrating Filipinos, which exacerbates the problem of human rights violations affecting them, as well as the department’s responsibility to effectively and efficiently respond to these challenges; and the growing number of countries with deployed Social Welfare Attaché (SWAtts), which necessitates more focused monitoring and supervision.

General Objective

To protect and promote the general welfare and rights of Overseas Filipinos, particularly undocumented and distressed Filipinos overseas and their families, by establishing an effective and efficient system of SWAtt deployment and management at the DSWD head office and in Foreign Posts.

Specific Objectives

  • Define the roles, objectives, and responsibilities of SWAtts and their assistants at posts in relation to the bureau and other DSWD offices.
  • Establish an adequate human resource management structure for Social Welfare Attaches and their assistants, including recruiting, selection, deployment, training, ongoing capacity building, and monitoring.
  • To ensure effective and efficient implementation of social welfare and social protection, establish defined policies, methods, and procedures in the management and operation of the International Social Service Office.
  • To set clear guidelines for ISSO employees’ entitlements and benefits.

Personnel of the ISSO

From the selection process to the actual performance of their tasks at post, the BISS, in collaboration with the HRDB, will ensure that ISSO personnel have a high level of competency.

1. Regular Social Welfare Attaché (SWAtt)

  • As ordered by the Head of the Diplomatic Post in the area of assignment, performs additional associated functions in the delivery of social services.
  • Creates networks and coordinates social welfare services for OFs with host nation social welfare organizations, individuals, and organizations.
  • Consults with overseas Filipinos/migrants and relevant authorities on a regular basis to ensure effective and efficient service collaboration and coordination.
  • In collaboration with members of the national team, manages cases of overseas Filipinos (OFs) in need of social protection and social welfare services, such as victims of human trafficking, unlawful recruitment, abused OFs, and abandoned/neglected children, among others.
  • Oversees the ISSO and its employees.
  • Prepares OFs’ social welfare status in their assigned area or post.
  • Prepares periodic and special reports to the Head of the Post and Home Office, such as accomplishment reports, financial reports, and other special reports, highlighting issues and concerns affecting Filipinos abroad and SWATTs’ service delivery, as well as corresponding policy and program recommendations that must be implemented.

2. Assistant Social Welfare Attaché (ASWAtt)

  • Assist the Social Welfare Attaché
  • Assist the Office of the Social Welfare Attaché in carrying out its mandate in the following responsibilities by providing administrative support.
  • Carry out any other duties as given by the Social Welfare Attaché at the Post.

ISSO Clientele at Posts

  • The SWAtts will serve undocumented and distressed OFs, as well as other Filipinos in need of DSWD services, who are:
  • Accused/suspected of crimes (detainees – absence/expired/fake legal document, prisoners – crimes such as drugs, murder, robbery, etc., and detainees – absence/expired/fake legal document)
  • Children that require extra protection (abused, abandoned , foundling , neglected, surrendered , orphaned , and on custody issue)
  • Exploitation, Abuse, Maltreatment, Unfair Labor Practices, and Confiscated Documents victims
  • Filipinos looking for information on DSWD services such as child travel clearance and adoption
  • Filipinos seeking a Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage (LCCM) (for provision of pre-marriage counseling)
  • Minors traveling with their parents or other adults
  • Natural and human-caused disaster victims (war, armed conflict, political unrest. fire, earthquake, flooding, accident, and pandemic)
  • OFs in common law relationship
  • OFs in the host country and the Philippines who are having domestic problems
  • OFs not in distress who participated in orientation sessions or capability building activities
  • OFs who are involved in an extramarital relationship
  • Overstaying (expired visa)
  • Petty crime victims (snatching/robbery)
  • Trafficking victims, unlawful recruiting victims, rape/abuse/maltreatment by employers, kidnapping victims, and victims of human-caused and natural calamities
  • Unauthorized entry into the host country (“backdoor”)

SWAtt may also provide social welfare services to documented Filipinos on a case-by-case basis or in response to a request from the respective Embassy’s ATNU and/or the POLO for psychosocial services.

The SWAtt will not hire OFWs in distress to work as private employees or run errands for them. In no event should the SWAtt harbor fleeing OFWs in his or her living quarters; they should be referred to the Embassy center for troubled OFs, as well as other residential facilities maintained by partner agencies and bed and breakfast establishments.

ISSO Strategies

Building and Networking Partnerships

Collaborating closely with government, non-government, and church-based organizations; Filipino Communities (FilComs); and members of the country team on program complementation and multi-disciplinary responses to OFs’ problems.

Information / Education / Communication / Advocacy (IECA)

IECA on Embassy and DSWD services are using a variety of media, including print, broadcast, electronic/internet/phone, and actual orientation to walk-in customers or during Embassy consular missions.

Resource Generation and Mobilization

This involves identifying and obtaining people, material, financial, and other forms of resources from a variety of sources in order to meet the requirements of distressed OFs.

Social Case Management System

This refers to the use of Gender Responsive Case Management (GRCM) in managing clients with special cases (i.e. victims-survivors of human trafficking and abuse/maltreatment), in collaboration with members of the country team, to ensure that clients receive gender-based and multi-disciplinary interventions.

ISSO’s Interventions in the Post

Within the framework of the “One Country Team Approach,” the SWAtt will use fundamental social work procedures to manage the cases of undocumented and distressed OFs.

The services and interventions listed below can be delivered to undocumented and distressed overseas Filipinos using the established service delivery method outlined in the DOLE-initiated Joint Manual of Operation in Providing Assistance to Migrant Workers and Other Filipinos Overseas.

A. Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS)

1. For people who have no way of communicating with their families or relatives in the Philippines, communication support is provided in the form of a mobile card or free phone calls.

2. Material Assistance which includes but not limited to clothing, sleeping blankets/supplies, hygiene kits, and food.

3. Medical Assistance is provided in the form of limited financial assistance for consultations/medical examinations, laboratory expenses, hospitalization, and drug purchases.

4. Temporary Shelter assistance.

5. Transportation Assistance for repatriation and transportation within the post and in the Philippines.

B. Pre-marriage/Marriage Counseling

This shall be provided to Filipinos applying for Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage (LCCM) Certificate in accordance with Article 16 of the Family welfare Code that provides for the contracting parties or would be couples to undergo marriage counseling and be issued marriage counseling certificate.

C. Psychosocial Services

1. Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) / Stress Debriefing (CISD) 

It is a group process for reducing the risk of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It allows people to express their anguish and create suitable beliefs about stress reactions before incorrect interpretations of the experience become entrenched in their minds.

2. Psychosocial processing (PSP)

Is a method of facilitating the venting of emotions related to traumatic experiences and generating psychological, emotional, and social issues among survivors of traumatic events by assisting them in going through the process of evoking/re-living and facing the feelings triggered by the traumatic or bad experiences in order to facilitate emotional and psychological healing/recovery.

It also helps individuals cope successfully with the emotional effects of a major catastrophe or tragedy by providing education on the current anticipated stress response, as well as information on stress management and contingency planning.

3. Services for Counseling (by either individual , group and family)

This will help them deal with feelings of homesickness and other psychosocial issues. When deemed required, intensive therapeutic counseling for situations of abuse/maltreatment, particularly of women and children, will be provided. Its primary goal is to aid the client in gaining insight into and resolving his or her issues.

4. Socio-Cultural Activities

It aimed at assisting new migrant workers and other overseas Filipinos in settling in and integrating into the host country’s culture, as well as strengthening Filipino solidarity and amicable relationships. Participation in special events organized by the Embassy and FilCom, which include activities that improve behavior in dealing with others, preserves Filipino cultural practices and values, and improves coping and life skills through sessions, consultations, and orientations, among other things.

5. Value Inculcation Services

Include activities that will reinforce excellent values, morality, ethics, ideas, beliefs, and behaviors that are required to live a morally acceptable and productive life. This includes seminars for distressed OFs on healing and resiliency.

D. Referral Services

It is facilitating distressed OFs’ access to assistance provided by other relevant GOs and NGOs in both the host country and the Philippines, including DSWD Field Offices and the Home Office.

E. Training/Capability Building Activities

Members of the country team and FilComs will receive training in social work skills, methodologies, tactics, and processes.

F. Other Services needed by Overseas Filipino

Budget for educational assistance, mobile phone cards, assistive devices for persons with disabilities, and other needs of distressed Filipinos and detainees OFs not covered by the SWAtt WFP will be charged to the SWAtt Other Operating Expenses item (OOE).

What are the SWAtts BENEFITS, ALLOWANCES, and SALARIES?

The Foreign Service Act, as well as DFA, DBM, and DSWD guidelines/policies/issuances for Foreign Service Personnel, govern the benefits/allowances of the SWAtts which include, among other things:

  1. Allowance for Clothing.

This is awarded to SWAtt no more than once every twelve (12) months, at the DFA’s discretion. According to the DBM Compensation Scheme for Foreign Service Personnel, it will be prorated based on the number of months the tour of duty would be in effect.

2. Allowance for Relocation.

The SWAtt might either ship or receive a monetary equivalent to fifty percent (50%) of the relocation rates given under DFA Department Order No. 03-08 and Title XII, Section 64, Part an of the Foreign Service Act.

3. Allowance for Representation.

This is given to SWAtt and can be used for necessary entertainment, charitable contributions, memorials, flowers, gifts, club initiation fees and membership dues, and the like, but it must be accompanied by proper receipts or vouchers or other proofs that the expenditures were made in the public interest. The amount will be calculated using the DFA’s monthly rate.

4. Allowance for the family.

Granted to a Foreign Service officer who is residing with his family at the post of assignment, a dependent spouse, and each unmarried legal minor dependent child, up to a maximum of three (3). Only one of the husband and wife who are both in the Foreign Service and assigned to the same station may claim the stipend.

5. Leave Benefits

Additional Vacation and Sick Leave – Based on the OFA rules and regulations on time credit accumulation, the SWAtt will be entitled to an additional 15 days of vacation leave and 15 days of sick leave. During in-country assignments, however, such additional leave credits will not be provided.

Forced Leave for five days – According to existing CSC guidelines, all officials and workers with at least ten (10) days of vacation leave credits must take a minimum of five (5) days of vacation time, whether continuous or intermittent (force leave). This rule also applies to the SWAtts/ASWAtts. The five (5) days of required leave will be removed from vacation leave credits if not used during the year. However, if a request for force leave is made but is denied due to a service emergency, the time not used will no longer be deducted from earned vacation leave credits.

Home Leave – They are also entitled to a maximum of 30 days of home leave after completing three (3) years of continuous and excellent service abroad. Home Leave is not cumulative and should only be taken with the Secretary’s permission.

6. Living Quarters Allowance

In Posts where landlords have a standard practice of requiring an advance rental or deposit of at least six (6) months to one (1) year, an advance payment of the Living Quarters Allowance sufficient to cover the required amount may be authorized; provided, however, that the advance rental is paid directly to the landlord by the SWAtt.

7. Medical Insurance

The SWAtt will be obliged to join a medical insurance plan offered by the host country. The SWAtt shall pay twenty-five percent (25%) of the related premiums, with the Department bearing the remaining seventy-five percent (75%) as its contribution, which should be reflected in the work and financial plan. Payment should be paid to the Embassy’s Finance Officer. Prior to posting and immediately upon the signing of the authorization to travel, HRDB will enroll the incoming SWAtt in the DFA’s chosen insurance carrier through the Office of the Assistant Secretary of DFA-OPAS.

8. Overseas Allowance

Shall be given to SWAtt to adjust take-home pay for any changes in the cost of living overseas resulting from changes in foreign currency conversion rates, differential cost of living between the Philippines and foreign posts, and extraordinary and necessary expenses not otherwise compensated, which are incurred by officers or employees while serving abroad.

9. Salaries

The SWAtts and ASWAtts will continue to be paid through payroll/ATM. Any arrangement that differs from the standard monthly salary payment method must be properly communicated and approved by the GASSG’s head through the Financial Management Service.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Be advised of these FAQs about ISSO office:

1. What is ISSO?

o  ISSO was established to protect undocumented and distressed overseas Filipinos (OFs) and their families from abuse, exploitation, human trafficking, and other harmful, destructive, and exploitative behaviors.

2.    What is SWAtt?

SWAtt is the person who leads the ISSO at post and is in charge of carrying out the responsibilities outlined in the guidelines.

3. What is the role of ISSO in assisting OFWs?

o  ISSO works to safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of Filipinos living overseas, particularly undocumented and distressed Filipinos and their families.

4. What is the purpose of ISSO?

ISSO’s purpose is to provide clear policies, methods, and procedures in management and operations to ensure that social welfare and social protection are implemented effectively and efficiently.

5. Is it possible for me to apply for multiple ISSO services?

Yes, you can apply to multiple ISSO services as long as you meet their qualifications.

Summary

In January 2014, the International Social Services Offices (ISSOs) established the Social Welfare Attaché Office (SWATO) as one of the Divisions under the Special Operations Office (SOO). The ISSO at the Foreign Post is primarily responsible for preventing abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of overseas Filipinos (OFs) and their families.

ISSO was established in response to the issues posed by an ongoing and significant growth in the number of Filipinos migrating overseas.d

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