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Expansion of legal fund for distressed overseas Filipinos sought



PASAY CITY --The Senate has begun deliberations into the proposed measure that expands the use of a fund meant to help overseas Filipinos facing legal distress in their places of work abroad.

Senator Joel Villanueva sponsored on Tuesday Senate Bill No. 1233, which seeks to expand the use of the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) that the government taps to cover various costs of overseas Filipinos embroiled in legal actions abroad.

Speaking at the plenary, Villanueva explained the necessity of instituting amendments on the use of the LAF, saying the proposed measure would ultimately benefit more OFWs in distress should it pass in the upper chamber.

"Full protection of labor more significantly implies a continuing positive duty on the part of the State to ensure that the rights of its workers are at all times protected and their welfare promoted and improved at every chance possible," said Villanueva, chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development.

Outlining the amendments to provisions on the LAF in Republic Act No. 8042 or the Migrant Workers' law, Villanueva pointed out that the proposed measure sought to expand the coverage of the fund to include the payment of bail bonds, but other bonds required by foreign courts, tribunals or other agencies. but also by other agencies or tribunals.

Another amendment contained in SBN 1233 is the granting of authority to foreign posts to use the fund to engage the services of paralegals familiar with the country's culture to provide immediate basic assistance and legal aid to distressed overseas Filipinos. The aim is to advance and improve not only the quality, but also the promptness of the delivery of these services to our migrant workers and overseas Filipinos, according to Villanueva.

The measure also mandates the availability of the fund at all times for the use of distressed OFWs and Filipinos abroad.

"It further clarifies that such assistance shall be given from the moment the case is initiated, or the proceeding is commenced, until its termination, promulgation, and execution. This assistance extends further to all appeals taken on these cases, thereby guaranteeing full and complete support to distressed Filipinos overseas," the senator pointed out.

Another key amendment in the measure provides that the Secretary of Foreign Affairs may delegate the authority to the head of Post to approve an expenditure chargeable to the LAF, subject to existing rules and regulations of the Commission on Audit. Villanueva explained that under the current system, heads of Posts seek approval from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila before the fund may be available to migrant workers and overseas Filipinos in distress, resulting in delays in providing immediate legal assistance to the detriment of the distressd Filipinos.

"We urge our esteemed colleagues to rally behind this noble effort to further strengthen the protection afforded by the State to our migrant workers and overseas Filipinos. The risks and vulnerabilities suffered by our countrymen overseas cannot be overemphasized," Villanueva said. "The proposed amendments to the Migrant Workers Act are a testament to the State's continuing effort to give true meaning to the constitutional edict of giving 'full protection' to our migrant workers and distressed overseas Filipinos."

Data shows a steady increase of Filipinos who have sought the help of the DFA for legal assistance has been on a steady increase. In 2018, there are 3,735 overseas Filipinos who have been assisted by the DFA through the legal assistance fund.

As of August 31, 2019, some 4,116 have already benefited from the legal assistance fund, government data showed.(Senate)