The House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading a bill expanding the scope of legal aid extended to overseas Filipinos and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
A total of 246 lawmakers voted to approve House Bill (HB) 9035, a measure expanding the use of the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) and the Agarang Kalinga at Saklolo Para sa mga OFWs na Nangangailangan (AKSYON) Fund to be managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), respectively.
“Our overseas Filipinos are our modern-day heroes. Their immeasurable contributions to our country, their families, and communities merit the utmost protection from the government. This measure aims to do just that: protect them at all stages of the legal proceedings, from investigation to trial proper and even after,” Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez, leader of the 310-strong chamber, said.
HB 9035 differentiates the jurisdiction of the DFA and the DMW on using their respective legal aid funds: overseas Filipinos for the DFA and OFWs for the DMW.
The measure amends Section 26 of Republic Act (RA) 8042, or the “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995,” to expand the scope of the LAF from being utilized only for legal aid to “consular assistance” for overseas Filipinos.
“The expenditures to be charged against the Legal Assistance Fund shall include the fees for the foreign lawyers to be hired to represent overseas Filipinos facing charges, expenses for the filing of labor and/or criminal cases against erring or abusive employers or other persons abroad, bail bonds to secure the temporary releases and other litigation expenses,” the bill read.
“Provided, that the Legal Assistance Fund shall, at all times, be made available from the time of the investigation, detention, arrest or indictment of the overseas Filipinos all the way to the trial proper, and at all levels of appeal thereafter,” it added.
In countries with no DMW offices yet, the DFA is mandated to extend legal and other forms of assistance to OFWs in said areas.
As for the AKSYON Fund, HB 9036 amends Section 14 of RA 11641, or the “Department of Migrant Workers Act,” to expand the coverage of the AKSYON Fund for OFWs.
“The expenditures to be charged against the AKSYON Fund shall include the fees for the foreign lawyers to be hired to represent OFWs facing charges, expenses for the filing of labor and/or criminal cases against erring or abusive employers or other persons abroad, bail bonds to secure the temporary releases and other litigation expenses,” the measure read.
Like the use of the LAF, the AKSYON Fund is also being made available “from the time of the investigation, detention, arrest or indictment of the OFWs, all the way to the trial proper, and at all levels of appeals thereafter.”
The hiring of foreign legal counsels and other releases of funds for other expenses related to the mandate prescribed under the measure, “when circumstances warrant urgent action, shall be exempt from the coverage of RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Act.”
HB 9035 is principally authored by Reps. Teodorico Haresco Jr., Ron Salo, Eddie Villanueva, Jocelyn Tulfo, Noel Rivera, Salvador Pleyto, Ma. Alana Santos, Danny Domingo, Marissa Del Mar Magsino, Rosemarie Panotes, Irene Saulog, Kristine Tutor, Ciriaco Gato Jr., Edward Hagedorn, Wilter Palma, Keith Micah Tan, Linabelle Ruth Villarica, Sandro Gonzalez, LRay Villafuerte, and Mannix Dalipe.