By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Senate approved on third and final reading Wednesday the bill seeking to expand the use of the legal assistance fund for migrant and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Senate Bill No. 1233 hurdled the Upper Chamber with 21 affirmative and no negative votes from senators during their afternoon session.
The measure seeks to amend Republic Act No. 8042, the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, to strengthen the Legal Assistance Fund dedicated to Filipino migrants and OFWs in distress.
It proposes to mandate the availability of the fund at all times, at all kinds of appeal, from the moment the case is initiated, or the proceeding has commenced, until its termination, promulgation, and execution of judgment.
It also seeks to expand the coverage of the fund to include other bonds aside from bail bonds required by foreign courts, tribunals or other agencies.
It also seeks to authorize foreign posts to use the Legal Assistance Fund to hire paralegals who have extensive knowledge of the language, laws, customs and traditions of the foreign country.
Another amendment introduced in the bill is the grant of authority to the head of mission of the Philippine Embassy concerned instead of the home office to use the fund to hire foreign lawyers to serve the needs of distressed overseas Filipinos and migrant workers.
Senator Joel Villanueva, chair of the Senate Committee on Labor and sponsor of the bill, said the measure’s approval would be a “specific, measurable and realistic response” to the cases of abuse and harassment of Filipino migrants and OFWs abroad.
“Kapag tuluyang naging batas na ang LeAF, ang pondo at tulong sa mga distressed OFWs, maiibsan o tuluyang na nating mapapawi ang sakit na dinaranas ng ating mga manggagawa sa ibang bansa (If the Legal Assistance Fund bill is enacted into law, or the fund and assistance to our distressed OFWs, we will be able to ease or finally remove the suffering of our workers in other countries),” Villanueva said in his speech.
In 2020, a total of P201.34 million was allocated for the legal services to help OFWs in distress.