Friday, September 30, 2011

P100M OFW legal defense fund restored

MANILA (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 30, 2011) - The Aquino government is restoring fully the P100-million Legal Assistance Fund for overseas Filipino workers to the Department of Foreign Affairs, House Assistant Majority Leader Eduardo Gullas said Friday.

“We are counting on the LAF to extend ample legal protection to the growing number of OFWs coming into conflict with the law in their respective host countries,” Gullas, a member of the House committee on appropriations, said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

“As more Filipinos go abroad to seek greener pastures, those getting into potential trouble with the law will also likely increase. The LAF is there to be used exclusively to support their legal defense,” Gullas said.

In the proposed 2012 General Appropriations Act, a fresh allocation of P30 million would keep the LAF at P100 million, said Gullas, also a member of the House committee on labor and employment.

The LAF was first established by law with P100 million, of which P50 million was sourced from the Contingency Fund of the President, and P30 million from the Presidential Social Fund, and another P20 million from the trust fund of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

The fund is run by the DFA’s Legal Assistant for Migrant Workers, which is responsible for the provision and overall coordination of all legal aid services to OFWs and other Filipinos abroad.

Gullas said expenses chargeable against the LAF include the professional fees of foreign lawyers who represent OFWs facing charges, bail bonds to secure the temporary release of those detained, and other costs associated with going to court.

The cases of Filipinos Sally Villanueva, 32; Ramon Credo, 42; and Elizabeth Batain, 38, who were executed in China on March 30, became a highly emotional issue in the Philippines.

The three were convicted of drug smuggling and put to death, despite repeated pleas by the Philippine government for their sentences to be commuted.

Still on OFWs, Gullas said another P50 million has been earmarked to support their economic reintegration through livelihood and jobs programs upon their return.

“The amount is on top of the P2-billion fund meant to help reassimilate returning OFWs through sustainable small business opportunities,” he said.

Government recently launched the fund in partnership with the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines.

The Philippines deployed a total of 1,470,826 workers overseas in 2010 – four percent, or 48,240, more than the 1,422,586 it set out in 2009.

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