Press Release
November 13, 2007

Loren laments 'token' government help to distressed Filipinos abroad

Senator Loren Legarda cited today the pressing need for government to double its efforts in providing legal assistance to distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and in helping give justice to Filipino crime victims abroad.

"Not one government office seems to be on top of this problem, so much so that relatives of overseas Filipinos in trouble go around the labor, foreign affairs and other government offices to seek help," she said.

"Many of them have complained that, at most, the aid being provided their relatives abroad are merely 'token.'"

Loren noted that in the deliberations for the 2008 national budget, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had asked for a hundred-percent increase in its legal assistance fund (LAF) from the present P15 million to P30 million.

"The sought-for budget for LAF alone should give us an idea how low the priority government accords the need to address promptly, sufficiently and thoroughly the legal woes of Filipinos abroad," she said.

The senator lamented the lack of continuously updated statistics on how many Filipinos abroad are currently facing criminal or civil cases, or are detained, convicted, and or are on death row.

"Most of the time, we hear about their cases too late, or when their convictions are already beyond appeal. Our paramount concern here is for all Filipinos to get a fair shake of justice wherever they may be," she said.

Loren pointed out that the sheer number of Filipinos abroad, as well as the varied legal expertise needed for countries where there are big concentrations of Filipinos, calls for the creation of a specialized office to tackle the cases.

She said the legal office she envisions should also be tasked to take an active role in helping Filipino crime victims abroad, noting the distinct possibility of justice being denied them.

"Crime victims are victimized twice over when they are denied justice. This holds true here and abroad," Loren said. Last week, the relatives of an OFW who allegedly committed suicide in Riyadh Saudi Arabia expressed doubts that she killed herself by strangling herself with her hair while in jail.

Loren said that with the relatives of the OFW suspecting foul play, the Philippine government should ask the Saudi government to investigate the matter deeper.

She noted that while legal assistance to distressed overseas Filipinos are provided by the labor and foreign departments, the effort must be joined to make it more effective.

"We will need Filipino lawyers who will also be versed in the laws of other countries if we are to be effective in providing legal assistance to overseas Filipinos. We cannot be overly dependent in retaining the services of foreign legal counsels," she said.

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