Press Release
February 26, 2020

Villanueva: Measure expanding legal assistance fund for overseas Filipinos hurdles 3rd reading

With 21 affirmative votes, no negative votes and no abstention, the Senate on Wednesday, February 26, approved on third and final reading a measure expanding the use of a fund meant to help more than 10 million Filipinos working in foreign lands.

Filipinos abroad encountering legal issues could avail of free legal assistance from the government through the embassies and foreign posts which taps the legal assistance fund (LeAF), explained Senator Joel Villanueva, principal author and sponsor of Senate Bill No. 1233.

"It is only befitting that we call this fund the LeAF because it symbolizes hope for our distressed kababayans overseas. They need not look very far to seek assistance because our government will always be ready to lend a helping hand," Villanueva said in a statement.

Villanueva, chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development, thanked colleagues for supporting the bill, which was filed under Committee Report No. 30.

The measure, which seeks to amend Section 26 of the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, expands the use of the Legal Assistance Fund that the government taps to cover various costs of overseas Filipinos who initiate or is impleaded in any type of case abroad.

In 2020, a total of P201.34 million is available for the provision on legal services to help overseas Filipinos and migrant workers in distress.

Outlining the amendments to provisions on the LeAF in RA 8042, Villanueva said the measure mandates the availability of the fund at all times for the use of distressed overseas Filipinos and migrant workers 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 said. Villanueva also pointed out that the measure seeks to expand the coverage of the fund to include other bonds aside from bail bonds required by foreign courts, tribunals or other agencies.

Another amendment introduced in the measure 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.

The aim is to advance and improve not only the quality, but also the promptness of the delivery of legal assistance to our migrant workers and overseas Filipinos in distress, according to Villanueva.

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