Increase OFWs legal fund budget

THE principal author of the law that provides for the allotment of P100 million to the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) for overseas Filipino workers is quite unhappy these past days.

The author, Valenzuela city 1st District Rep. Rex Gatchalian (NPC) who worked tirelessly to amend the Migrant Workers Act of 1995 to include LAF is understandably uneasy because of Malacanang’s decision to cut to nearly half the legal fund for migrant workers.

He is urging Malacanang to take a second hard look and consider all options before going ahead with its decision to slash the legal assistance fund for OFWS in the proposed P1.645-trillion national budget for next year.

Gatchalian who is a 2nd term lawmaker has been very consistent in his advocacy of providing support and protection to our OFWs.

He knows fully well the hardships, loneliness and other travails these OFWs have to go through in other countries just to earn money to support their families and keep the country’s economy afloat.

“Our migrant workers look up to the government as their protector and ally. They know that our government will be at their side to defend them whenever they feel that they are at the shorter end of justice in other countries” Gatchalian said.

“But they would surely feel abandoned and betrayed once they learned that instead of helping them, it (the government) has slashed the legal assistance fund which they could use to hire competent lawyers to defend them with their legal problems” he continued.

Gatchalian instead proposed that the government should follow what was stipulated in the law which he authored that allots P100 million revolving fund for the OFWs legal fund.

“I always support the Palace’s decision to cut cost on its expenditures but it should not come at the expense of our OFWs who have been one of our most reliable partners in nation building as well as in keeping our economy alive even during the most trying times such as the world’s financial meltdown last year” he explained.

He is reacting to the plan of Aquino administration to further cut the OFWs’ legal assistance fund from P 50 million this year to P27 million next year.

Gatchalian in his capacity as vice chairman of the House Overseas Affairs Committee during the 14th Congress filed House Bill No.701 that subsequently became Republic Act No. 10022 amending the Migrant Workers’ Act of 1995.

As a member of the bicameral conference committee he successfully defended the bill before it became a law that included among its provisions a mandate for the DFA to use its legal assistance fund amounting to P100 million to file charges against foreign employers and agencies abroad in behalf of aggrieved Filipino workers.

“The truth is the law which I authored mandates the government to allot P100 million legal assistance fund, but for some unknown reasons they want to cut it to P 27 million from the previous amount of P50 million” he stressed.

Official records indicate that there are 108 OFWs facing death row, 7,000 are behind bars and in Middle East alone, there are at least 10,000 stranded workers who are mostly runaways and seeking repatriation.

“Our OFWs especially those who are distressed and are facing jail time in other countries for various cases most of whom are trumped –up charges deserve better treatment from the government “he pointed out.

Indeed, Gatchalian has a point and the present regime could show genuine concern and care for our OFWs by increasing to P100 million instead of slashing the legal assistance fund which in the first place is what was stated in the law. Bobby Ricohermoso

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