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Expanded Legal Aid and Financial Literacy Mandate Passed for Overseas Filipinos and OFWs

House pushes for expanding legal aid to OFWs
courtesy of PNA

MANILA – A significant measure aimed at providing comprehensive legal aid to overseas Filipinos and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) has been passed, garnering overwhelming support from the House of Representatives. Speaker Martin Romualdez stressed that the bill, House Bill 9035, would ensure the protection of OFWs throughout all stages of legal proceedings, from investigation to trial and beyond.

“Our overseas Filipinos are our modern-day heroes. Their immeasurable contributions to our country, their families, and communities merit the utmost protection from the government,” said Romualdez.

The bill expands the use of the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) and the Agarang Kalinga at Saklolo Para sa mga OFWs na Nangangailangan (AKSYON) Fund, to be managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), respectively. The LAF will now be available from the initial investigation, detention, arrest, or indictment of overseas Filipinos all the way through the trial and subsequent levels of appeal.

The bill also seeks to amend Republic Act (RA) 8042, known as the “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995,” to expand the scope of the LAF from providing solely legal aid to offering “consular assistance” for overseas Filipinos. The AKSYON Fund, on the other hand, will have an expanded coverage for OFWs under the amendment of RA 11641, also known as the “Department of Migrant Workers Act.”

Expenses covered by the LAF and AKSYON Fund include fees for foreign lawyers representing overseas Filipinos facing charges, expenses for filing labor and/or criminal cases against abusive employers or other individuals abroad, bail bonds for temporary release, and other litigation expenses.

In addition to the legal aid measures, the House also unanimously passed House Bill 9292, which mandates the inclusion of a personal financial literacy course in the curriculum of technical-vocational institutions (TVIs) and training centers under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). The bill aims to equip students with essential knowledge and skills in wealth management, financial decision-making, and contingency planning.

Romualdez emphasized the importance of financial literacy, highlighting its role in preventing financial fraud, promoting financial discipline, responsible debt usage, and encouraging saving for education and retirement.

Under the bill, TVIs and TESDA training centers will provide students with the necessary financial education to complement their technical-vocational skills and competencies. The curriculum will focus on personal finance and will be based on policies jointly set by TESDA, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Department of Finance (DOF), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Insurance Commission (IC). This move aims to empower students with financial literacy as an essential life skill for their day-to-day transactions and activities.

The passage of these bills marks significant strides in protecting the rights and welfare of overseas Filipinos and promoting financial education among the country’s youth, reflecting the government’s commitment to supporting these vital sectors of society. (Isabel Almonte)