DFA questioned over zero acquittal of OFWs facing charges in various countries

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Manila, Philippines – Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva questioned anew report of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) that there is zero acquittal of hundreds Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) facing charges in many countries.

During a Senate committee on migrant workers public hearing, the senator quoted a DFA report that from 2022, there were 5,141 cases involving Filipinos, 1,278 were concluded or there were decisions and while 3,863 were marked pending.

DFA Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega said the ‘’zero acquittal’’ in the report suggests that all those facing charges were not meted the maximum penalty or were settled.

He said that he was not the DFA Undersecretary at that time but admitted that there were few who had been charged were acquitted.

Sen. Villanueva said there is a need for the DFA to assess lawyers it had hired. This even as  he questioned the need for the services of these lawyers if they lose the cases of Filipinos anyway.

For his part, Senator Raffy Tulfo said the lawyers hired by DFA could be underperforming because it is unacceptable that not a dozen Filipinos indicted were not acquitted.

The bottom line is that there was legal representation for OFWs rather than without representation, De Vega said.

This statement however did not sit well with Villanueva.

The senator likewise thanked the Senate committee for including in its agenda in today’s hearing Senate Bill 1448, which seeks to expand the use of the Legal Assistance Fund.

‘’Thus, in line with the state’s policy to afford full protection to labor, both local and overseas, we are seeking, with the help of the committee and all persons present today, to expand the coverage of the Legal Assistance Fund to include all stages of case proceedings, from the time of commencement of the complaint, until promulgation and execution of judgment, and all appeal levels,’’ Villanueva said.

He also said that he sponsored the said bill back in the 18th Congress and was approved on 3rd reading with the support of his colleagues.

Unfortunately, the bill did not make it into law due to lack of time.

“That is why we are here again to advocate for the swift passage of this bill, as we believe that we need to further expand and extend our help to our fellow citizens across the globe,’’ Villanueva said.

Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Undersecretary Bernard Olalia, during the hybrid hearing on three bills concerning Filipino migrant workers, said he is supporting the measures particularly Senate Bill (SB) 969, or the Filipino Migrant Workers, which would strengthen the protection of migrant workers in cases when their employment is prematurely terminated without just cause.

The DMW official said the department likewise supports SB1175, or Encouraging New Lawyer-Scholars to Provide Free Legal Services to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and SB 1448, or Expanding the Use of the Legal Assistance Fund.

He said the passage of the bills would give legal support to migrant workers and enjoin all stakeholders to provide legal services to OFWs.