Sen. Raffy Tulfo urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to hire high-caliber lawyers, noting that there have been zero acquittals over several years of cases involving overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
In the Senate hearing of the Committee on Migrant Workers on bills to strengthen financial and legal assistance to OFWs, Tulfo said this move will boost the DFA’s free legal services for distressed OFWs.
He noted that the effective way to improve the low acquittal rate of cases involving OFWs is by ensuring that they have good representation.
Usec. Eduardo De Vega said he cannot remember if there was an acquittal of cases in the period January to June 2022.
“I cannot recall the last six months if there was an acquittal…We don’t get a lot of acquittals, that’s the fact. We don’t get a lot of acquittals,” De Vega said.
When Tulfo inquired if it was due to poor lawyers, and Majority Leader Joel Villanueva asked if it was due to weak gathering of evidence, De Vega replied it’s better to have a legal counsel than none at all.
Tulfo and Villanueva however did not buy the reason given by De Vega.
Tulfo told the DFA official that it’s their mandate to help OFWs in distress.
Earlier, Villanueva also told De Manalo that if there are no acquittals, then what is the purpose of the DFA and that the agency needs to “evaluate the things.”
De Vega also said that oftentimes, complaints were settled so charges were no longer pursued.
Other senators also questioned why the DFA is not doing something to help OFWs in their legal battles. The DFA, however claimed that cases might be pending or the report was wrong.
Tulfo also asked De Vega to ensure that offices abroad would operate on the expected 8 working hours per day, or more, to cater to OFWs in need of assistance.
He said some OFWs he met during a trip abroad complained that DFA employees only work “half day” and entertain them at certain hours supposedly due to some “paper works.”
According to the senator, there should still be employees to assist OFW the whole day even if there are a lot of papers that need to be processed, especially during emergency circumstances.
In response, De Vega promised to look into the issue and call all necessary embassies abroad.
Tulfo said his committee will also focus on laws that will expedite prosecution of illegal recruitment and to manage wisely the AKSYON fund such that legal and other financial aid are given to those OFWs in need.