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Mindanao lawyers join IBP’s outreach in Hong Kong

23 October 2017

Off-site (church-based) forum and free one-on-one legal consultation 

By Vir B. Lumicao 

For the first time since coming to Hong Kong for their outreach mission, lawyers from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines brought along a team from Eastern Mindanao on Oct 7-8 to serve OFWs from the south of the country seeking help.

More than 1,200 availed themselves of the free legal counseling and legal forums offered by the lawyers, as they expanded their services further, from the Consulate and Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Admiralty to six churches across the city.

The team dropped the usual forum at the Consulate and joined the post-arrival orientation seminar at POLO to discuss human trafficking issues, financial literacy, human loss and violence against women.

Carmelita Eleazar, governor of the Central Luzon IBP which spearheaded the latest mission, said bringing along the southern lawyers was the practical thing to do to respond to issues raised by Mindanao OFWs.

She told The SUN that in past missions, problems raised by workers from Mindanao were referred to the regional IBP chapters.

“Yung mga abogado namin sa chapters ang sasalo sa kaso. Mas magastos kasi kung ipadadala namin sa Mindanao ang mga abogado namin sa Central Luzon,” Eleazar said.

On Oct 7, about 100 Filipinas consulted the lawyers at the Consulate about problems, which Eleazar said consisted mainly of debt, marriage failure and separation, as well as money they send to their spouses or children going to naught.

The next day, the mission comprising about 50 lawyers from Bataan, Pampanga and Eastern Mindanao broke up into smaller groups to attend outreach sessions pre-arranged by the churches.

At the Consulate in United Centre alone, about 200 OFWs were served during the two-day mission, said Eleazar. That excluded those who consulted the lawyers at the POLO.

Such was the enthusiasm of the OFWs in consulting the lawyers about their problems that Eleazar said they were planning to return in February or March for her group’s sixth mission.

“Natutuwa kami na nakakatuwang namin dito ang Consulate, ina-advertise nila ang ‘Idulog Mo Kay Atorni’ bago kami dumating,” Eleazar said.

She recalled that the first time her group came to Hong Kong was at the height of the Umbrella Revolution in 2015, and the lawyers were apprehensive that things might get out of hand. Only about 80 OFWs sought their services at the time.

The second time around, some 200 came for the consultations, and for the third, the number ballooned to 2,000 as the lawyers farmed out to various parts of Hong kong.

Eleazar said the lawyers offered their services for free, including follow-through of cases brought up by OFWs, but it would be easier to handle cases if the workers came prepared, with documents to back up their cases or complaints.

Aside from fees, such as those for National Statistics Office certificates, the IBP lawyers do not charge professional fees for legal aid. “Para kaming PAO (Public Attorneys Office). Ang tinatanggihan ng PAO ay kinukuha ng IBP,” Eleazar said.

Consul General Bernardita Catalla awarded certificates of appreciation and gave souvenirs to the lawyers in recognition of their service to the OFWs.

“Maraming gustong dumulog pero hindi tumama sa day off ng iba… marami kayong natulungan lalo na nang nag-join kayo sa PAOS,” Catalla said.

She added that some employers must have let their helpers work because they had two public holidays during the week.

In turn, Eleazar awarded a plaque of appreciation to Catalla for hosting the IBP missions.

“We hope to replicate this throughout the world kung saan tayo may embassy,” she said.

Part of the lawyers’ outreach was one-on-one counseling sessions for 40 clients of Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge and the Mission for Migrant Workers held at St John’s Cathedral in Central.

The other participating churches were Jesus Reigns Ministry in Chai Wan and Sheung Wan; Lifeway Full Gospel in Yaumatei, Kowloon; Grace of Jesus Fellowship in Tsimshatsui, and Family of Christ Fellowship on Nathan Raod, Kowloon.

These churches accounted for 900 participants in the legal forums.

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