PAO booths in airports proposed for OFWs in legal trouble
Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya on Thursday proposed the establishment of Public Attorney's Office (PAO) booths in airports to extend assistance to OFWs and other airline passengers facing legal trouble, like those victimized by the alleged "laglag bala" extortion racket.
"Na-appreciate din namin 'yung ginagawa ng PAO [so] siguro mas maganda kung may poste na rin ang PAO doon," Abaya told senators during a Senate hearing on the "laglag bala" scheme at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
Senator Grace Poe suggested that the budget for the booths be taken out from the annual budget of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).
"You carve out budget from the DOTC and transfer it to PAO for them to have more personnel to be designated at the airport," Poe said.
MOA with OWWA, POEA
Abaya also said they want to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to strengthen their cooperation in matters involving OFWs.
"We are coordinating with OWWA and POEA and we want to enter into a MOA... in order to further strengthen 'yung cooperation namin para mas aware na may katungkulan sila sa ganitong issue," he said.
For her part, PAO chief Persida Acosta, who was present in the hearing, welcomed the proposal to have PAO booths in airports, saying it would improve the OFWs' awareness of the government's presence in times of crisis.
Acosta said starting Friday, they will begin sending lawyers to the airport to provide legal assistance to Filipinos and foreigners in need of it. "Magpapadala na kami bukas, tatlo, may help desk dun, may allowance 'yun," she said.
Abaya made the proposal after Acosta noted the lack of legal counsel afforded to alleged victims of the "laglag-bala" modus, particularly to Gloria Ortinez, the 56-year-old domestic helper who was arrested while departing for Hong Kong last October after a bullet was found in her hand-carry bag.
Acosta also pointed out the lack of legal representation when American youth Lane Michael White was arrested at the NAIA over alleged bullet possession in September.
Meanwhile, migrants' rights advocate Susan Ople said the cases of Ortinez, White, and other alleged victims of the "laglag" bala scheme will help reform the country's airport security system.
"Because of all the details that surfaced, there will be more emphasis on protecting the innocent and equal application of the law based on human rights," said Ople, head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, an NGO that handles migration concerns.
Ople said the Senate hearing on the "laglag bala" was "enlightening" and affirmed her belief that "no one appears to be in charge".
"Dahil napakita yung lack of coordination, I think they will do something to improve coordination and accountability," she said. —KBK, GMA News