Filipino group seeks funds for legal aid

The high cost of hiring lawyers has prompted Filex UAE to work towards providing members with legal assistance.

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ABU DHABI // The high cost of hiring lawyers in the country has prompted the Filipino Expatriates in UAE Foundation (Filex UAE) to work on a long-term goal of providing members with legal assistance. "This will only become a reality when we have enough funds to sustain legal fees of a law firm or attorney's retainer fees," said Dick Orense, the chairman of the Filex UAE board of trustees.

However, legal assistance was only one of the benefits the group hoped to provide its members, he said. The Filex UAE is to launch a "membership fund campaign" to reach its goal of 100,000 members in a year's time. The initial plan, he said, was to recruit 10,000 members who would contribute Dh10 (US$2.70) for a one-year membership fee. Filipinos in the UAE are encouraged to take advantage of the one-off payment of Dh30, equivalent to a lifetime membership. Those with UAE residency visas must pay an annual insurance enrolment fee of Dh15 to be eligible for benefits including coverage for accidental death, total accident disability, payment for medical fees and repatriation of remains to the Philippines.

Noel Servigon, the consul general at the Philippine Embassy, confirmed that there was a recommendation in June that the Filex UAE should consider contracting a law firm on a retainer basis. The Filex UAE is expected to help the embassy, which seeks the approval of the foreign affairs department to help its migrant workers through the Philippine government's Legal Assistance Fund (LAF). "The amount may be limited to the annual appropriations of congress, but priority has been given to payment of lawyers to defend overseas Filipinos facing the death penalty," said Libran Cabactulan, the Philippine Ambassador to the UAE.

Legal assistance was authorised in two cases this year, he said. For cases in which the complainant and defendant are Filipinos, the embassy provides both sides with advice on how to secure legal services. "So far, there has been no death penalty case involving Filipinos on both sides," Mr Cabactulan said. "In other cases, we try our best to mediate between the protagonists to avoid court litigation, which is costly and time-consuming."

A lawyer in Dubai said fees largely depended on the nature of a case. "A client charged with drug possession, for instance, will be charged about Dh25,000 to Dh30,000," he said. "But the fees can go as high as Dh60,000 for a defendant in a murder case." However, he said his law firm had charged a consulate just Dh10,000 in 2006 to defend a woman accused of a drug trafficking offence. Mr Cabactulan said the embassy advised expatriate Filipinos to be aware of the legal procedures in the country they were living in, which can differ from those of the Philippines.

"Embassy officials are not authorised to represent Filipinos during police investigations and court hearings," he said. "They cannot also act as interpreters. However, we do our best to ensure that the welfare of Filipinos under investigation is protected and that their cases are speedily resolved." The embassy, he added, was also looking for a legal insurance scheme similar to that in Europe, in which legal advice was readily available.