MANILA -- The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday has signed the revised guidelines on the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) fund and Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) which will now also cover documented Filipinos abroad, and further expand scope of services by allowing more flexibility in disbursement.
In a speech delivered in Pasay, Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the initiative, which is in line with the Duterte administration approving the increase on ATN and LAF funds, is part of its goal to take overseas Filipino workers (OFW) services to the "next level".
The Congress has recently approved President Rodrigo Duterte's request to increase the ATN fund from PHP400 million to PHP1 billion and the LAF from PHP100 million to PHP200 million for 2018.
With the relaxed guidelines and the more than 100 percent brim in budget, Cayetano said DFA would now be in a position to more effectively respond to the growing number of distressed Filipinos abroad who require government assistance.
According to the DFA, implementation of the document will take effect 15 days upon publication.
On ATN fund, included will be the payment of tickets and costs for any possible mode of transportation for repatriation, the opening and maintenance of shelters abroad, the establishment of a 24/7 communications and operations center in the Philippines and abroad, and the deployment of security personnel to areas that have been placed under Crisis Alert Levels III and IV.
Among others, it highlights coverage on welfare assistance to both documented and undocumented Filipinos, the establishment of an online ATN Case Management System to facilitate case retrieval and direct access to ATN cases, and in case of death, the cost of cremation or embalming and transport of remains to final destination in the Philippines, plus reasonable burial assistance.
Meanwhile, in case of medical repatriation, the ATN Fund will also cover the travel of the next of kin of distressed overseas Filipinos from their homes in the provinces to the DFA in Manila or the DFA Regional Offices.
On LAF, DFA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola said legal assistance to victims of Trafficking in Persons and illegal recruitment would be given priority.
The new LAF guidelines will lift the cap in the professional fees, filing, and other court fees as well as incidental litigation expenses for Filipinos with pending cases.
“Aside from human trafficking and illegal recruitment cases, the LAF will now cover legal fees for criminal or police cases, immigration or deportation cases and labor disputes,” Arriola said.
As per the DFA, the LAF may be availed by any distressed overseas Filipino who is unable to engage the services of private counsel, and who is in a country where there is no system of legal aid or public defenders.
Aside from the 11,554 Filipinos assisted in 2016, about 14,995 cases involving distressed Filipinos have already benefited from the ATN Funds since 2017.
As of December 5, about 97 percent of the ATN fund and 92 percent of the LAF have already been disbursed. (PNA)