MANILA – The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on second reading the proposed Free Legal Assistance for Military and Uniformed Personnel Act.

House Bill 6509 seeks to provide free legal assistance to officers and uniformed personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in all stages of criminal, civil, or administrative proceedings arising from service-related incidents.

Under the measure, the free legal assistance shall include legal representation in all stages of civil, criminal or administrative proceedings involving service-related incidents; legal advice or consultations in relation to service-related cases or incidents; preparation of pleadings, motions, memoranda, and all other legal forms and documents in relation to service-related cases; and notarization of documents in relation to service-related cases, among others.

As defined under HB 6509, service-related cases refer to civil, criminal, and administrative cases filed against military and uniformed personnel (MUP) involving service-related incidents; while service-related incident refers to any act or omission committed by MUP in good faith that is the consequence of the discharge of their official functions or the performance of their duties, or that is relevant to their office or to the discharge of their official functions.

Officers or uniformed personnel of the AFP, BFP, BJMP, PCG, or PNP who have been granted free legal assistance shall continue to enjoy such legal assistance even after their retirement from service.

Retired officers or uniformed personnel of the AFP, BFP, BJMP, PCG, or PNP shall also be given free legal assistance for cases or charges involving service-related incidents committed by such retired officers or uniformed personnel while still in active duty.

HB 6509 likewise seeks to mandate the strengthening of the legal offices of the AFP, PNP, BJMP, BFP and PCG to render adequate and effective free legal assistance to qualified personnel.

It also entitles government lawyers representing qualified personnel to payment for actual expenses and honoraria per appearance, as may be authorized; and allows officers or uniformed personnel of the AFP, PNP, BJMP, BFP or PCG to be provided with private counsel, when necessary, at the expense of the government. (PNA)