MANILA – The Philippine Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) has renewed its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to provide free legal assistance, counselling, and representation to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern (POC).
This is the fourth renewal of the agreement, which was first signed in 2013.
At the virtual signing of the MOU on 28 April, Chief Public Attorney Persida V. Rueda-Acosta said that in line with Philippines’ “long tradition of opening its doors and extending its kindness to people seeking refuge,” the PAO can assure its continued commitment to providing free legal services to POC.
According to Acosta, over the eight years that the MOU has been in effect, the PAO has provided over 5,000 judicial and quasi-judicial services to POC, including assistance on civil, criminal, and labor cases, as well as proceedings related to immigration and detention.
“I sincerely wish that through the collective efforts of our agencies, we are not only successful in extending legal assistance and bringing the displaced individuals to safety, but also to convey to them the Filipino moral values of malasakit (compassion) and pakikipagkapwa tao (solidarity with fellowmen),” Acosta said.
In a speech, UNHCR Philippines Officer-in-Charge Lindsey Atienza emphasized that the legal aid provided by PAO amid the challenges posed by the pandemic has been critical in ensuring that POC continue to have access to rights and options for durable solutions.
She said, “The assistance provided by PAO has been vital in addressing the vulnerabilities of these POC and has provided avenues for these individuals to build better lives in the Philippines.”
As witness to the MOU signing, Chief State Counsel George O. Ortha II, of the Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit of the Department of Justice said, “By allowing access of POC to free legal assistance, counselling and representation from the PAO through this MOU, we recognize that access to legal aid is fundamental in accessing justice and strengthening protection, especially for vulnerable and marginalized individuals.”