House panels OK substitute bill on free legal aid for uniformed personnel
MANILA, Philippines — A proposed measure seeking to provide uniformed personnel with free legal aid was approved by three committees of the House of Representatives Wednesday.
During the hearing of the House committee on justice along with the committees on national defense and security and the public order and safety panel, amendments were made to the bill such as the inclusion of other agencies who would be covered by the measure.
With the amendments, personnel of the Bureau of Fire Protection, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and the Philippine Coast Guard will also benefit from the free legal assistance once the bill is enacted. The proposed bill initially covered only personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The proposed measure consolidated House Bills No. 2499, 3141, 3929, 4312, 5972, 9898, 9902, 9961, and 9969 authored by Reps. Arnie Fuentebella, Joel Mayo Almario, Alfred Vargas, Deputy Speaker Ferdinand Hernandez, Reps. Eric Olivarez, Eric Go Yap, Joy Myra Tambunting, Paolo Duterte, and Deputy Speaker Divina Grace Yu.
There were also proposals to include personnel of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) among those who will be covered by the free legal aid.
Suggestions to give law enforcers free legal aid specifically personnel of the PNP and the AFP were made during President Rodrigo Duterte’s most recent State of the Nation Address, where he lamented police officers and soldiers having no access to free legal aid in relation to complaints filed against them in relation to the discharge of duties.
In response, Duterte urged Congress to pass a law to provide uniformed personnel with access to free legal aid.
This was lauded by both PNP and AFP, with PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar noting that it would be a big help for police officers who are victims of harassment cases.
But according to the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), police officers and military personnel may not need additional legal assistance if only they do their jobs properly — that is, working without committing abuses.
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