NGO reports P26.64M legal aid for storm survivors

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

TYPHOON Yolanda survivors in Leyte have accessed P26.64 million worth of benefits through legal assistance provided by the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (Ideals).

Lawyer Enrico Asis, area coordinator of the Access to Benefits and Claims after Disaster (ABCD), a major undertaking of Ideals, said that thousands of families have been provided legal documents, which are prerequisite to availing of services.

"For those people who have been enjoying their rights to education, jobs and housing, we cannot quantify the value of benefits to them," Asis said.


Among the benefits availed by storm survivors were claims from the Government Service Insurance System and insurance firms, loans from the Department of Trade and Industry and Social Security System, shelter assistance from donors, notarization, affidavits, and deeds of contracts, among others.

Primarily, the NGO has provided legal representation to 140 displaced workers of a luxury hotel, workers of a furniture shop and a farmer's group.

Since December 2013, Ideals and other international humanitarian organizations have been supporting lawyers in Leyte to carry out the legal mission project in villages where all legal documents were either blown away or swept away by Yolanda's fierce winds and storm surges.

"It all started with a single text I sent to my friends in November asking for office supplies for us to serve their legal needs. That text reached Ideals and they have started supporting us," said lawyer Ronan Christian Reposar, who has been practicing environmental law for a decade, before joining the legal aid advocate.

He recalled that after the typhoon struck, almost all people lost their identification cards, bank cards, certificates of ownership, civil registry documents and other papers that would establish their identity.

"The need for legal services was enormous, yet some lawyers left the province and many law offices were badly damaged. We used all available resources left to provide legal assistance, even using pens and papers to produce affidavits," Reposar recalled.

Reposar and Asis are just two of the 10 lawyers hired by Ideals to implement the ABCD project in badly-hit areas in Leyte and Samar. They are backed by 27 paralegals, tasked to draft affidavits, contracts and other documents.

"This project changed the impression of poor families about the lawyering profession. They thought their services are very expensive, but the project provided it for free. Basically, we helped in pump priming the profession. It takes a lot of sacrifice for a lawyer to waive service fees," said Edgardo Ligon, Ideals executive director.

Citing his experience in facilitating shelter construction projects from Catholic Services and Don Bosco, Jose Silvestrese Jr., the village chief of Cangumbang in Palo town, described the process of securing legal documents as very complicated and costly.

"My constituents would not avail [themselves] of housing projects if we were not assisted by the legal mission. People lost all required documents such as marriage contracts, certificates of live birth, acknowledgement receipts of property, and deeds of sale," Silvestrese told journalists.

Pamela Palma of Oxfam, one of the humanitarian organizations supporting ABCD, had seen the value for money of their P4 million assistance to the project.

"P26 million is just an amount of money. We don't know exactly the value of assistance and long term benefits to a child entering a classroom and family owning a new house," Palma added.

Ideals is now "knocking on doors" of various organizations to support the project and expand to other disaster-stricken areas in Eastern Visayas. (PNA)

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