by LOLITA FARMER,
Here’s my speech at the 3rd Global Summit as President. Global Filipinos Australia & Chair, Worldwide Filipino Alliance held in the Philippines
GLAAD (Global Legal Assistance & Advocacy) or put it Right Wrong.
A challenge whose magnitude is not only mind- boggling, it is also humbling, and honestly spiritually ennobling too.
Engagement is the core of everything we do. Allow me to share our stories and experience from NSW.
We right wrong through seminars in partnership with other groups of different interests, private groups and lawyers too.
‘The View from the Filipino Community, ”Working With Communities In Collaboration With Organisations And Connecting Governments As Forces For Change’ where Filipino lawyers discussed immigration issues 457 visas, students visa, Family Law Visa and Domestic Violence, Tax and Superannuation, Buying and Selling Real Estate Properties.
This was a unique one for it was collaborative and unifying issues seen as forces of change by connecting with governments and organisations Visa 457 Linda Geronimo Santos explained and clarified issues on the raging 457 matters. Timely too as some Filipinos were having problems such as being exploited ,. Some in danger of not being able to get a permanent visa.
Family law and domestic violence another topic relevant to the Filipinos resource person was Virginia Odtojan The Philippine Consulate inspired by the seminar and positive interest and participation decided to hold one at the Consulate office where the resource speaker was invited.
Jessie Icao a GFA Board Director & WFA member enlightened those in the seminars on the requirements to get students visa. Interesting too for many Filipino Australians sponsor family relations to study in the country a stepping stone to get a visa for permanent stay.
As for tax and superannuation Leo Ceniza explained the new tax breaks and superannuation laws.
Project Hope (Pag-asa) Filipino Youth Australian Symposium
A dynamic partnership between a public government education high school Rooty Hill High School ,local council where most Filipinos have called it their home, Blacktown City Council, a state government agency whose task was to look after the migrants welfare, Community Relations Commission and a non-profit organisation, Global Filipinos Australia formed a strategic alliance to combat problems arising from students gangs.
Factors for the success were willingness of the school administration to make it compulsory for students of Filipino descent accompanied by teachers to attend Pag-asa in lieu of their daily classes. Blacktown City Council and Multicultural NSW (formerly known as Community Relations Commission) support and other groups including businesses.
Free Legal Advice
Statistics from other states are few for there is no register of lawyers practicing in other states that provide pro bono services. Such a register would be of great help to embassies and consulates and other government departments when Filipino nationals need legal assistance.
And how does GLAAD come in to employed solicitors and privately practicing lawyers . Countless ways I would say such as legal counselling, information on new laws that recently come into effect and legal advisers to organisations .
Migrants Rights and Welfare Global Filipinos Australia and other organisations joined forces together in sending a submission to the federal Attorney- General when a proposal to amend the Racial Discrimination Act by deleting 18C. Our submission ‘Hands- Off to Section 18C Effective. Inspiring too.
That’s just one of the many issues that the many organisations did in collaboration with lawyers. Imagine writing to each one of the Senators in Batasan for ratification of Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) between the Philippines and Australia. Ratified by Australia five years ago and the Philippines still has to do its share . Guess what? Ratification of SOVFA was finally achieved.
Working at Optus as contracts Manager for procurement, Marissa Bala gives her free legal advice to the Filipino Community Cooperative which runs a day care child centre. She looks at the website ensuring it doesn’t infringe copyright laws, sees proper procedures at the AGM meetings.
Jessie icao represented 14 Filipino seamen recruited at Spain and charged for drug offences in Australia Result 13 were acquitted except the Assistant Captain who had a role in the drug case. Another one was a seaman in transit in Sydney caught in possession of pornographic materials given by a friend and without his knowledge CD contained pornographic materials. Judgement Good behaviour bond and ordered deported.
Assistance to Nationals (ATN) cases: domestic violence, immigration cases on overstaying and employment, requests from families members in the Philippines to locate loved ones in Australia for financial support and for other reasons, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and dangerous driving and negligent driving.
Humbly sharing my GLAAD stories.
My early legal assistance was as a member of the NSW Law Society Cross Cultural committee where I was one of those in the group strongly recommending use of interpreters.
The role of being a member of the Bureau of Speakers of NSW Law Society is another area where legal assistance is extended. Issues are on domestic violence, family law, discrimination, employment and others This is where I found interesting challenges for here you do not only speak to your own community but to migrant communities including law students. Interesting, for after your performance as a speaker the Law Society gets a report from those attending session.
Appointed as a member of the NSW Equal Opportunity Tribunal for 10 years and hearing matters on discrimination offered extended access to meet and advise Filipino groups in country areas and speak on issues faced by the community when I hear discrimination matters in the country towns.
Various cases of domestic violence not only Filipino women married to foreign nationals but also to Filipino husbands are among the many issues that have to be addressed.
Also wrote submissions and in some instances attend public consultations held by Australian government. One of those is that the serial sponsor be reviewed and today an Australian man can only sponsor up to 2 Filipino women as his wife. Successful too in recommending not to deport prospective Filipino women when there is domestic violence. Legal adviser to many organizations . Responsible at the legal side of the organisations to see they comply with the laws. That proper procedures are followed at Annual General Meetings,(AGM) review contracts entered into by the organisations From experience, I have to file a defence when the organization I inherited was served by a summons for debts incurred about 3 or 4 years before I became President. The matter was settled out of court. Lawyers beware of things like this.
Lately I have to come to the defence of a friend who was threatened by a fellow for defamation. Result was the person did not proceed and if he did he will have to get the leave of the court for the matter is over a year now.
The role of the media, print, radio and websites are vital factors to consider in GLAAD. I do make it a must to run the articles in newspapers and websites. The Filipino Australian website has shared some of the stories: ‘Hands-off to section 18C RDA’, Australian Aid to the Philippines, A Case to ratify SOVFA, Fuss and Furor at the Internet and on women. The radio side Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and a number of radio community groups would ask for interviews on hot issues for the community. Giving a paper such as Copyright Law in Australia also is a form of legal assistance especially to the media people.
Writing and dissemination of landmark rulings of Superior Courts in Australia helpful to the Filipino community are great tools in legal assistance and advocacy. Putting submissions to Australian Government such as ‘Hands Off to Section 18C’; Australian Aid and Philippine Congress to Ratify SOVFA, Cyber-Libel Laws and stories on women deal on migrants rights and welfare.
The Commission on Filipinos Overseas also sought assistance for a Filipino national caught carrying a laptop with pornographic materials in Perth, Western Australia. The jurisdiction of lawyers in Australia is not national for each state has its own way of registering lawyers. I got hold of a fellow Filipino lawyer who practices in WA and when she investigated the case, there was a lawyer already acting for the Filipino national. Assistance given was to enlighten the Filipino on his rights and giving information on his queries and community support for him.
CFO did also refer a case of a Filipino national who had an accident while driving in a country. The other driver died from the accident. In the accident report police recorded the Filipino as liable for the accident. Offences were dangerous driving and negligent driving. Tried to contact the Filipino and was able to talk to him. He had a lawyer representing him and assistance given was advice and information to his queries arising from the case.
Thinking of GLAAD 2015 vision and beyond based on the movements and momentums let us dream for a future that delivers.
GLAAD dream for a list of private practicing and employed lawyers rendering pro bono in each state in Australia so that by the touch of our finger or a click on the computer assistance is available. Information is there. That would be terrific.
Keep on dreaming for an international dimension of a list of Filipino lawyers overseas engaging in pro bono services. Fantastic and achievable too.
Want to be innovative too? How about a Filipino Global Legal Assist a specialist group to provide expert legal advice to expatriates based on our unique understanding of an expatriate life where we are able to provide clear and easy to understand legal advice on every aspect of working and living overseas (Model UK Global Legal Assist) ? That’s the future and the way to go.
Step further up in the innovative ladder by connecting with IBP Legal Assistance Abroad to update statistics on legal assistance abroad and connect with embassies and consulates so their services can be put to use.
Positive moments in our GLAAD movements and now comes OAV momentum and experience.
OAV An Australian Experience Partnerships
GFA partners with the Consulate and other organisations in the OAV registrations. Innovative then for it was 2006 when GFA suggested to the Consulate community registrations . Held preferably on weekends where most Filipinos will be found where else but Blacktown at a shopping centre. Then at Fiesta Kultura on October long weekends where thousands are in attendance.
Statistics provided by the Consulate are as of December 2014, 4,223 took their Oath of Allegiance at the Consulate. Total number of applications approved for dual citizenship was 810 a big leap from the 474 in 2013 and 444 in 2012.
Consulate encourages duals to register as OAV. As of 2013 Philippine mid term elections NSW had 2,457 registered OAVs. Commendable and creative efforts by the Consul General and her team for always involving the organisations in the locality. Mobile consular missions have travelled as far as Wagga Wagga 459 kms, Tamworth 403 kms, , and Bathurst 203 kms from Sydney CBD.
An Unforgettable Experience
In 2011, time of the first Global Summit, in the company of Loida Nicolas Lewis, (USA), Rodel Rodis (USA), Dr. R. Rasul (USA), yours truly as GFA President and WFA Chair, was one of the resource persons at the Joint Hearing of the OAV amendments legislation.
My stand ‘Overseas Filipinos Seek Broader And Fuller Suffrage’ in capsule:
• Internet registration
• Internet voting
• Removal of the Affidavit to Return
• Uninterrupted voter registration
• V o t e r registration for departing Filipinos
• Transfer of address of departing OFWs who are already registered voters
• Registration desks at DFA and POEA
• Right to run for and be Appointed to Public Office
• Right to proportional representation
• Right to Vote for Local Officials
Pleased to say Comelec has implemented some such as removal for the affidavit to return, departing OFWs may now register before leaving abroad and there are desks now at DFA, POEA and OWWA and the airport soon. Comelec is now considering internet voting. Positively and looking forward to the implementation.
Be inspired and have an OAV dream for innovative and creative ways 2015 and beyond.
Internet registration for registration and voting would be logical and ideal for far flung places like New Caledonia not in Australian landscape making access easier reporting in person for registration thus mobilizing greater number of registrants. That will also address the issue of having to get off from work just to register for you need to be personally be present.
How about amending online our change of address? There were over 200 returned envelopes in Sydney as addresses were wrong.
Compulsory voting? Will that help too? Australia has compulsory system of voting. Feasible? “Where’s there’s a will there’s a way.”
Dream the impossible one that you are now a highly respected government official or an elected senator or congressman or congresswoman. That’s a reality coming true if we follow Italy who allots a number of overseas Greek citizens as members of Parliament. In Australia there are 2 Greek Australians members in the Italian parliament. Definitely that will motivate OFs to register and vote.
Local elections for OFs to vote that will place us at par with those in the motherland and really make us feel that we are treated same rights.
Budget that enables consular staff to conduct mobile consular mission.
While we are in cloud 9 and dreaming of the movements and momentums In conclusion may I quote Margaret Mead
“Never doubt that a small thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has”.