Volunteer lawyers protect frontliners, patients from COVID-19 discrimination

HSBC Philippines
Volunteer Lawyers Against Discrimination
Volunteer lawyers Pingki Bartolome-Bernabe, Kyra Salayog, Noel Lazaro, Mimi Banayat, and Nonoy Duka work as Volunteer Lawyers Against Discrimination.

Even as frontliners in the fight against coronavirus disease have been hailed as heroes while patients earned sympathies, there have also been reports of experiences of discrimination in their communities.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to heighten tensions within communities, the group Volunteer Lawyers Against Discrimination (VLAD) has come together to provide free contactless assistance to those experiencing discrimination related to the pandemic, such as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW), frontliners, or patients.

Lawyer Divina Pedron traces the beginnings of the organization to a discussion with her University of the Philippines Law blockmates (UP Law Class of 1999) that brought to light the case of a senior citizen who had recovered from COVID-19 but was prevented from going home by her neighbors.

The group then unearthed more incidents of harassment and rumor-mongering and found a common culprit – discrimination.

VLAD was then launched in April 2020 amid the community quarantine to stop the spread of the virus. It now consists of over 100 volunteer lawyers from nearly 30 different law schools nationwide armed with the law to fight discrimination.

The volunteer lawyers’ mission is to protect their clients by informing them of their rights as well as the laws that stand on their side when confronting their discriminators such as barangay captains, neighbors, or company bosses.

Five testimonies on the VLAD Facebook page discuss five different lawyers’ experiences working under VLAD. In the testimonies of Attorneys Pingki Bartolome-Bernabe, Kyra Salayog, Noel Lazaro, Mimi Banayat, and Nonoy Duka we learn about acts of discrimination against a patient, nurse, and worker.

Attorney Bartolome-Bernabe’s testimony details the situation succinctly: “While [frontliners] were so lauded on traditional and social media, it became increasingly ironic when, closer to home, there were reports of frontliners experiencing discrimination. They were shunned, refused entry or even evicted from their own condominium buildings, apartments, villages and barangays.”

Attys. Lazaro and Salayog’s testimonies describe unfair situations placed upon their clients, speaking of a nurse told not to return home and a possible COVID patient being turned out of her living place.

Atty. Banayat discusses how VLAD assists their clients: the lawyers require full-disclosure and honesty when discussing a case, and then provide evidence and support for the client. This could be a text of legal points for clients to discuss with their local authority or an offer from the lawyer to reach out to the local authority themself.

The VLAD organization provides its services for free, and they state that they don’t mind the lack of returns. Atty. Duka says, “Lawyering is not primarily meant to be a money-making venture, and law advocacy is not really a capital that yields profits; it is public service.”

To contact VLAD, you can reach out to their Facebook page here, or call 09992298705 (SMART) or 09177052333 (Globe).

VLAD offers its services for free for people who have experienced COVID-related discrimination.

Congress had recently passed on second reading a bill on anti-COVID discrimination.

Another free and contactless service concerning COVID-19 involves local telehealth services and the Bayanihan Na! Operations Center Hotline of the UP-PGH.

SEND CHEERS in the comments below to the VLAD volunteer lawyers group that protects frontliners and patients from COVID 19-related discrimination.

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