Discovering the Legal and Regulatory Aspects of Volunteerism

by Angel Grace D. Untalan, DECEMBER 2022

Studies define volunteerism as the conduct of offering time, skills, or resources to freely provide services for the benefit of other individuals or certain communities without the expectation of financial gain other than reimbursement of reasonable expenses if any. Specifically, a volunteer is an individual engaging in behavior that is neither economically necessitated, nor socio-politically compelled, but is rather motivated by the expectation of emotional benefits arising from activities that are worth more than any remuneration received in return.

Early on, the United Nations Volunteers noted that volunteerism benefits both societies at large and the individual volunteer by strengthening trust, solidarity, and reciprocity among citizens and purposefully creating opportunities for participation.

More often than not, volunteer activities include uncompensated efforts. Thus, it is the virtue of equity that compels legislators to pursue extending healthcare insurance or social security along with tax-free or subsidized travel, accommodation, and other necessary expenses to individual volunteers. As for organizations, the legislative intent is to expand funding programs to support engagements and assist in financing the volunteer workforce.

Policymakers recognize that challenges in crafting laws and other development plans dedicated to volunteerism may be attributed to a lack of centralized data or qualified and quantified information. These gaps should be addressed to adequately provide guidelines that will ultimately protect the rights and welfare of volunteers through sufficient incentives, allowances, and insurance, among others.

Internationally, existing volunteerism laws and policies aim to either mobilize citizen support for social, economic, and political development goals, support government priority areas, create permanent volunteer disaster response mechanisms, or foster national citizenship and civic engagement.

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Volunteer groups acknowledge that provisions on labor, social legislation, tax, immigration, and civil laws affect the implementation of standalone legislation concerning volunteer work. However, embracing a participatory process such as, but not limited to, needs assessment and stakeholder consultation ideally reduces legal obstacles which may guarantee an effective and sustainable policy framework.

In the Philippines, volunteerism is embedded in history and culture. The country maintains the concept of bayanihan, a term referring to mutual assistance and self-help among equals, kawanggawa, a term associated with the notion of charity and philanthropy, or pahinungod, a term taken to mean a higher form of self-sacrifice rooted in the Roman Catholic faith, among others.

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To rekindle the time-honored tradition of bayanihan, Republic Act No. 9418 (R.A. No. 9418) otherwise known as the Volunteer Act of 2007 was enacted. Primarily, it delineated the role and modalities of volunteerism involving the private sector, foreign volunteer organizations, and the government.

The Volunteer Act of 2007 also utilized the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA) created under Executive Order No. 134, as amended. PNVSCA is further strengthened by the reconstitution of the members of the Multi-Sectoral Advisory Body (MSAB) composed of the NEDA, DepEd, DFA, DOJ, DILG, DSWD, CHED, Presidential Management Staff, and the representatives from the corporate, private academe, and not-for-profit sector. The MSAB shall primarily provide advice in policy formulation for national volunteer service programs, and consultative and technical advisory services on volunteer matters. It also aims to strengthen linkages between and among volunteer groups and communities.

To address the need for continuing research, documentation, recognition, and modeling of best practices, the Volunteer Act of 2007 also laid down institutional mechanisms which include the creation of a Volunteerism Consortium through the PNVSCA, as well as the establishment of a Volunteer Knowledge and Resource Center (VKRC) to manage referral system that efficiently matches volunteering opportunities, expands access to technical assistance, and promote capacity building on volunteerism.

The VKRC shall also facilitate the publication of new initiatives and best practices in volunteering and the institution of partnerships with the academe, LGUs, media, and NGOs, in implementing resource facility schemes across various areas in the country.

One of the salient points of the Volunteer Act of 2007 is the provision encouraging government agencies and NGOs implementing volunteer programs to develop volunteer recognition and incentive packages which may include allowances, insurance, training, and the grant of privileges and status to Filipino overseas volunteers at par with Filipino overseas workers.

Some international statutes have limitations on the protection being extended to volunteers in terms of liability for certain conduct. These exclusions include simple negligence in certain situations, gross negligence, intentional torts such as assault or battery, the prosecution in criminal suits, harms caused by a volunteer’s acts that constitute violence, sexual offense, or hate crime, and conviction for acts of international terrorism.

Scholars suggest that altruistic values should be nurtured by developing an acceptable volunteerism curriculum for basic and higher education programs. Fortunately, the Volunteer Act of 2007, directed DepEd and CHED to integrate volunteerism as part of the curriculum in basic and higher education.

Local groups are also urged to lobby political bodies around the world to recognize volunteers internationally. Currently, visa privileges under the Volunteer Act of 2007 provide foreign volunteers approved by the PNVSCA, as well as their legal dependents, an entitlement to a visa with multiple entry privileges as well as exemption from visa and immigration fees and other related processing/application fees or charges.

Aligning private sector and government initiatives will also help ensure that financial and technical supports are in place to sustain volunteer activities. Under the prevailing law, LGUs and the national government are mandated to establish volunteer programs in their respective offices to promote and encourage volunteering and to enjoin government employees to render volunteer service for the social, economic, and humanitarian development initiatives of the community.

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In sum, targeted government and stakeholder interventions are necessary to properly implement laws on volunteer work. Like any other policies, implementation of existing volunteerism laws should be undertaken in parallel with monitoring and evaluation systems tasked to observe progress and challenges in the long run.

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About the writer:

Angel Grace D. Untalan. A Legal Management graduate with an inclination to pursue the field of higher arts. She is moderately comfortable with social interaction, but can also relish her time off from the crowd. Her works are influenced by distinguished screenwriters such as Gene Roddenberry, George R.R. Martin, and Quentin Tarantino. She aspires to become a law practitioner at The Hague, who has published papers in a Scopus-indexed journal at some point in the future.

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