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Tambak na kasi trabaho ng PAO: Bill allows pro-bono legal services in law schools

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By JOHN CARLO M. CAHINHINAN

A measure seeking to require all private and government-funded law schools in the country to put up their respective pro-bono legal aid program has been recently filed in the Lower House.

Principally authored by Rizal second district Rep. Fidel Nograles, House Bill No. 2993 calls for the creation of free legal aid programs in law schools around the country “to provide underprivileged Filipinos with legal services they need, but cannot afford.”

“Our Constitution is supposed to guarantee access to justice of the poor by providing free access to the courts and quasi-judicial bodies, and to ensure that adequate legal assistance is extended to everyone, even the poor,” said Nograles.

Nograles said the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) is already “chronically undermanned, overworked, and underpaid” and the best possible solution right now is utilizing all the existing law schools in the country to provide pro-bono services to the underprivileged.

“We need to find alternative ways to provide poor Filipinos with legal counsel,” said Nograles.

“The development of a comprehensive legal aid program for law schools all over the Philippines would provide the necessary link and coordinate efforts towards access to justice for the marginalized,” he added.

He explained that with just over 2,000 PAO lawyers, each of them had to handle 5,794 clients and 458 cases a year.

With overwhelming cases being handled by the PAO team, Nograles stressed that indigent clients sometimes “need to look elsewhere to get legal representation.”

“The reality on the ground is that state mechanisms that should be providing free legal services such as the Public Attorney’s Office are really overwhelmed by the sheer number of those seeking legal aid,” said Nograles.

Under HB2993 or the proposed “Legal Aid Program Act of 2019,” these free legal services from various law schools in the country will be based on a comprehensive national legal aid program that will be established by the Legal Education Board (LEB).

The program under Nograles’ proposal will be under the direction of the Supreme Court, and in coordination with the Department of Justice and Local Government Units, Integrated Bar of the Philippines and other recognized legal associations in the country.

“The need to institutionalize a comprehensive legal aid program, through the creation of legal aid clinics in law schools nationwide is imperative,” he said.

Funding for legal aid programs in state universities and colleges (SUCs) under HB2993 will be supported from the appropriation of said universities and colleges, and will be included in the budgets of the said SUCs.

Meanwhile, the LEB will consult with private universities and colleges regarding how they can efficiently establish legal aid programs in their respective law schools—including tapping government subsidies as allowed by law and obtaining assistance from the private sector.

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