Establish free legal aid programs nationwide — Rizal solon
The Public Attorney’s Office is chronically undermanned, overworked, and underpaid––and they need all the help they can get, Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles said on Sunday, as he proposed 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,” explained the Ateneo-trained lawyer.
“However 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. I admire all of them for their selfless work, but it is clear from their workload that we need to find alternative ways to provide poor Filipinos with legal counsel,” said Nograles, a Harvard graduate.
According to Nograles, who established a free legal aid program for residents of Rizal prior to his election to the House of Representatives, in 2017 alone the PAO handled 11,616,916 indigent clients and a total of 906,251 cases nationwide.
“With just over 2,000 PAO lawyers, this means that on the average each PAO lawyer had to handle 5,794 clients and 458 cases a year. So you can understand why indigent clients sometimes need to look elsewhere to get legal representation,” explained Nograles.
To address this, Nograles said he filed a House bill titled the “Legal Aid Program Act of 2019,” mandating all private and government-funded law schools in the country to put up their own respective legal aid programs.
These legal aid programs will be based on a comprehensive national legal aid program that will be established by the Legal Education Board (LEB), under the direction of the Supreme Court, and in coordination with the Department of Justice and Local Government Units, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Philippine Association of Law Schools, Association of Law Students in the Philippines, Office of the Legal Aid of the University of the Philippines, civil society organizations and other stakeholders.
Under the measure, funding for legal aid programs in state universities and colleges (SUCs) will be supported from the appropriation of said universities and colleges, and will be included in the budgets of the said SUCs.
On the other hand, 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.
“The need to institutionalize a comprehensive legal aid program, through the creation of legal aid clinics in law schools nationwide is imperative,” Nograles said.
“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.
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