By Korina Saromines
Rizal Representative Fidel Nograles has filed a bill seeking the creation of a free legal aid program in law schools around the country for the benefit of underprivileged Filipinos who cannot afford the service of a lawyer.
“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,” Nograles said Thursday in a television interview to explain the rationale of House Bill No. 2993.
The bill, according to Nograles, also aims to help the “overworked” Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) provide underprivileged Filipinos free legal services they need.
“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.
The lawmaker said the 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 explained that with just over 2,000 PAO lawyers, each of them had to handle 5,794 clients and 458 cases a year and with overwhelming cases being handled by the PAO team, Nograles stressed that indigent clients sometimes “need to look elsewhere to get legal representation.”
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