By Jelly F. Muasico
MANILA, Nov. 21 (PNA) – Senator Grace Poe on Saturday urged the country’s young lawyers to extend their services to poor Fililipinos by joining the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), the principal government office that gives free legal aid to indigents.
As of 2014, there were 1,522 public attorneys attending to nearly 800,000 criminal, civil, administrative, labor and other quasi-judicial cases. That is equivalent to one lawyer handling more than 500 cases a year. Only 38 lawyers are devoted to all cases pending before the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court and the Office of the President.
Despite the lack of manpower, the PAO assisted more than 7.5 million clients last year, according to its 2014 Annual Report.
“By sheer ratio, we can see that the PAO needs more bright minds to help in its mission of providing free legal assistance to anyone who might need it,” said Poe, an independent presidential contender who has topped voters’ surveys.
She said the recent Senate hearing on the “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) highlighted the valuable assistance provided by the PAO, whose chief, Atty. Percida Acosta, facilitated the release of the unsuspecting overseas Filipino workers who were victimized by the alleged extortion racket.
“Atty. Acosta showed compassion for our OFWs when other government officials did not. This country needs more people like her. I have no doubt that any lawyer with a heart for the poor will find a job in PAO truly fulfilling,” Poe said.
In the Senate budget deliberations, PAO is proposing a slight increase in its budget—from the current Php1.88 billion to Php2.1 billion. The agency aims to build more district offices and hire more lawyers.
Acosta said the government’s principal legal office should ideally have 3,000 lawyers to provide legal assistance to more people.
There is a high turn-over rate of lawyers at the PAO primarily due to the heavy workload, the lawyers’ desire to engage in private practice and their transfer to the National Prosecution Service, judiciary or government-owned and -controlled corporations, the PAO report said.
“There are more than 7,000 law graduates taking the Bar exams this month. I hope some hopefuls would set their eyes on championing the poor,” Poe said as examinees enter the third week of the Bar exams.
The PAO, by providing free legal assistance, fulfills the Constitutional principle that “free access to courts shall not be denied to any person by reason of poverty.” (PNA)