Rizal 2nd District Rep. Fidel Nograles has filed a measure seeking to strengthen the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) by mandating the PAO to extend legal assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and government officials and employees who are the subject of legal cases in the conduct of their duties, as well as advocacy groups, marginalized groups, and non-government organizations (NGOs).
The groundbreaking measure, said the lawyer-solon, also establishes a legal defense and representation fund in all government offices.
“It is only fair that we arm them with free legal representation.”
“It is common knowledge for those who work in government that many of our civil servants are the subject of harassment suits in the course of their work. If they find themselves in a legal battle while performing their official duties, it is only fair that we arm them with free legal representation,” said the lawmaker.
To ensure that funds are available for such cases, Section 4 of House Bill No. 4281, or the Public Attorney’s Office Modernization Act of 2019, establishes “a Legal Defense and Representation Fund to be charged against the appropriations of the respective agency, office, or bureau of the government official or employee charged.”
“Such sums shall be included in the agencies’ annual General Appropriations Act (GAA). Provided, that sectoral legal aid representation funds shall also be established and included in the budget of the National Anti-Poverty Commission,” according to the measure.
Nograles explained that advocacy groups representing marginalized and vulnerable sectors stand to benefit from the proposed law as they will also be able to tap the PAO for free legal services.
Nograles, a former law professor, who organized free legal aid clinic and lectures for poor communities in Rizal before joining Congress, said that he has seen “how limited the resources of these advocacy groups really are.”
“Some of them, for example, need lawyers to guide them in addressing problems involving human rights violations and other disputes. We cannot turn a blind eye to this,” said the 32-year old legislator.
Under Section 3 of the proposed measure, the PAO shall render, free of charge, legal representation, assistance, and counselling for sectoral representation, including but not limited to cases involving the environment, labor, Indigenous Peoples, and persons with disabilities.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), poor access to justice has remained a critical barrier to human development. Marginalized sectors, says the UNDP, must have access to justice that is not only fair and equitable, but also cost-effective and efficient.
“This is access to justice all across the board.”
“This is access to justice all across the board. Justice can only be properly served if all parties have fair access to legal services in the country.”