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Free legal aid: A challenge for IBP

By: Ador Vincent S. Mayol May 14,2015 - 02:20 PM

Severe congestion in  the Mandaue City Jail – the worst in Central Visayas for years –  poses a unique challenge for the local Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

For the first time, the presidents of both Cebu province and Cebu city chapters, are sons of Mandaue city.

Gonzalo Malig-on, elected president of the IBP Cebu province chapter last February, said helping the judiciary address clogged court dockets and jail congestion is the primary goal of his administration.

“This has been one of the toughest problems we have. Every delay in the resolution of cases has a huge impact on prisoners. We could not just bargain away freedom for this,” he said.

He said he would tap law students in Cebu to assist the IBP in monitoring cases of inmates.

“There are prisoners who already served their sentence yet remain behind bars. We need warm bodies to follow up their cases in court. Monitoring cases should have been the task of the court. But let’s help them,” said Malig-on.

The Mandaue city jail tops the list of congested jails in Cebu with 1,113 inmates in a facility designed for only 95 inmates.

Another strategy will be to to monitor barangay peace committees (Lupon Tagapamayapa) to speed up dispute resolution.

“If some issues will be resolved in the level of the Lupon Tagapamayapa, there will be fewer cases filed in court,” he explained.

He said the IBP also has to strengthen its legal aid program which aims to assist indigent litigants or those who can’t afford legal representation and access to the courts.

IBP guidelines say legal aid “is not a matter of charity but a means for the correction of social imbalances that may and often do lead to injustice, for which reason it is a public responsibility of the Bar.”

The IBP Cebu province chapter only has two legal aid lawyers for this program- Delfin Quilaquil and Rafael Talens.

READ: Can you afford a lawyer?

Three years ago, all lawyers were required to provide legal aid to indigents, said Maligon. However, the High Court eventually made it an optional service upon the request of lawyers.

“There were questions raised on how the monitoring of compliance would be done, and how we would account for the number of hours we rendered free legal aid. As a result, the Supreme Court suspended the mandatory legal aid program indefinitely,” he said.

Asked why many lawyers shun the legal aid program, Malig-on smiled.

“You can decipher the reason,” he said.

Hidelito Pascual, IBP Cebu city chapter president, said the he convened officers after assuming office last Apritl 1 to discuss what they can do to ease jail congestion.

“We will try to find ways to expedite the resolution of cases in court,” he said.

At present, he said, some law students in Cebu city visit the jails every month to give paralegal advice and find out whether there are overstaying inamtes.

“It’s definitely an injustice to let them languish in jail  if they are supposed to already by released,” he said.

For now, said Pascual, they will tap law students to review cases of inmates since they cannot force other laywers to handle inmates’ cases for free.

Since many inmates can’t  afford to hire the services of private lawyers, they seek the help of the Public Attorney’s Office.

The judge can also assign a counsel de oficio, usually  from the PAO, a government office whose case load almost always exceeds its staff capacity.

Malig-on said lawyers in Cebu are guided by a 2012 resolution of the IBP Cebu city and province chapters in setting “minimum attorney’s fees”.

The amount, however, can be adjusted depending on the agreement of the lawyers and clients.

“There are relevant factors for lawyers to request more fees from clients like good standing of the counsel, the difficulty of the case, the risk involved, and the distance of the court hearings,” he said.

The IBP also reminds its members that in charging fees, they should not forget that the legal profession is “a branch in the administration of justice, not a mere money-getting trade.”

“Our Lawyers’ Oath says it plainly . . . I will delay no man for money or malice,” Malig-on said.

PART 3: Reforms needed to unclog courts

PART 2: Prison cells become sick beds

PART 1: Mandaue city jail: Most congested in Central Visayas with over 1,000 excess inmates

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