“Pro bono service is not about making your legal services free and available only in times of need. Pro bono lawyering requires the adoption of a holistic approach which may only be done through collaboration and coordination of efforts by the members of the legal community and civil society. True dedication to the spirit of public service requires pro bono lawyers to be constantly visible, readily accessible and quick to action,” Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo underscored as he bared the Judiciary’s projects on legal aid service when he delivered the Keynote Speech during the 2nd Philippine Pro Bono Summit held on December 2, 2021, via Zoom.
Chief Justice Gesmundo shared, “I recently proposed to the Court En Banc the adoption of the Strategic Plan for 2021-2026 for the Judiciary. The plan identified four outcomes, one of which is to provide equal access to justice real time. To achieve this target, the Court will adopt a two-pronged Legal Aid Service initiative: first, by harnessing the clinical legal education program (CLEP) of law schools; and second, by revitalizing the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Legal Aid Program. Strengthening the CLEP will be done in coordination with the Legal Education (LEB) and the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS). The IBP, through its Chapters, will likewise be tapped to partner with the established law clinics of LEB-accredited law schools in their respective jurisdictions.”
Additionally, the Chief Justice said that the Court also plans to conduct a National Summit on Legal Aid “in order to raise awareness on the availability of legal aid services offered by the legal community. Related to this activity will be the creation of a Database of Free Legal Aid Providers in the Supreme Court website and other artificial intelligence (AI) platforms of the Judiciary.”
Chief Justice Gesmundo further revealed that the Court is also studying the proposal of Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa, who is the Justice in-charge of Bar matters on legal aid, of tapping the resources and experience of law firms and seasoned practitioners in order to provide “real and effective” legal service to indigent and pauper litigants. According to the Chief Justice, Justice Caguioa’s proposal “will require lawyers with at least three (3) years experience to render pro bono service in exchange for incentives, such as crediting certain units of compliance for Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) in proportion to the amount of time expended, and allowing deductions from gross income as provided under the Free Legal Assistance Act of 2010. Under his proposal, the IBP Chapters or law school legal aid clinics would determine the minimum eligibility requirements for recipients of pro bono legal aid, while the law firms will choose the qualified lawyers who would do the pro bono work and decide the allocation of MCLE credits or tax deductions to its lawyers in a fair and equitable manner.”
Chief Justice Gesmundo is hopeful that in baring these projects, the IBP, members of the legal community, and civil society groups, will rise to the challenge of complementing these activities with the sole purpose of further expanding, strengthening and making more efficient, the provision of legal aid service in the country.
The Chief Justice ended his message by lauding the efforts of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in the Philippines, “for holding this summit, and allowing the members of the legal community to rethink their current strategies in providing legal assistance to the underprivileged sector of society.” The Summit is hosted by the ABA ROLI in collaboration with the Supreme Court of the Philippines, IBP, LEB, and with the support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID). ###