Two Hours per Year

Our readers will be familiar with our exposures of Immigration corruption and we will have more stories to shock you shortly but today we expose another weakness in Philippine Justice.

One big problem immigration detainee’s face is that they cannot get effective legal representation. Private attorneys either refuse to act against the Bureau of Immigration (BI) or take their money and do nothing – often because of threats from BI or the syndicate whose tentacles even reach into the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

Adequate legal assistance is a guarantee of the 1987 Philippine Constitution Article III, Section 11. – even for foreigners – and in our efforts to get legal representation for BI detainees we have made the case to the Chief of the Public Attorneys Office (PAO) that detainees are indigent because they are detained and that their cases are of merit.

The Chief of the PAO has agreed and has so far indorsed six detainee cases to Public Attorneys

But the bad news is that a typical Public Attorney can have as many as 800 active cases. Given there are approximately 200 working 8 hour days in one year or approximately 1600 working hours per year then a typical Public Attorney has only 2 hours per case per year.

This is the shocking reality for anybody who has to rely on a Public Attorney. Just ask yourself how you would feel if you were told by your attorney “sorry I can only give you TWO HOURS PER YEAR – including Court time” and little wonder why cases take years to complete and Jails are overwhelmed!

The Supreme Court has recognized the problem and has implemented “The Community Legal Aid Service Rule” and since 2017 lawyers admitted to the Philippine Bar are obliged to give one hundred twenty (120) hours of free (pro bono) legal aid services to qualified parties meaning those that qualify under the PAO rules.

The Bar admitted a staggering 3747 lawyers in 2016, assuming it is a similar number every year then if each new lawyer contributed 120 hours this is over 56,000 new lawyer days per year or approximately 450,000 pro bono lawyer hours per year.

If only a tiny fraction of this vast resource of lawyer time was directed to help immigration detainees it could make all the difference and help bring an end to the ordeal for many of them and their families.

Immigration typically hold 170 to 230 detainees at any time, a few pass through the system in weeks but some are held many years. Some cases are straightforward and do not require much input but the 40-50 detainees that have been held for more than a few months are mostly those who refused to pay BI’s extortion and their case files are often “hidden waiting extortion payment” and need a special effort. If these detainees could have 20-30 hours of lawyer time each then only 5-10 lawyers contributing 120 hours each would be enough to make the difference. Put in perspective this is only one fifth of one per cent (0.2%) of the time available under the Legal Aid Service Rule.

It is the Office of the Bar Confidant (Supreme Court) that oversees that attorneys comply with “The Community Legal Aid Service Rule” so we have asked them to make attorneys aware of detainees need and direct them to Voices from a Box.

It can be a win win all round (except for BI) because Immigration detainee cases can provide valuable experience for a lawyer new to the bar across the spectrum of law including criminal, civil, administrative and constitutional.

We ask our readers to remind theirs sons and daughters, cousins and friends who are new to the bar of their obligation under the Community Legal Aid Service Rule and of detainee’s need of their help and either contact us at Voices from a Box or the Bar Confidant in the Supreme Court.

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