Casiño proposes sending PAO lawyers abroad to help distressed OFWs

CEBU CITY – Party list representative Teddy Casiño called on the country’s public attorneys to continue widening their services to poor Filipino clients and suggested that the agency set its sights on extending its services to distressed Filipino workers abroad.

Speaking at the Public Attorneys Office Visayas-wide Seminar Workshop on Codes and References, Casiño said stationing PAO lawyers abroad to assist overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) facing criminal charges at the early stages of the case would help greatly in reducing convictions.

Casiño is principal author of Republic Act 9406 or the PAO Law of 2008, officially titled “An Act Reorganizing and Strengthening the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), Amending for the Purpose Pertinent Provisions of Executive Order No. 292 Otherwise Known as ‘The Administrative Code of 1987’, as Amended, Granting Special Allowance to PAO Officials and Lawyers and Providing Funds.”

Under Casiño’s PAO Law, more than 400 additional lawyers were hired by the agency to provide free legal assistance to poor litigants in the country. The status and salary grades of PAO lawyers were also upgraded to equal that of public prosecutors while the agency itself was granted administrative and fiscal autonomy from the Department of Justice.

“It is often the case that our OFWs are not aware of their rights nor provided competent counsel when getting into trouble. In many cases, embassy officials enter the picture very late and yet do not have the competence to assist the person. Our PAOs can ensure that the rights of our OFWs are protected at the critical early stages of the case,” he said.

He revealed that under the PAO Law, the agency is already empowered to send lawyers abroad to help OFWs provided other agencies like the DFA, OWWA and DOLE help in providing the proper mechanism.

“PAO lawyers can extend services to distressed OFWs facing a variety of cases here and abroad. The idea is to initially post PAO lawyers in countries where there are large concentrations of OFWs who need legal services but otherwise cannot afford to do so. This is new and I hope to work with your agency on bringing this idea to reality in the near future. This will make the PAO an agency for poor Filipino clients here and abroad,” Casiño said.

“I highly commend the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) considerable growth in the last six years since Republic Act 9406 was signed into law. You have expanded the agency’s services by aiding close to six million (5,835,027) clients in 2011. That means that PAO lawyers have handled close to 700,000 cases – assisted an average of 3,806 clients with 470 cases handled by each lawyer. This is a testament of your public service at the best level attainable,” Casiño said

“I share a high degree of kinship with the PAO since we are both mandated to serve the public, most especially our poor countrymen. PAO lawyers represent the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and underprivileged in the courts. We in the party-list represent them in Congress. There are bigger challenges ahead since the number of poor citizens is not decreasing, the issues and concerns they face ever increasing. This means you shall have more clients as the years go on. But I believe that the PAO can rise to the challenge as we strive to get your agency more lawyers and personnel to help lessen your case loads,” Casiño said.

As of December 2011, the PAO has 1,533 public attorneys, 1,449 of whom actively handle criminal and civil cases before 2,197 courts and quasi-judicial cases before quasi-judicial bodies nationwide. About 42 PAO lawyers handle appealed cases before the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court and the Office of the President. However, PAO lawyers also render non-judicial services to their clients.

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