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Indigent litigants

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MILLIONS of Filipinos, particularly in far-flung communities across the Philippines, are still in the de-energizing grip of grinding poverty that has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But unknown to many, the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), through its “army” of highly-dedicated volunteer lawyers, remains committed to provide indigent litigants free legal assistance.

In fact, PAO, headed by lawyer Persida Rueda-Acosta, the fourth placer in the 1989 bar examinations and a recipient of the 2004 Lingkod Bayan Award, is now a household name in the country.

This is not surprising since indigent litigants consider “PAO lawyers” are modern-day heroes like the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) whose dollar remittances help prop up the local economy.

Records show that from March 16, 2020, when President Duterte decreed a Luzon-wide Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), to August 31, PAO lawyers served 31,055 poor litigants.

And from January to June this year, 7,554 prisoners were given “favorable judgment” through the help of PAO, which was established in 1972 and known then as Citizens Legal Assistance Office.

We are like soldiers and policemen who cannot just go home and sleep leisurely. We are on duty 24 hours (a day) for those in need of legal services and legal advice,” according to Acosta.

She lauded PAO lawyers for their commitment as “frontliners” in the legal sector while the dreaded and deadly COVID-19 continues to terrorize peoples across the globe, including Filipinos.

At the same time, the workaholic and highly-effective Acosta thanked donors for their support “since we have no special budget for COVID-19 pandemic protection for our employees.”

Undoubtedly, Acosta and her combo of volunteer lawyers will have the support of the Filipino people as they continue to provide free legal assistance to the country’s indigent litigants.