The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) can now expand its legal assistance to the poor and indigents with the financial and logistical support from local government units (LGUs).
IBP President Burt M. Estrada said that the IBP and its chapters are no longer covered by Circular 98-002 issued by the Commission on Audit (COA) in 1998 that prohibits LGUs from hiring private lawyers to handle their legal concerns and those of their poor and indigent constituents.
Estrada said that COA Chairperson Michael G. Aguinaldo has confirmed that the services of the IBP is not covered by the prohibition under COA Circular 98-002.
The COA circular states that “public funds shall not be utilized for payment of the services of a private legal counsel or law firm to represent government agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations and local government units in court or to render legal services for them.”
It also states: “In the event that such legal services cannot be avoided or is justified under extraordinary or exceptional circumstances for government agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations, the written conformity and acquiescence of the Solicitor General or the Government Corporate Counsel, as the case maybe, and the written concurrence of the Commission on Audit shall first be secured before the hiring or employment of a private lawyer or law firm.”
Estrada, in behalf of the IBP Board of Governors, sought from Aguinaldo a clarification on the COA circular in a letter dated July 15, 2021.
In his reply to Estrada dated July 28, 2021, Aguinaldo said: “This Office agrees with the IBP Board of Governors that any agreement between the LGU and the IBP Chapter to provide free legal services to indigent and poor constituents of this LGU is not subject to COA Circular No. 98-002.”
But Aguinaldo told Estrada: “The terms and conditions of the proposed agreements should clearly specify the respective roles and responsibilities of the IBP Chapters and the LGUs, including the type and purpose of the assistance.”
Aguinaldo also said: “… any disbursement of public funds of the LGUs arising from such agreements are subject to post-audit by the Commission.”
The IBP is the official organization of Philippine lawyers created by the Supreme Court (SC) in 1970.
Estrada said that “with the foregoing clarification from the COA, LGUs can now formally engage the IBP Chapters through a Memorandum of Agreement and provide support, financially or otherwise, to the legal aid program of the Chapter.”
“This will surely expand the capacity of the IBP Chapters to provide free legal aid to the poor and/or indigent constituents of the municipality, city or province,” he said.