Pulong's bill is potential good news to aspiring lawyers

At a glance

  • A proposed measure in the House seeks to provide free legal education to aspiring lawyers in exchange for two years worth of government service.

  • The measure was filed by Davao City 1st district Rep. Paolo Duterte (In photo, left), Benguet lone district Rep. Eric Yap (right) and ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Edvic Yap.

  • (Photos from Facebook)

A group of congressmen have filed a measure that, if enacted, would provide free legal education to aspiring lawyers in state universities and colleges (SUCs) in exchange for working in the government for two years after they pass the bar exams.

Davao City 1st district Rep. Paolo Duterte, Benguet lone district Rep. Eric Yap and ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Edvic Yap jointly penned and filed House Bill (HB) No.7433, titled, "An Act promoting access to quality legal education by providing for free tuition and other school fees in state universities and colleges and appropriating funds therefor".

They proposed the measure to address the shortfall of practicing lawyers in the country, which, according to them, “undermines the legal representation of every Filipino, and overall, the national justice system".

Under HB No.7433, all SUCs with a law program accredited by the Legal Education Board (LEB) are qualified to offer free legal education, but should create mechanisms to ensure that this does not apply to students with the financial capacity to pay for their studies.

The bill’s authors pointed out that graduate studies, such as medical  and legal education,  are excluded from the coverage of the  Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (Republic Act No. 10931) which institutionalizes free tuition and exemption from other school  fees in SUCs and local universities and colleges (LUCs).

While the Doktor Para sa Bayan Act (RA No.11509) was already enacted to offer the Medical Scholarship and Return Service (MSRS) Program to deserving students, there is still no law that mandates scholarships for legal education and the corresponding return service program, they added.

“Our proposal, which is consistent with programs that advocate public service to graduates,  includes a mandatory two-year return service program for scholars after passing their bar exams, in a bid to encourage more lawyers to serve in Government,” said Duterte, who goes by the moniker "Pulong".

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) estimates that there are about 40,000 lawyers in the country, while the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) reported that there is roughly only one lawyer for every 2,500 Filipinos. This is a relatively low figure compared to the United States, which has one lawyer for every 240 citizens.

Moreover, not all lawyers in the country  are engaged  in law firm work. Many lawyers work in corporations, ,or  are in private business, the academe, or  politics.

Under HB No.7433, the Free Legal Education Program  will be open to all Filipino students either currently enrolled in the Juris Doctor program or shall enroll at any time after the effectivity of the measure,  provided they pass the entrance examinations and other admission and retention requirements of the SUCs where they are, or plan to be, admitted.

Scholars under the program must carry a full load of subjects prescribed per semester by the SUC,  and should not drop a course.  They are required to finish the degree within the SUC’s prescribed time frame, but  are allowed to  file a leave of absence for valid and justifiable reasons.

They should also take the bar examination within a maximum period of one year after completion of their Juris Doctor degree.

On top of tuition and student registration fees, the proposed  Free Legal Education Program under HB No.7433  also covers bar exam and licensure fees; library fees; and expenses for prescribed books, on a reimbursement basis as determined by the LEB upon consultation with stakeholders.

Within four years of passing the bar exams and conferment of a license to practice law, the scholar should render a  mandatory two-year  return service to the government in the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) or any government agency lacking lawyers, according to the bill. The scholar shall receive the appropriate salaries and other benefits for rendering the mandatory return service.

Beneficiaries who fail to fulfill the scholarship requirements or refuse to comply with the mandatory return service obligation shall be required to reimburse the government the full cost of the scholarship, including other benefits and expenses, the bill states