MANILA — As part of its response to the Supreme Court (SC)’s call for lawyers to make free legal aid more accessible to poor Filipinos, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) will launch today its first-ever web-based legal aid platform that intends to make pro bono lawyers and law firms available to people in need.
Dubbed the IBP Pro Bono Portal (PBP), the platform was designed by Justice Connect, an Australia-based non-profit that supports similar organizations in various countries, including Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Germany.
The platform’s launch follows the SC’s push for reforms in the judiciary, including accessibility to justice, which the high court views as a fundamental pillar in any democracy.
Access to legal aid has been a longstanding issue among poor Filipinos, making it difficult for individuals without financial means to avail themselves of legal representation. This leaves them vulnerable to injustices such as wrongful arrests, unlawful detention and denial of basic human rights, according to the IBP.
Many also face difficulty in resolving disputes such as land ownership or employment issues.
While the country’s legal system can be complicated and costly, the IBP hopes that the PBP will help address the needs of indigent Filipinos.
“To avail of the legal aid services, a potential client can file an application for legal assistance through the PBP, which can be easily searched by typing ‘IBP pro bono portal’ or ‘IBP free legal aid.’ The system then sends the application to the IBP chapter concerned, which can filter out the application and assign it to the member,” the IBP said.
The IBP said the important features of the PBP include the integration of the means and merits test, which assesses whether there are reasonable grounds for bringing or defending a case in court.
Aside from this, the portal also offers language translations to Filipino and Cebuano.
“The PBP is free, secure, inclusive and designed to be responsive to the needs of the indigent Filipinos while highlighting the competence and integrity of the Bar’s pro bono legal aid programs,” the IBP said.
The IBP and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative will train all legal aid lawyers and clerks in using the PBP starting this month.
Some of the SC’s proposed solutions to the inequality problem in justice access are: not making legal aid mandatory, not putting legal aid under the umbrella of just one organization, addressing corruption, giving room for policy research in clinical legal education, and making law schools add more room to make law students advocates and critical thinkers.