One of the proudest moments of my legal career was when I served as an intern at the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO for short). I was an incoming senior law student then, and we were made to choose firms or agencies to earn internship hours from. My classmates mostly chose big, fancy law firms in Manila. I chose to intern at PAO at the Capitol, in Cebu. No harm in choosing either, but I was so curious about how a PAO lawyer is in real life as opposed to how they are depicted in movies (not the best of portrayals especially in old Pinoy movies).
I was so keen to learn more about litigation, and genuinely wanted to know what sort of problems faced PAO clients. All I knew then is that I wanted to help my fellowmen through legal work. My brief stint at PAO was nothing short of inspiring, as I spent time and made friends with lawyers who were passionate with their work and who were making a difference in people’s lives by providing quality legal services to those who cannot afford it.
PAO’s services are for indigent clients, or those who, depending on where they reside, have a net income of less than 12,000-14,000 Pesos a month. To enjoy the free legal services of PAO, all one has to do is to get a Certificate of Indigency from the Barangay where they reside, or at their local DSWD.
PAO lawyers are not the same as Prosecutors. PAO lawyers are usually defense counsels, or lawyers who represent the accused in criminal cases (except those accused of BP 22 or the Bouncing Checks Law, as a matter of policy). PAO represents clients in a myriad of cases (correction of entries in birth certificates, damages, etc) who cannot afford the services of private counsels.
Having a PAO lawyer represent you is NOT a disadvantage. They are brilliant, experienced lawyers with a heart for public service, and require nothing in return except their client’s full cooperation in the case from start to finish. Gone are the times when people say, “Ay, PAO?” When referring to PAO lawyers. Now, Filipinos can proudly say, “Wow, PAO!”