PAO seeks ₱2B to hire 1K more lawyers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 23) — Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta told lawmakers on Wednesday that they need to hire 1,000 more lawyers, which she estimates would cost ₱2 billion, as she cited additional workload brought by the new code of conduct for legal practitioners.

At a House briefing on the proposed 2024 budget of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Acosta mentioned the “conflict of interest” provision in the recently approved Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA) — a provision she earlier unsuccessfully requested to have deleted.

[LINK: SC denies PAO chief's request to remove conflict of interest provision in updated code of conduct for lawyers]

“Since the PAO is now authorized to handle cases of conflict of interest by the Supreme Court, we need additional 1,000 plantilla items of public attorneys, because that's an additional burden to PAO — that we shall be handling even the case of our opponents in court, especially the indigent ones,” Acosta told the briefing.

Section 22, Canon III of the CPRA reads, "A conflict of interest of any of the lawyers of the PAO incident to services rendered for the Office shall be imputed only to the said lawyer and the lawyer's direct supervisor. Such conflict of interest will not disqualify the rest of the lawyers from PAO from representing the affected client, upon full disclosure to the latter and written informed consent."

"We have vowed to the Supreme Court and expressed our conformity with Section 22 of CPRA," the PAO chief said.

Acosta also argued that the bigger workforce is necessary “to complement the Office of the Solicitor General plantilla” and to be able to handle more labor cases against corporations.

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, meanwhile, described Acosta's ₱2 billion estimate as a “very big” amount and asked if Acosta would be amenable to an additional ₱500 million in the meantime.

The PAO chief said the smaller amount would do for now, which she noted would be enough to hire 250 lawyers.

Rep. Janette Garin suggested realigning the budget of PAO, such as adjusting the funding of its forensics office, in order to create more plantilla items for public lawyers.