By: Kaya Guillen and Ericka Marie Banting
The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) in Region VI recently opened its district office in Estancia, Iloilo order to answer the area’s need for accessible and free legal services for indigent citizens.
While located in Estancia, the office would also cater to the neighboring towns of Concepcion, San Dionisio, Batad, Balasan, and Carles, and will attend hearings in the Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (MCTC) of Balasan, Batad-Estancia, and San Dionisio.
Previously, these towns were under the jurisdiction of the Barotac Viejo district office.
PAO Region VI head Jose Edmund Guillen said their goal is establish one district office per district.
However, the distance of Estancia and neighboring towns from Barotac made it necessary to construct another district office in the fifth district.
“So, if you are living in Carles and all the islands there, the nearest PAO office is Barotac Viejo which is more than one hour and a half away, even two hours,” he said.
The Barotac Viejo district office is 68.5 km from Balasan, 87 km from Carles, 62 km from Batad, 73 km from Estancia, 55 km from San Dionisio, and 42 km from Concepcion.
Guillen said the distances take toll on indigent clients.
“If you are poor and then you have to spend too much for your transportation fare and for your food, that is already too burdensome.”
When asked about the feedback from former clients residing in Estancia and the neighboring area, Barotac Viejo District Attorney Erlyn Aquino said “Some of our clients, particularly those living in the far-flung island barangays in the municipalities of Carles, Batad, Estancia, Balasan, San Dionisio, and Concepcion, find it difficult to immediately go to our Office, primarily because of the distance as well as the availability of public transportation.”
Aquino said some of their clients choose to travel a day before in order to make it to their appointments the next morning. This means additional accommodation expenses on top of their transportation.
Former Municipal Trial Court Officer Placido Avelino expressed similar sentiments, saying that the new district office would solve travelling woes that come with acquiring legal services.
“Amo na mayo kay ang aton diri mga tawo gina issuehan [lang] warrant kay tungod indi maka appeal [insigida] kay wala inug pliti,” he elaborated.
Town council member Rowena Placencia said the people of Estancia would usually approach her asking if her sister, who is a lawyer, could give free legal assistance.
“Para sakon, ang PAO office (sa Estancia) damo gid mabuligan, siyempre ang mga pigado dako gid na ya kay siyempre indi na sila mag travel sa barotac. Kaisa ila man lang na napangita mga legal advice, te mapaprivate gid sila nga indi nila masarangan,” she added.
Aside from addressing the need for free legal assistance, Guillen said that the new district office also provides free notary services and crafting of documents such as affidavits and Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN).
“Just imagine the big help if the people there are able to get [an] affidavit of loss without having to pay any amount. Because if you go to a private lawyer, an affidavit of loss can cost you 150-200 pesos per document. With PAO, you don’t have to pay anything,” he stated.
When asked why the district office was located in Estancia, Guillen said that, “If you base it on the location, [the center] really is Estancia.
“Estancia is really strategically located because it is [also] the center of commerce and economic activity. If you look at the map, if you are living in Carles and Balasan, it is accessible to go to Estancia. If you are living in San Dionisio, it is accessible also.”
He added that other factors they considered were local government support and the facilities that the town currently has. The local government unit of Estancia provided PAO with office space at the SK and Liga Hall building and will shoulder electricity and water costs.
The district office houses three lawyers, one for each court the office has jurisdiction over, and an administrative assistant. The head of the office resides in the neighboring town of Carles, while the other two lawyers are new applicants.
“My policy is as much as possible, the lawyer I will be assigning there is also a resident of the area. So, my officer-in-charge, the one who will head the office there is from Carles. Aside from seniority, we give preference really to those who are residents of that place. They know the contours, the people there. At the same time, they will not have to make a lot of adjustments because they are away from their family,” Guillen explained.
The Estancia District Office will be the 24th PAO district office in the region.