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Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima (right) holds up a copy of the Codes and References for the Public Attorney’s Office as she speaks to an audience of public attorneys about the importance of ethical duties and proper office management.
Rain poured as the Philippine Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) held an event to launch its professional ethics manual on the rooftop of the building housing the PAO and the Department of Justice in Quezon City. Yet, the keynote speaker, Philippine Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima made the most of it. Noting that public attorneys’ work can oftentimes involve stormy ethical questions, she said, “This code stands for the quest to do what is best for the public under all circumstances.”
While the Department of Justice is charged with prosecution service, the PAO serves as the country’s national legal aid office. PAO attorneys provide representation in approximately 95 percent of the country’s criminal cases. The ethics manual is a consolidation of PAO’s ethical rules, standard operating procedures, office forms and sample pleadings. The manual also contains reference materials, covering topics ranging from defendants’ rights under United Nations conventions to American and Philippine jurisprudence on ethical violations. The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the PAO compiled the manual with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development.
De Lima said that by representing the most disempowered sectors of society, public attorneys help in ensuring equal access to justice for everyone. She also reminded public attorneys that staying true to the ethical standards incorporated in the manual will allow the attorneys to discharge their duties more effectively and to serve all their clients—regardless of their economic or political status—properly.
Scott Ciment, ABA ROLI country director in the Philippines, said that the manual is an important collaboration between ABA ROLI and the Philippine government that will accelerate the delivery of justice. He added that ABA ROLI and the PAO will coordinate to organize trainings on the new manual.
The occasion also commemorated the work of PAO Chief Persida Rueda-Acosta and her team of forensics experts, who identified the remains of victims from MV Princess of the Stars, a ferry that capsized on June 21, 2008. The ferry was en route from Manila to Cebu and left hundreds dead. The skeletal remains of four victims, on display at the ceremony, provided an eerie contrast to the stacks of shiny new ethics manuals waiting for distribution.
As the clouds began to clear and the sun came out, participating public attorneys from across the Philippines eagerly accepted their copies of the manual. The manual will be distributed to all 1,500 PAO attorneys to help them navigate the ethical dilemmas that they face in their day-to-day work.
To learn more about our work, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org.