Persons Qualified for Legal Assistance
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Under R. A. 9406, the PAO shall independently discharge its mandate to render, free of charge, legal representation, assistance and counselling to indigent persons in criminal, civil, labor, administrative and other quasi-judicial cases. In the exigency of the service, the PAO may be called upon by proper government authorities to render such service to other persons, subject to existing laws, rules and regulations.”

The Merit Test

Under PAO M.C. No. 18 series of 2002, as amended by the 2021 Revised PAO Operations Manual, a case shall be considered meritorious if an assessment of the law and evidence on hand discloses that the legal services of the office will assist, be in aid of, or be in furtherance of justice, taking into consideration the interests of the parties, and those of society.  In such cases, the Public Attorney should agree to represent the party concerned.  On the other hand, a case is deemed unmeritorious if it appears that it has no chance of success, is intended merely to harass or injure the opposite party, or to work oppression or wrong. In such situations, the Public Attorney must decline the case.

However, if the indigent client is the defendant or respondent in a civil or administrative case already filed in any court or quasi-judicial agency, notwithstanding the determination as to the merit of the case, the Public Attorney shall still represent or extend legal assistance to the client in order to protect the client’s rights.

A Public Attorney may represent an indigent client even if the latter’s cause of action is averse to a public officer, government office, agency, or instrumentality, provided the case is meritorious.  Prudence should, however, be exercised in order that the office would not be exposed to any semblance of harassment, abuse, unfairness, or haste in the filing of suits.

In criminal cases, the accused enjoys the constitutional presumption of innocence until the contrary is proven; hence, cases of accused/respondents in criminal actions are always considered meritorious.


The Indigency Test


Pursuant to PAO MEMORANDUM CIRCULAR NO. 02 Series of 2010 dated January 27, 2010, as amended by the 2021 Revised PAO Operations Manual, and entitled as "AMENDING SECTIONS 3, 4, and 5, ARTICLE II OF MEMORANDUM CIRCULAR NO. 18, S. 2002 (Amended Standard Office Procedures in Extending Legal Assistance)" in relation to the provisions of Republic Act (RA) No. 9406 enacted by Congress and approved by Her Excellency President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on March 23, 2007 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations dated July 14, 2008, the Indigency Test set forth in Section 3, Article II, MC No. 18, S. 2002, is hereby amended to read as follows:


Indigency Test. – Taking into consideration recent surveys on the amount needed by an average Filipino family to (a) buy its “food consumption basket” and (b) pay for its household and personal expenses, the following applicant shall be considered as an indigent person:

                   1)            If residing in cities or municipalities within the National Capital Region (NCR), persons whose individual net income does not exceed Twenty-four Thousand Pesos (P24,000.00) a month;

2)            If residing in other cities outside the NCR, persons whose individual net income does not exceed Twenty-two Thousand Pesos (P22,000.00) a month; and,



3)            If residing in municipalities outside the NCR, persons whose individual net income does not exceed Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00) a month.



 The term “income shall not include the pension received by retirees
The term “net income” as herein employed, shall be understood to refer to the basic income of the litigant less statutory and authorized deductions.
Statutory deductions” shall refer to withholding taxes, Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Social Security System (SSS), PAG-IBIG, Health Insurance and PhilHealth premiums, loan amortizations, and other deductions of similar nature, duly supported by written contracts.
Authorized deductions shall be understood to include all deductions as reflected in the pay slip, as well as other deductions with the expressed written consent of the employee and in agreement with the employer, and all other deductions that can be substantiated by the employee.
In case the client derives income from activities and transactions where no employer-employee relationship exists, net income shall refer to gross income less allowable deductions as defined under Sections 32 and 34 of the National Internal Revenue Code and related issuances.


For purposes of this Section, ownership of land shall not, per se, constitute a ground for disqualification of an applicant for free legal assistance, in view of the ruling in Juan Enaje vs. Victorio Ramos, et al. (G.R. No. L-22109, January 30, 1970), that the determinative factor for indigency is the income of the litigant, and not the latter’s ownership of real property.
To ensure that only those qualified shall be extended free regular representation in court and quasi-judicial bodies, and to aid in determining the nature of the deductions, the applicant shall be required to execute an Affidavit of lndigency, and submit any of the following documents:
                1)            Latest Income Tax Return or pay slip, or other proofs of net income; or,

2)            Certificate of Indigency from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), or the City/Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office having jurisdiction over the residence of the applicant; or,

3)            Certificate of Indigency and/or No Income from the Office of the Punong Barangay/Barangay Chairperson having jurisdiction over the residence of the applicant.



Public Attorneys and personnel shall exercise prudence in ascertaining the indigency qualification of an applicant to avoid any suspicion of assisting disqualified clients.


Cases Which May be Provisionally Accepted

Public Attorneys may accept or handle cases provisionally, pending verification of the applicant’s indigency and evaluation of the merit of the applicant’s case in the following instances:



                1)            When a warrant of arrest has been issued, and assistance is needed in filing a Motion to Post Bail Bond or Reduction thereof for the applicant’s provisional liberty;

2)            When a person is arrested and/or detained, and appropriate immediate legal action is necessary to protect the said person’s rights;

3)            When a pleading has to be filed immediately or an appeal has to be perfected to avoid adverse effects on the applicant;

4)          When the Public Attorney is appointed by the court as counsel de oficio to represent the party-litigant during the trial of the case, provided, however, that if a subsequent investigation discloses that the client is not indigent, the said lawyer should  request the court to be relieved by filing a Motion for Withdrawal of Appearance from the case;

5)            Where the Public Attorney is designated on the spot as counsel de oficio for the purpose only of arraignment, pre-trial, or promulgation of decision;

6)            In cases involving violence against women and their children under Sections 13 and 35(b) of R.A. No. 9262 (Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004), where immediate preparation and filing of pleading/s is necessary to avoid adverse effects on the victims, except, where there is a conflict of interest.  Non-indigent women and their children may seek PAO’s assistance;

7)            In cases involving Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL) pursuant to Section 22 of R.A. No. 9344 as amended by R.A. No. 10630, where there is an immediate need of counsel;

8)            In cases involving alleged acts of terrorism, as defined under Sections 3 and 4, in relation to Section 30, of R.A. No. 11479 (The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020);

9)            In cases involving credit card holder/s considered as “delinquent” by the credit card company, and immediate action is necessary;

10)        In cases which require provisional, limited, and temporary assistance, pursuant to Section 3 of R.A. No. 9406 (Section 14-A Chapter 5, Title III, Book IV of Executive Order No. 292, otherwise known as the “Administrative Code of 1987”) to wit:

“Sec. 14-A. Powers and functions. – the PAO shall independently discharge its mandate to render, free of charge, legal representation, assistance and counseling to indigent persons in criminal, civil, labor, administrative and other quasi-judicial cases. In the exigency of the service, the PAO may be called upon by the proper government authorities to render such service to other persons, subject to existing laws, rules and regulations.” (emphasis supplied)


11)        Other similar urgent cases.

Persons Qualified for Assistance Pursuant to MOAs and DOJ Directives

1)            Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) lawyers against whom criminal and/or administrative complaints have been filed for acts committed in connection with the performance of their official duties (Directive of the Minister of Justice [now Secretary of Justice]);

2)            Farmer-beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law in:

a)            Agrarian-related civil or criminal cases pending before the courts; and,

b)           Cases against farmer-beneficiaries pending before the courts or the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB), where one of the parties is already represented by a lawyer from the DAR (Memorandum of Agreement dated May 8, 1991 between DAR and DOJ).

3)            Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) beneficiaries and implementers, farmers, fishermen, and other agricultural workers who face court cases that will be endorsed by the Magkakasama sa Sakahan, Kaunlaran (MAGSASAKA) Partylist, Inc. (Memorandum of Agreement dated February 19, 2021 between the PAO and Magsasaka Partylist, Inc.);

4)            Indigent laborers in meritorious labor cases (Memorandum Order of the Secretary of Justice, dated May 19, 1988);

5)            Indigent aliens (2nd Indorsement of the Undersecretary of Justice, dated March 25, 1974), provided, that a foreign national who would like to avail of the services of the office, in judicial and quasi-judicial cases, may present a Certificate of Indigency or other similar document from his embassy/consular office as proof of indigency;

6)            Qualified Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in all cases within the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) (Memorandum of Agreement between PAO and Department of Labor and Employment [DOLE], Philippine Overseas Employment Administration [POEA], National Labor Relations Commission [NLRC], Overseas Workers Welfare Administration [OWWA] and some non-government organizations (NGOs), dated April 2, 1993);

7)            Barangay health workers (Section 16, Rule II and Part 5, Rule VII of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. No. 7883 – Barangay Health Workers’ Benefits and Incentives Act of 1995);

8)            Department of Social Welfare and Development in filing of petitions for involuntary commitment of minors, as well as petitions for the declaration that a child is abandoned or neglected (Directive of Minister of Justice Neptali Gonzales, dated February 10, 1987);

9)            Members of the Association of Local Social Welfare and Development Officers of the Philippines, Incorporated (ALSWDOPI), in criminal and administrative complaints/cases related to, or in connection with the exercise of their profession or performance of duties, unless there is a conflict of interest, or when a member does not qualify under the PAO’s Indigency Test; in which case, provisional assistance shall be afforded to such person (Memorandum of Agreement between the ALSWDOPI and PAO, dated August 27, 2009);

10)        Qualified print and broadcast media practitioners, as well as their staff and crew, who, by reason of, or in connection with the performance of their profession, are harassed with suits and complaints intended to hamper freedom of the press and suppress their individual liberties (Memorandum Circular No. 01, S. 2009, dated January 5, 2009 in relation to Memorandum of Agreement between the National Press Club [NPC] and PAO, dated May 29, 2009);

11)        Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), its authorized representatives and drug offenders in the filing of Petitions for voluntary confinement, except when there is a conflict of interest (Memorandum of Agreement between DDB and PAO, dated July 15, 2008, as reinforced by MOA, dated August 22, 2016);

12)        Complaints of Filipinos against foreigners for violation of immigration, alien registration and other local laws; respondent foreigners in deportation cases; Bureau of Immigration (BI) clients in connection with the notarization of applications; and such other legal services that may be assigned by the Commissioner (Memorandum of Agreement between the BI and PAO, dated February 4, 2009);

13)        Members of the Press Photographers of the Philippines (PPP) under investigation, including inquest proceedings, or on trial for a complaint relating to, or in connection with, the exercise of their profession or performance of duties; and the families of PPP members who are victims of media killings (Memorandum of Agreement between the PPP and PAO dated May 25, 2009);

14)        Officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) holding the ranks of Police Officer I (now Patrolman / Patrolwoman, Pat) to Senior Police Officer IV (now Police Executive Master Sergeant, PEMS), when sued in the performance of their duties (DOJ Department Order No. 106, dated February 25, 2009, and PAO Memorandum, dated March 19, 2009; and DOJ Department Circular No. 78, dated October 26, 2009, and PAO Memorandum, dated November 9, 2009); 

15)        Torture victims pursuant to the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 (R.A. No. 9745)  [Note: the Public Attorney’s Office has the authority to conduct an independent investigation in cases involving torture per R.A. No. 9745];

16)        Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) Census Personnel with respect to notarization of their Contract of Service; 

17)        Qualified Taiwanese nationals upon notice by the Legal Aid Foundation (LAF), Taiwan (Memorandum of Agreement between PAO and the Legal Aid Foundation, Taiwan, dated October 27, 2014);

18)        Qualified constituents of member municipalities of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) (Memorandum of Agreement, dated June 30, 2011 between the LMP and the PAO);

19)        The DOJ - Office for Competition (OFC) and / or its members, and the sector regulators and / or its officials in cases proscribed by the mandate of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) through the specially constituted PAO Task Force; 

20)        Qualified refugees and displaced peoples within the Philippines (Memorandum of Understanding between the PAO and the UNHCR, dated January 8, 2013 [renewed on May 7, 2019]);

21)        Asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless persons in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) (Memorandum of Understanding between the PAO, the Regional Human Rights Commission [RHRC], and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees [UNHCR], dated June 21, 2013);

22)        Public school teachers who are appointed as Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) and are being sued in relation to their performance of the said function (Memorandum of Agreement between the PAO, the Department of Education [DepEd], and the Commission on Elections [COMELEC], dated April 29, 2016);

23)        Individuals or Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP)-accredited Urban Poor Organization indorsed by the PCUP, subject to PAO rules and regulations (Memorandum of Agreement between the PAO and PCUP, dated December 23, 2011);

24)        Newly committed persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) and other qualified PDLs of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) facilities (Memorandum of Agreement between PAO and BJMP, dated May 31, 2016);

25)        Members of the Philippine Movie Press Club, Inc. (PMPC) under investigation for a complaint, or on trial for a case, related to or in connection with the exercise of their profession or performance of their duties, and the families of the PMPC members who are victims of media killings (Memorandum of Agreement between the PAO and PMPC, dated April 23, 2012); and,

26)   Other persons/entities qualified pursuant to Memoranda of Agreement/ Understanding, Department of Justice (DOJ) Directives and Special Laws as may hereinafter be entered into by the PAO or issued by competent government authorities, subject to existing PAO rules and regulations.




 Other Persons Qualified for Assistance

1)            Except in election-related cases, immediate members of the family, and relatives within the 4th civil degree of consanguinity or affinity of a Public Attorney, may avail of the services of the said Public Attorney, regardless of qualification under the Indigency Test, subject to the approval of the Chief Public Attorney, upon the recommendation of the Regional Public Attorney or Service Head, as the case may be. The lawyer concerned shall submit an Affidavit of Kinship, file a leave of absence during hearings, and submit a monthly status report on the case;


2)            Public Attorneys and PAO employees may avail of the services of the PAO in all cases, subject to Merit Test, and provided the Office is not the adverse party; and,

3)            Public Attorneys and PAO employees may also avail of the services of the PAO in any case filed against them in courts, tribunals, quasi-judicial agencies and other offices in relation to the lawful performance of duties, provided the Office is not the adverse party and with approval of the Chief Public Attorney.



(PAO Memorandum Circular No. 18, Series of 2002, as amended by the 2021 Revised PAO Operations Manual, Article II, Section 7)
Public Attorneys and PAO employees are prohibited from assisting the following:
                            1)            Juridical person/s and private/stock corporations; except juridical entities which are non-stock and non-profit, whose individual members pass the Indigency Test of the Office.  In cases involving land disputes, the PAO can represent said juridical person/s provided they are not the lessor/s thereof;

2)            Parties who do not pass the Indigency Test, unless appointed by the court as counsel de oficio in criminal cases, and only under existing laws, rules, and regulations, or pursuant to the 2nd paragraph of Article 1, Chapter II, hereof;

3)            Qualified parties represented by de parte counsels, unless said counsels had withdrawn their services;

4)            Landlords or lessors of residential, agricultural, commercial lands and/or buildings, and the like, with respect to the filing of collection or unlawful detainer suits against their tenants or lessees; and,

5)            Political candidates and parties in all election-related matters.

Public Attorneys and PAO employees are prohibited from assisting the following:
(PAO Memorandum Circular No. 18, Series of 2002, as amended by the 2021 Revised PAO Operations Manual,  Article II, Section 8)

   Public Attorneys shall not extend legal assistance in the following cases:

1)            Where they would be representing conflicting interests;

2)            Cases involving violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 (B.P. 22), otherwise known as the “Anti-Bouncing Checks Law”, except in the following instances:

a)      In cases arising from a related case already handled by the PAO on behalf of a client, where the bouncing check issued from the opposing party was insufficient to satisfy the money claim, such as award of back wages  in labor cases, payment of damages, settlement,etc.;

b)     When the Public Attorney is appointed by the court as counsel de oficio, subject to Paragraph 4, Article 4, Chapter II of this Manual.

3)            Prosecution of criminal cases, except in the following instances where there exists no conflict of interest, to wit:

a)      When the PAO assisted the offended party/complainant during the preliminary investigation stage in the Prosecutor’s Office, on first- come-first-served basis, and the case is on appeal or certiorari before the courts;

b)     When there is a directive from the Secretary of Justice or other government authorities to assist the Prosecutor/s assigned to prosecute the criminal case in court, and

c)      Complaints for violation of B.P. 22 arising from an existing case for money claims being handled by the PAO where the subject check payment was issued and dishonored, or insufficient to satisfy the money claim.

4)            Adoption cases, except in instances where the adopter is the biological parent or the step-parent of the adoptee, subject to the Indigency Test.