Sen. Raffy Tulfo has introduced a bill in the Senate that would grant meritorious students free tuition and other fees at state universities and colleges (SUCs) in the country if they agree to a two-year return of service with the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).

The goals of Senate Bill 1610, also known as the Free Legal Education Program, are to ensure that law students have access to legal education in SUCs and to increase the number of legal professionals.

The mandatory return of service applies not only to the PAO, but also to all other government agencies that require their services.

In a statement released by his office, Sen. Tulfo said the current ratio is one lawyer serving approximately 2,500 people.

“One of the reasons for lack of access to justice in the Philippines is the shortage of practicing lawyers. At present, there are only around 40,000 attorneys comprising the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)—even fewer are practicing lawyers,” he said in his bill’s explanatory note.

“That translates to one lawyer serving roughly 2500 people, very far from the ideal ratio of one lawyer for every 250 persons,” he added. 

The requirement for return service in the public sector will pave the way for a sustainable human resource development, which is essential for the nation’s justice system, he explained further.

He emphasized that because law is already a post-graduate course, it does not qualify under the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act of 2017.

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