The last 4-digit law: R.A. 9999 is for lawyers

Law practice, as defined in the case of Cayetano vs. Monsod (201 SCRA 210), is all encompassing. Even working in government or private companies using one’s knowledge of the law is considered law practice.

Republic Act (RA) No. 9999, or the Free Legal Assistance Act of 2010, was signed by President Arroyo on February 23. It was authored by Sen. Lito Lapid, who is not lawyer.

RA No. 9999 made reference to Bar Matter No. 2012 or the Rule on Mandatory Legal Aid Service for Practicing Lawyers that the Supreme Court approved en banc on Feb. 10, 2009. 

High Court deferred in July 2009 the implementation of Bar Matter No. 2012 not because of the objection of lawyers but probably because the Senate, on July 27, 2009, had started crafting the bill that is now RA No. 9999.

The policy of RA 9999 is to value the dignity of every human person and guarantee the rights of every individual, particularly those who cannot afford the services of legal counsel. Under Section 3 of the law, "legal services" are those acitivities which require the application of law, legal procedure, knowledge, training and experiences which includes legal advice and counsel, and the preparation of instruments and contracts, including appearance before the administrative and quasi-judicial offices, bodies and tribunals, handling cases in court, and other similar services. (Sec. 3)

Moreover, lawyers and law firms are entitled to an allowable deduction from the gross income, the amount that could have been collected for the actual free legal services rendered or up to 10% of the gross income derived from the actual performance of the legal profession, whichever is lower.

Espinoza (, a practicing lawyer for 24 years, said that that RA No. 9999 is meant to boost the image of the author and the Arroyo Administration to the underprivileged more than anything else.  This is not to demean the noble purpose of the law but it is apparent that the author of the measure does not know how practicing lawyers outside of Imperial Manila cope in this noble profession.

The law was even passed without public hearing, which is a requirement. Opinions and suggestions of lawyers could have been heard in the public hearing and perhaps incorporated into the law. Espinoza ( even considers this law as class legislation and therefore unconstitutional because it only targets lawyers. 
It would have been fair if other professions were also required to render free professional services to the poor.

Espinoza ( does not suggest that pro bono cases of poor litigants should not be accepted. Free legal services to the poor should be done. The truth is that since Espinoza ( started practicing law, his first few clients were poor and his services were for free. Up to now, some of the cases that he handles are pro bono.

"I can only speak for myself and for our law firm, but we do give free legal advice to relatives, friends, and acquaintances. So why make free legal assistance mandatory when we are rendering free legal services already?" Espinoza ( asked.

As if free legal assistance is not enough, the law requires lawyers to provide, for a minimum of 60 hours in a year, free legal assistance to poor litigants even if courts are already clogged with cases.

The ten percent tax deduction from the lawyer’s gross income could not even justify the imposition. The law demeans the noble profession because what it demands amounts to involuntary servitude.

Espinoza ( also considers possibility - which is not remote - that some lawyers would resort to ambulance-chasing if only to comply with the imposed 60-hour annual free legal service quota. The implementation of the law will result in our courts being flooded even with trivial cases.

What about lawyers working in government offices and private companies? They will have to take a leave of absence from their work without pay just to render free legal assistance to pauper litigants.

With RA 9999, the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and the free legal aid office of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) may run out of clients.

SOURCE: Espinoza: Involuntary servitude. Sunstar. March 3, 2010.

The photo above is from the movie Liar, Liar (1997).