Of the 35% of Filipinos who experienced a legal problem in the last two years, only 1 in 5 was able to access professional legal advice
CEBU, Philippines – “I was shocked when I found out I was overstaying in jail,” said mother of three, Ms. Elaine Escaña. At the time, she had been detained for 4 years, 8 months, and 22 days in the Cebu City Jail, but in fact, she had been sentenced to only six months.
“I could not understand. I felt sad, because I thought of my sister, who died while I was in jail but I was also so overjoyed to have the possibility to be free,” she explained.
Ms. Escaña learned about her overstay from law student practitioner Ms. Rachel Wagas-Cañada who was part of a team from Gullas Law School of the University of the Visayas, which was providing legal aid services to women deprived of liberty.
“I explained the situation to her and I needed her to understand. Once she did, I could see the emotions going through her. Her tears welling up. I tried to not get emotional myself but it is hard,” explained Ms. Wagas-Cañada.
Ms. Wagas-Cañada was able to get Ms. Escaña released on December 22, 2022, six days after their interview.
Access to Justice
Ms. Escaña is not alone. She is one among many who have difficulties accessing justice in the Philippines.
According to the 2019 World Justice Report, of the 35 percent of Filipinos who experienced a legal problem in the last two years, only 1 in 5 was able to access professional legal advice.
Access to Justice is a basic human right. In the absence of access to justice, people are unable to exercise their rights, have their voices heard, or challenge discrimination.
Gullas Law School of the University of the Visayas was able to provide legal aid services through a grant from the European Union’s Governance in Justice (GOJUST) Programme. UV is one of GOJUST’s 12 grantee universities that implement the Clinical Legal Education Program (CLEP) of the Supreme Court as a pathway to promote access to justice for women and other vulnerable groups. The CLEP is a credit-earning teaching course with the goal of providing law students with knowledge for the application of the law, delivery of legal services and promotion of social justice, especially to marginalized communities.
Since launching the grant facility one year ago, about 2,300 women, children and men have been provided with legal aid services and received knowledge and training on their rights.
“Access to justice is fundamental to building a fair, inclusive, prosperous and peaceful society. The European Union has been a committed partner to the Philippine’s Justice Sector reform since 2006. Our engagement stems from the importance we attach to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The EU feels honored to contribute to this process”, said Christoph Wagner, Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation to the Philippines.
Since her release, Ms. Escaña is taking in the moment. “I’m feeling so blessed to be free. I’m spending as much time as I can with my family.”
With a total grant of EUR19 million (Php 1.1 billion ) over a period of four years, the EU’s GOJUST programme supports the Government of the Republic of the Philippines’ efforts to improve access to justice for all Filipinos, and thus, contribute to inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development. GOJUST works with the Philippine Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to develop more responsive and accountable justice services in the country. In addition, GOJUST aims at strengthening the Commission on Human Rights to help it carry out its constitutional mandate of civil and political rights protection and enhance human rights promotion in the Philippines. This component is co-funded with the Spanish Agency for Development Cooperation (AECID), with an additional EUR 1 million (Php 59.47 million).
GOJUST is implemented through technical assistance by the British Council and logistical and grant management support from the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).
*Information on the subject’s case has not been included at their request.