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‘Karen’ and the Female Paralegals of Cebu City Jail – Female Dormitory: Helping the Helpless Help Themselves 

March 31, 2023

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In 2018, Karen (not her real name) was arrested for violating Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act or the Republic Act No. 9165. At the time of her arrest, she was three months pregnant, a single mother, with another three-year-old child left behind with her mother.

In the first two years of her incarceration, Karen had little understanding of what would happen to her and her case and what she could do to improve her situation. Soon after, a pool of persons deprived of liberty (PDL) paralegals was created by the jail warden as an initiative of the jail’s paralegal unit. The paralegal unit mentored these paralegal aides (PLA). On the other hand, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation (HLAF), StreetLawPh, and the University of San Carlos – College of Law provided orientation and training on new laws and amendments to PLAs. 

Karen was identified as a suitable participant having a college education level, but she was not immediately interested in being trained as a PLA. However, as trainings progressed, the sessions gave her and her colleagues a better understanding of their cases and that of their fellow PDLs, and the possible remedies they could seek while in jail. “Everything taught to us was useful”, Karen said. “We became eager to learn and learn more”, she added.
Soon, Karen and 26 other PLAs supported their fellow PDLs with their cases. They help keep track of their cases and document them through their respective Detainee’s Notebooks with the supervision of the paralegal officers. On the other hand, jail paralegal officers regularly update the jail’s paralegal corner for easy and accessible monitoring of PLAs on cases. 


Karen and the other PLAs also help identify those who need help paying fees for the Drug Dependency Examinations or Assessment (DDE/DDA) examinations. They refer them to institutions like UV-Gullas that pay for PDLs required to take DDE/ DDA examinations at the Department of Health-Treatment Center (DOH-TRC) in Mandaue City. In addition to providing paralegal support, they also participate in health missions, gift-giving, and the therapeutic community at the jail.

Karen and other PLAs assist in monitoring the case status of their fellow PDLs, particularly those without families that can follow up on their cases and directly update paralegal officers. Also, they assist low-literacy PDL, the elderly and those with disabilities and pregnant women.

During free legal aid consultations, PLAs like Karen assist their fellow PDLs in formulating questions for law student practitioners from the University of San Carlos (USC)–College of Law and University of the Visayas (UV)–Gullas School of Law as well as the IBP and HLAF to ensure they receive concrete responses to their different queries.

In one instance, the IBP-Cebu City Chapter and Karen helped a certain PDL to raise her query since she has been staying at the jail facility for a long time and no one in her family or friends can follow up on her case status. Atty. Mary Grace H. Casano, Executive Director for Legal Aide of IBP Cebu City, then called the PDL’s lawyer to inquire about the case’s progress and learned that there was already a release order for the PDL.  Shortly after, a release order was sent to the jail, and the PDL was successfully released from detention. 

Despite being in jail, Karen was able to assist others and witness the releases of her fellow PDLs. Karen considers the release of the PDLs she assisted as an achievement during her stay as a PLA. “I feel proud having been able to help others and give them hope that they could finally return to their families and lives. I am happy doing something for others. It boosts my confidence to help more fellow PDLs inside our facility,” she said. She is now expected to receive promulgation on her case in April.

Currently, Karen and the other 26 PLAs continue to assist fellow PDLs while jail paralegal officers are mentoring and coaching a new batch of PLAs. Asked Karen what she would do once released, “I hope to continue being a paralegal and help other PDLs. If I get lucky, I’d like to study law someday,” she answered


Written by Maricel Aguilar, GESI Specialist and Reann Mantilla, Programme Management Associate


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Mario Villamor

UNOPS Communications Officer 

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