Indigent or Pauper Litigant: Rules in Determining Status

Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty
knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.
-  James Baldwin

This is the opening phrase of a recent decision penned by Justice Velasco involving the rules on indigent parties, summarized as follows:

The rules on indigent litigants, therefore, if the applicant for exemption meets the salary and property requirements under Section 19 of Rule 141, then the grant of the application is mandatory. On the other hand, when the application does not satisfy one or both requirements, then the application should not be denied outright; instead, the court should apply the “indigency test” under Section 21 of Rule 3 and use its sound discretion in determining the merits of the prayer for exemption.

This is the meat of the decision, which is long overdue. The decision clarifies an issue that confronts us on a daily basis at the U.P. College of Law, Office of Legal Aid. If you have more time, you may opt to read the following details.

In this case, the court denied the petitioner’s motion to litigate as indigent litigants, on the ground that the petitioner’s gross income is P10,474, beyond the amount of P3,000 mentioned in the first paragraph of Rule 141, Section 18 for pauper litigants residing outside Metro Manila.

Discussing the history on suits in forma pauperis (pauper litigant), the Supreme Court noted that when the Rules of Court took effect in 1964, the rule on pauper litigants was found in Rule 3, Section 22 which provided that:

SECTION 22. Pauper litigant.—Any court may authorize a litigant to prosecute his action or defense as a pauper upon a proper showing that he has no means to that effect by affidavits, certificate of the corresponding provincial, city or municipal treasurer, or otherwise. Such authority[,] once given[,] shall include an exemption from payment of legal fees and from filing appeal bond, printed record and printed brief. The legal fees shall be a lien to any judgment rendered in the case [favorable] to the pauper, unless the court otherwise provides.

From the same Rules of Court, Rule 141 on Legal Fees, on the other hand, did not contain any provision on pauper litigants. Rule 141 was revised in 1984 through Administrative Matter No. 83-6-389-0 (formerly G.R. No. 64274), which inserted this provision (quoted in part):

SECTION 16. Pauper-litigants exempt from payment of court fees.—Pauper-litigants include wage earners whose gross income do not exceed P2,000.00 a month or P24,000.00 a year for those residing in Metro Manila, and P1,500.00 a month or P18,000.00 a year for those residing outside Metro Manila, or those who do not own real property with an assessed value of not more than P24,000.00, or not more than P18,000.00 as the case may be.

There are 2 requirements under the old Section 16, Rule 141: a) income requirement, the applicants should not have a gross monthly income of more than P1,500, and b) property requirement, they should not own property with an assessed value of not more than P18,000.

When the Rules of Court on Civil Procedure were amended by the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, inclusive of Rules 1 to 71 (Supreme Court Resolution in Bar Matter No. 803 dated 8 April 1997, which became effective on 1 July 1997), Rule 3, Section 22 of the Revised Rules of Court was superseded by Rule 3, Section 21 of said 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as follows:

SECTION 21. Indigent party.—A party may be authorized to litigate his action, claim or defense as an indigent if the court, upon an ex parte application and hearing, is satisfied that the party is one who has no money or property sufficient and available for food, shelter and basic necessities for himself and his family.

Such authority shall include an exemption from payment of docket and other lawful fees, and of transcripts of stenographic notes which the court may order to be furnished him. The amount of the docket and other lawful fees which the indigent was exempted from paying shall be a lien on any judgment rendered in the case favorable to the indigent, unless the court otherwise provides.

Any adverse party may contest the grant of such authority at any time before judgment is rendered by the trial court. If the court should determine after hearing that the party declared as an indigent is in fact a person with sufficient income or property, the proper docket and other lawful fees shall be assessed and collected by the clerk of court. If payment is not made within the time fixed by the court, execution shall issue for the payment thereof, without prejudice to such other sanctions as the court may impose.

At the time the Rules on Civil Procedure were amended by the Court in Bar Matter No. 803, however, there was no amendment made on Rule 141, Section 16 on pauper litigants. On March 1, 2000, Rule 141 on Legal Fees was amended by the Court in A.M. No. 00-2-01-SC, whereby certain fees were increased or adjusted. In this Resolution, the Court amended Section 16 of Rule 141, making it Section 18, which now reads:

SECTION 18. Pauper-litigants exempt from payment of legal fees.—Pauper litigants (a) whose gross income and that of their immediate family do not exceed four thousand (P4,000.00) pesos a month if residing in Metro Manila, and three thousand (P3,000.00) pesos a month if residing outside Metro Manila, and (b) who do not own real property with an assessed value of more than fifty thousand (P50,000.00) pesos shall be exempt from the payment of legal fees.

The legal fees shall be a lien on any judgment rendered in the case favorably to the pauper litigant, unless the court otherwise provides.

To be entitled to the exemption herein provided, the litigant shall execute an affidavit that he and his immediate family do not earn the gross income abovementioned, nor do they own any real property with the assessed value aforementioned, supported by an affidavit of a disinterested person attesting to the truth of the litigant’s affidavit.

Any falsity in the affidavit of a litigant or disinterested person shall be sufficient cause to strike out the pleading of that party, without prejudice to whatever criminal liability may have been incurred.

It can be readily seen that the rule on pauper litigants was inserted in Rule 141 without revoking or amending Section 21 of Rule 3, which provides for the exemption of pauper litigants from payment of filing fees. Thus, on March 1, 2000, there were two existing rules on pauper litigants; namely, Rule 3, Section 21 and Rule 141, Section 18.

On August 16, 2004, Section 18 of Rule 141 was further amended in Administrative Matter No. 04-2-04-SC, which became effective on the same date. It then became Section 19 of Rule 141, to wit:

SEC. 19. Indigent litigants exempt from payment of legal fees.–INDIGENT LITIGANTS (A) WHOSE GROSS INCOME AND THAT OF THEIR IMMEDIATE FAMILY DO NOT EXCEED AN AMOUNT DOUBLE THE MONTHLY MINIMUM WAGE OF AN EMPLOYEE AND (B) WHO DO NOT OWN REAL PROPERTY WITH A FAIR MARKET VALUE AS STATED IN THE CURRENT TAX DECLARATION OF MORE THAN THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND (P300,000.00) PESOS SHALL BE EXEMPT FROM PAYMENT OF LEGAL FEES.

The legal fees shall be a lien on any judgment rendered in the case favorable to the indigent litigant unless the court otherwise provides.

To be entitled to the exemption herein provided, the litigant shall execute an affidavit that he and his immediate family do not earn a gross income abovementioned, and they do not own any real property with the fair value aforementioned, supported by an affidavit of a disinterested person attesting to the truth of the litigant’s affidavit. The current tax declaration, if any, shall be attached to the litigant’s affidavit.

Any falsity in the affidavit of litigant or disinterested person shall be sufficient cause to dismiss the complaint or action or to strike out the pleading of that party, without prejudice to whatever criminal liability may have been incurred.

Amendments to Rule 141 (including the amendment to Rule 141, Section 18) were made to implement Republic Act 9227 which brought about new increases in filing fees. Specifically, in the 16 August 2004 amendment, the ceiling for the gross income of litigants applying for exemption and that of their immediate family was increased from P4,000 a month in Metro Manila and P3,000 a month outside Metro Manila, to double the monthly minimum wage of an employee; and the maximum value of the property owned by the applicant was increased from an assessed value of P50,000 to a maximum market value of P300,000, to be able to accommodate more indigent litigants and promote easier access to justice by the poor and the marginalized in the wake of these new increases in filing fees.

Even if there was an amendment to Rule 141 on 16 August 2004, there was still no amendment or recall of Rule 3, Section 21 on indigent litigants.

The Supreme Court decided that Rule 3, Section 21 and Rule 141, Section 16 (as amended) are still valid and enforceable rules on indigent litigants. The 2 rules can stand together and are compatible with each other. When an application to litigate as an indigent litigant is filed, the court shall scrutinize the affidavits and supporting documents submitted by the applicant to determine if the applicant complies with the income and property standards prescribed in the present Section 19 of Rule 141 – that is, the applicant’s gross income and that of the applicant’s immediate family do not exceed an amount double the monthly minimum wage of an employee; and the applicant does not own real property with a fair market value of more than P300,000. If the trial court finds that the applicant meets the income and property requirements, the authority to litigate as indigent litigant is automatically granted and the grant is a matter of right.

However, if the trial court finds that one or both requirements have not been met, then it would set a hearing to enable the applicant to prove that the applicant has “no money or property sufficient and available for food, shelter and basic necessities for himself and his family.” In that hearing, the adverse party may adduce countervailing evidence to disprove the evidence presented by the applicant; after which the trial court will rule on the application depending on the evidence adduced. In addition, Section 21 of Rule 3 also provides that the adverse party may later still contest the grant of such authority at any time before judgment is rendered by the trial court, possibly based on newly discovered evidence not obtained at the time the application was heard. If the court determines after hearing, that the party declared as an indigent is in fact a person with sufficient income or property, the proper docket and other lawful fees shall be assessed and collected by the clerk of court. If payment is not made within the time fixed by the court, execution shall issue or the payment of prescribed fees shall be made, without prejudice to such other sanctions as the court may impose.

Source: Algura vs. Local Government Unit of the City of Naga (G.R. No. 150135, 30 October 2006).

7 Responses to “Indigent or Pauper Litigant: Rules in Determining Status”


  1. 1 Major Tom Nov 14th, 2006 at 6:53 am

    Upon reading the latest definition and condition for being a pauper litigant, I am convinced that there is some form of reasonableness in the system, where an individual whose property does not exceed 300,000 pesos can still be exempted from paying the basic court fees. However, the sharp increase in the court fees–as compared to the earlier rates—is still a matter of concern where for an average income individual, can still be steep considering the cost of living nowadays.

  2. 2 GABRIELA Nov 24th, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    Time is running out on us if we will not be able to file any cause of action opposing the Writ of Possession on our residence.

    As defined, we do not qualify as pauper or indigent litigant, but it is the only way we can fight for our rights and bring to the attention of the Court our plight.

    We will still try, of course with the help of humane lawyers, at least to buy us some time until we can find someone to HELP us. The exorbitant docket fees is the culprit why we have not yet made any major step.

    We fit the description of not being able to provide for some basic necessities, we sometimes miss our meals and bills are piling on top of the other. We are out of work due to usurpation of powers, illegal termination of contract, etc.But this not the reason why we are in this predicament.

    I hope the law will be more flexible as to apply a pro-rata evaluation in determining whether the petitioner is indeed a an indigent litigant. More particularly in our case, x x x we need quite a big amount to file an annulment of foreclosure sale amounting to 37M or cancellation of the issued title in the name of the bank. According to the clerk of court, filing fees will be in the tune of 900K to 1M. With our present business condition, that is not possible. Another case to file is Intestate proceedings and estate administration, again filing fees is higher than the case against the bank.

    What I am really contemplating now is to file a criminal case, to save a little. My eldest son was not able to enroll this second semester and it breaks my heart so much.

    I hope there are still humane lawyers, young enough to see us through, who can consider a full contigent engagement with assignment of assets. The ex-parte hearing for the Writ is on the 11th of December.

    GODSPEED!

  3. 3 Atty. Fred Nov 27th, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    Gabriela, I’m sorry to hear about your predicament. There are many legal aid offices; don’t lose hope in looking around. For my part, even at the office of legal aid, we decline many applications because of limitations in manpower. Good luck and God bless.

  4. 4 portia_abogada Dec 17th, 2009 at 5:02 am

    As a lawyer involved in women’s issues, the issue of paying filing fees is one urgent concern for the women. When a woman needs to seek the issuance of a Protection Order, she still has to pay filing fees. All too often, women who need protection orders are women whose lives are in danger and are in urgent need of the court’s intervention, but do not have sufficient resources for the moment to pay the filing fees, even if they are employed.

    Section 38 of R.A. 9262 (“The Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004″), states that:

    If the victim is an indigent OR there is an immediate necessity due to imminent danger or threat of danger to act on an application for a protection order, the court shall accept the application without payment of the filing fee and other fees and of transcript of stenographic notes.

    In some courts, a woman who asks for a Temporary Protection Order because there is an “immediate necessity due to imminent dnager or threat of danger” which necessitates the need for the Court to act on an application for protection order, is NOT required to pay a filing fee.

    But there are other courts who are not of the same view.

    I tend to favor the first interpretation. Women who ask for a TPO should not be required to pay filing fees. Imagine this scenario: A woman and her kid run away from home to escape the physically abusive husband. Her finances are shot as she looks for a new place to rent, plonks down advance rental and two months deposit. While she may be employed, she cannot for the moment pay the filing fee for a TPO/PPO (which is actually about Php 4,500.00, or equal to a month’s rent.)

    Some might say, she can avail of the benefits of the legal aid office. Under A.M. No. 08-11-7-SC (IRR), she can then be exempt from paying filing fees. However, she has to secure clearances and certificates from the barangay, she has to present certifications from the assessor that she has no property amounting to more than Php300,000.00. She has to secure a certification from the BIR that she is not an income earner, or has insufficient income. These will take a couple of days to prepare.

    Meanwhile, the abusive husband has already tracked his wife, and is again harassing her, stalking her, sending her threatening and abusive massages. She is already in imminent danger of abuse by the husband.

    This situation is frustrating, to say the least. I am now in a similar situation, and I have quoted Section 38 of RA 9262, in my motion for exemption of payment of filing fees, and cited the case of Algura, I have even submitted the affidavits and medico-legal certificates of teh victim, the certificate from the psychiatrist, the medical bills etc. And yet, the clerk of court refuses to even set the motion for hearing.

    I hope the Supreme Court comes out with uniform Rules as to how to interpret Section 38 of RA 9262.

  5. 5 OLSA Jul 24th, 2012 at 9:48 am

    good day! i would just like to ask if the exemption from legal fees also cover fees required from government agencies, i.e. if the pauper litigant would need to secure certified copies of certain documents from the NSO or Registry of Deeds, will the litigant need to pay the fees requested by the government agencies? Some agencies po kasi charge exorbitant fees for such certified true copies. Thank you and hope to hear from you.

  1. 6 Pauper litigant: Court access for the less fortunate at Atty-at-Work Pingback on Jun 15th, 2007 at 4:56 am
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