PUBLIC Attorney’s Office (PAO) Chief Persida Acosta defended the creation of a forensic unit under her office and said it was with the approval of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
Acosta was reacting to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon’s proposal to transfer more than P19 million of the PAO budget appropriated for the new forensic unit to the improvement of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) crime laboratory.
Drilon said the proposed PAO forensic unit would be “duplicating” the functions of the NBI crime lab and other similar government agencies and that there was no legal basis for its formation.
In a letter, dated Sept. 16, 2019, to Senator Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, sponsor of the 2020 budget for the Department of Justice (DoJ), the PAO chief said:
“In 2004, the PAO Forensic Laboratory was only a workplace or a working room for the PAO Visiting Forensic Experts where they conduct their Forensic Analysis of Medico-Legal evidence gathered by PAO. The PAO did not create the same in the context of a separate office, agency, or unit but only a place where forensic examinations and analysis can be done by Atty. ERWIN P. ERFE, the PAO Forensic Consultant duly authorized by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and other affiliated volunteer & visiting forensic experts – in furtherance of evidence-gathering and case-build up to assist our poor clients in establishing the truth in their case.”
Acosta said that by virtue of the PAO Law, “the PAO fortified its commitment once more to the indigent clients of the PAO with the launching of the PAO’s own Forensic Laboratory…..purchase of necessary equipment and properties for the PAO Forensic Laboratory was sourced from the PAO Budget prescribed at the General Appropriations Act.”
Acosta argued that since most of the cases handled by PAO involved poor litigants and accused, a forensic division in its office was “badly needed” to help them.
“It bears stressing that the PAO is an independent and autonomous office attached to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for purposes of policy and program coordination. This is significant because it is a known fact that despite being part of the DoJ family, more often than not, the PAO handles cases that are adverse to the National Prosecution Service (NPS) and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), albeit the OSG is equally an independent and autonomous office attached to the DoJ. In such cases, the NPS and the OSG both represent the State and the Government, while the PAO represents its clients,” Acosta said.
The DBM cited the need to create “eight positions that could serve as a staffing complement.”
These are the Medico Legal Officer 5, Medical Specialist 2, Medical Specialist 1, Medico Legal Officer 3, Dentist 3, Medical Technologist 2, Nurse 2, Laboratory Aide 2.
Acosta found an ally in the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) which, through its president Arsenio Evangelista, said that “instead of strengthening the forensics capability of PAO to help victims of injustice, the VACC smells something fishy in the proposal of Sen. Franklin Drilon and allies of former president Noynoy Aquino to slash the forensics budget of PAO.”
Noynoy is the nickname of Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Drilon is a known ally and provincemate of former Health secretary and now Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, who is facing a series of criminal charges from PAO for allowing the entry into the country of the Dengvaxia vaccine which, based on a belated admission by its manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur, was dangerous to first-time victims of dengue. The PAO forensic team helped gather evidence for families of the Dengvaxia victims.
The creation of the PAO forensic unit was part of a complaint for graft and malversation charges filed by lawyer Wilfredo Garrido against Acosta and PAO Medical Consultant Erwin Erfe. JOMAR CANLAS