Solons question legality of PAO’s forensics lab division
MANILA, Philippines — Some lawmakers have questioned the legality and mandate of the forensics laboratory division of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), which had linked some deaths to the use of anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
Manila 6th District Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr., Magsasaka Rep. Argel Cabatbat, and Quezon City 6th District Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte raised the issue during the 2020 national budget defense of the Department of Justice (DOJ) before the appropriations committee of the House of Representatives.
Of the P21.8 billion proposed 2020 budget of DOJ, some P4.2 billion or 2.3 percent was allotted for PAO.
PAO Chief Persida Acosta cited as a legal basis for their forensics division Section 9 of Republic Act No. 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act, which mandates PAO, among other agencies, to conduct a probe into torture cases.
“Paano po kami makakapag-imbestiga kung wala po kaming sariling forensic experts?” Acosta argued.
In January 2019, then Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno also converted the lab to a division under the office of the chief public attorney, Acosta claimed. She added that plantilla positions for the said division were allowed under the 2019 General Appropriations Act enacted by Congress and that former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II gave them authority to help Dengvaxia victims.
“Kaya po nagtataka lang po ako dahil bakit po merong mga interesadong i-abolish ‘yung PAO forensics laboratory despite the fact that the President himself delegated the authority to Sretary Ben Diokno to strengthen our PAO forensics lab by giving us compliment positions of four medico-legal officers plus other four positions,” Acosta added.
This explanation did not sit well with Cabatbat who said: “I see a replication in the duties that are already being made by the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation] crime laboratory.”
Also suspecting of an “overlap in responsibilities” between PAO and NBI, Abante asked if the latter could not do forensics functions on its own.
NBI director Dante Gierran said: “Kayang-kaya po.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said NBI remains the “principal” investigative arm of the government “unless given special instructions.”
Although Acosta insisted that she did not abuse her authority by creating the forensics office, she said she welcomes any proposed law that would institutionalize the division to finally quell the issues.
A complaint questioning the legality of PAO forensics division was also filed in October 2018 before the Office of the Ombudsman. Complainant Wilfredo Garrido Jr. pointed out that the office was not included in Republic Act No. 9406, which provided for the creation of PAO. /kga
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