Ombudsman junks raps vs Acosta, Erfe over Dengvaxia issue
MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman has dismissed the criminal and administrative complaints filed against Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta and PAO forensics chief Erwin Erfe in relation to the Dengvaxia controversy.
In a resolution, the investigating prosecutor said there was no probable cause to indict the two for graft, falsification of public documents, malversation of public funds or property, and illegal use of public funds or property.
“The criminal and administrative complaints against respondents are hereby dismissed, for insufficiency of evidence,” according to the resolution.
The resolution was dated October 3, 2019, and approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires on June 10, 2020. PAO, however, only received the copy of the resolution last Thursday, January 14, and the Office of the Ombudsman released it to the media on Monday, January 18.
In October 2018, lawyer Wilfredo Garrido Jr. filed the complaints against Acosta and Erfe, accusing them of creating and funding the PAO Forensic Laboratory without legislative authority; “ambulance-chasing” cases; manufacturing evidence of an alleged Dengvaxia vaccine recipient; and “spreading hysteria” with their pronouncements to the media.
But according to the Ombudsman, Garrido’s allegations were only based on news articles and other posts from the internet and social media.
“Complainant’s allegations cannot, therefore, be considered as preceding from his own personal knowledge. Records are bereft of any proof that respondents have engaged in ambulance-chasing of cases and ultra vires (beyond the powers) creation of the public office,” it added.
The Ombudsman said it is also apparent that Garrido’s allegations are hearsay and could not be admitted as evidence. “Thus, on technical grounds alone, these cases are dismissible.”
On the accusation of respondents’ ambulance-chasing activities, the Ombudsman resolution noted that the PAO Law under Republic Act No, 9406 gives Acosta authority to represent the indigent relatives of Dengvaxia vaccine recipients.
Additionally, the Ombudsman said no sufficient evidence was presented to show that Acosta’s hiring of Erfe as a forensics consultant as well as the creation of the PAO Forensic Laboratory, as approved by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), was “ultra vires” acts or acts beyond her authority.
The Ombudsman ruled that under the law, PAO is allowed to do staffing modifications within the agency subject to evaluation and approval of DBM and to the availability of funds.
It further noted that facts narrated in PAO’s forensic examination report dated May 9, 2018, are not absolutely false since the information on the inoculation of the Dengue vaccine was based on a sworn statement made by a vaccine recipient’s relative.
“Also, other than bare allegations, there was no evidence to show the particular factual circumstances of malversation of public funds committed by respondents,” the resolution read.
“In similar vein, there is no probable cause for illegal use of public funds or property, as the element of public use for which the public funds were applied is different from the purpose for which they were originally appropriated by law or ordinance, was not supported by sufficient evidence,” it added.
The Ombudsman likewise pointed out that the requirement for substantial evidence was “not met” on the administrative complaints of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, grave abuse of authority, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service against the respondents.
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