PAO: Tulfo’s claim that lawyers are absent untrue; over 85,000 assisted during inquest

MANILA, Philippines — The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) has disputed the claims of broadcaster and senator-elect Raffy Tulfo about PAO lawyers being absent during inquest proceedings, stressing anew that their office has assisted over 85,000 clients facing inquest proceedings and custodial interrogations.

In a statement on Friday, PAO said that 85,533 of the 9,707,274 clients for 2021 were assisted during inquest proceedings, contradicting Tulfo’s claims that PAO lawyers are not present during that part of the legal process.

PAO’s reaction came after Tulfo was interviewed by CNN Philippines’ The Source on Thursday, where he reiterated his old claim that public lawyers have been missing — which has left people with no choice but to flock to his office to seek assistance.

“As for the senator-elect’s clarification that, in his previous interview, he was referring to PAO’s absence in inquest proceedings, there was never any confusion about that.  And that is why PAO lawyers nationwide reacted by posting in their respective social media platforms, proofs of their service during inquest proceedings and custodial interrogations,” PAO said.

“It bears stressing that for the year 2021 alone, public attorney’s assisted a total of 9,707,274 clients, 85,533 of whom were assisted during inquest proceedings and custodial interrogations.  We stand with PAO,” it added.

PAO’s statement came as Tulfo reiterated that his observation that PAO lawyers are absent during inquest proceedings come from experience.  He however clarified that lawyers attend hearings, but some of them are absent during inquest proceedings.

“Hindi pa, this is the time para ma-discuss ulit natin kasi after that interview, eh nagsama ang loob ng marami sa mga tiga-PAO.  Binatikos nila ako […] I’m just speaking from my experience, gusto kong linawin ah, ‘yong sinasabi ko na ‘yong PAO ay hindi uma-attend, I’m telling about sa inquest proceeding, not sa hearing,” Tulfo told CNN Philippines.

“Kasi sa hearing, talaga namang uma-attend ‘yong mga tiga-PAO.  In fact there were so many instances na lumalapit sa akin ‘yong mga mahihirap nating kababayan dahil kailangan nila ng legal assistance, ine-rerefer ko sa PAO, at ‘yong PAO naman, tinutulungan sila at uma-attend sa parte ng hearing.  However, doon sa mga inquest proceeding, walang PAO kadalasan na uma-attend,” he added.

Tulfo said he hopes people would not need to rely on programs like his own — a platform that catapulted him to national consciousness as people flocked outside their office just to get legal assistance.

To attain that, the senator-elect said he plans to make PAO’s mandate and budget bigger, so that lawyers can keep up with the demands of people needing legal assistance.

“So sana, hindi na kailangan pang lumapit kay Raffy Tulfo, hindi na kailangang ‘ipa-Tulfo’ ang isang ahensya bago sila umaksyon, bago sila gumawa ng tama, ‘yon ang pino-point out ko,” Tulfo said.

“And, gusto kong maidagdag, gusto kong madagdagan ang budget ng PAO, maaaring kulang sila sa tao, kailangang mas palakihin ang kanilang budget, kulang sila sa kagamitan, gusto kong palawigin pa ‘yong coverage ng PAO,” he added.

This is not the first time PAO and Tulfo butted heads: last April 4, PAO chief Persida Acosta called on candidates for the 2022 national elections to spare their office from politics, as lawyers have been “working day and night” just to provide help to people in need.

Acosta made the statement after then-senatorial candidate Tulfo said that he will kickstart his own free legal assistance team as PAO lawyers are most of the time absent during inquest proceedings.

READ: Please spare PAO from politics, Persida Acosta pleads

Tulfo claimed that Acosta only failed to grasp what he was saying during the other interview early this year.

“Well kay Attorney, Ma’am Persida Acosta, hindi niya yata naiintindihan ‘yong interview, or iniiwasan niya talaga ‘yong context ng interview na sinabi ko doon.  Sinabi ko doon ‘yong inquest proceedings at marami akong testigo n’yan, meron po akong nakausap na mga tinulungan ko,” he said.

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