MANILA, Philippines – Public Attorney's Office chief Persida Acosta has asked President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the provision in the 2020 budget bill defunding the PAO forensic lab.
In a letter dated December 11, Acosta told the President that the P19.5 million allotted for the purchase of equipment for the forensic lab had been deleted in the budget bill, while there was a provision inserted saying, "to the effect that no funds may be used for the meetings and other maintenance and operating expenses of the PAO Forensic Laboratory."
"These modifications in the President’s budget or the NEP have only one objective – to paralyze the PAO Forensic Laboratory and jeopardize its operations, depriving them the opportunity to assist the clients of the PAO," Acosta told the President in her letter.
Acosta has argued that the PAO lab has received funds allotted by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) since the unit was created in 2004.
In her letter to Duterte, Acosta reasoned that the lab is not an "office" but "merely a small unit."
"We humbly reiterate that the 2018 GAA gave the DBM the power to approve minor changes in the organizational structure and staffing pattern of agencies, and create positions up to a division chief and equivalent level under the Executive branch – the legal basis for the change in the structure of the Office of the Chief Public Attorney," she said.
During budget deliberations, Senator Franklin Drilon had said that the PAO lab was a "waste of money" because it duplicated the forensic mandate of investigative bodies like the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
In defense of the lab, Acosta had said that PAO's mandate to investigate victims of the anti-torture law requires its own forensic lab. Acosta argued that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) also has its own forensic services.
PAO, with forensic consultant Erwin Erfe leading the autopsies, has filed more than a hundred cases linking deaths do anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia despite the absence of scientific proof linking between Dengvaxia and the deaths.
Acosta said the deletion of the lab budget would affect PAO's services to indigent clients.
"The inevitable consequence thereof is the denial of adequate legal assistance to PAO clients by reason of their poverty," said Acosta.
"You, Mr President, are the only hope not only of PAO but of our millions of poor, downtrodden and oppressed clients who, more often than not, feel that justice remains to be elusive because of their dire financial state, which prevents them from fully presenting their cases in court," said the PAO chief. – Rappler.com