PAO must be ‘more professional’ in gathering evidence – Diokno

Mara Cepeda
Human rights lawyer and senatorial bet Chel Diokno says there are 'inherent conflicts of interest' in PAO that cause its indigent clients to lose representation in court

 

'MORE PROFESSIONAL' PAO. Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno suggests way how to strengthen the PAO. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Human rights lawyer and senatorial bet Chel Diokno said the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) must be “more professional” when it comes to gathering evidence for their cases. 

The Otso Diretso candidate was asked during Rappler’s #TheLeaderIWant senatorial forum what he thinks should be done to strengthen the PAO, tasked to become the legal counsel for the cases faced by poor Filipinos who can’t afford their own lawyers.  

“The Public Attorney’s Office as well has to have a more professional approach in terms of their gathering of evidence,” said Diokno on Monday, March 4. 

He zeroed in on PAO’s evidence gathering for the controversial Dengvaxia dengue vaccine, saying the agency failed to give 3rd-party pathologists and experts access to their evidence.

“For example, in the case of Dengvaxia, they have not allowed other experts, forensic pathologists to examine the evidence. And I think it’s about time that they accept the fact, that when we talk about evidence, that cuts across everybody. All experts should allowed access… so we know what is true and what is not,” said Diokno. 

PAO chief Persida Acosta had filed several complaints against ex-president Benigno Aquino III, ex-health secretary Janette Garin and other officials behind the implementation of the now-suspended dengue vaccination program that made use of Sanofi Pasteur’s Dengvaxia. (READ: DOJ indicts ex-DOH chief Garin, 9 others for Dengvaxia mess)

Acosta insists scores of children who received a Dengvaxia shot died because of the vaccine, even if the Department of Health is yet to find concrete evidence for this assertion.  

Health officials have since point to the panic caused by the Dengvaxia controversy among the causes of the measles outbreaks in parts of the country. (READ: A year after Dengvaxia: Immunization drops, measles outbreaks soar)

Address PAO’s ‘conflicts of interest’

Diokno also said there are “inherent conflicts of interest” in the PAO that lead to the poor losing their much-needed representation in court. 

“What happens is that when people come to them for assistance, poor people, they help them file the complaint. But when the case reaches the court, the public attorney says, ‘Sorry, we cannot help in the case because we helped them file the case.’ So the effect, the poor loses their representation. That must change,” said Diokno in a mix of English and Filipino. 

He then said PAO should strive to remain the “public defender” for the poor. 

“The real intention of the Public Attorney’s Office has always been to be a public defender para makatulong sa mahihirap sa mga kasong kriminal. Kaya hindi mawawala ‘yang tungkulin na ‘yan (to help the poor in criminal cases. That duty must not disappear),” said Diokno. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.