PAO lawyers accuse Acosta of using Dengvaxia cases to get 'extra funds'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A group of lawyers from the Public Attorney's Office have asked the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate PAO chief Persida Acosta and forensics expert Erwin Erfe for allegedly using the Dengvaxia controversy to overstock office supplies and "obtain extra funds."

Unnamed lawyers from PAO sent the manifestation to the Ombudsman on August 8, supplementing an earlier complaint filed by Wilfredo Garrido Jr in October 2018 that sought the suspension of Acosta and Erfe.

The Ombudsman's central records office had stamped the unsigned letter as received.

Acosta and Erfe led investigations into the deaths allegedly linked to dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, and filed more than a hundred related cases.

In a text message to reporters on Thursday, August 15, Acosta brushed aside the accusation as "fake news" and threatened to sue those who would use the lawyers' letter which she describe as a "falsified" document. 

Later on Thursday, over a hundred lawyers from the PAO central office issued a manifesto to disown the letter complaint against their chief, echoing her statement that it was fabricated to taint Acosta.

Overstocking

In their letter to the Ombudsman, the lawyers accused Acosta of deliberately overstocking PAO supplies in 2018 to profit.

The lawyers asked the Ombudsman impose a preventive suspension order against Acosta pending investigation.

Based on the 2018 audit report on PAO, the office purchased 54 inventory items worth a total of P13.103 million, exceeding the allowable stock.

Under the General Appropriations Act of 2018, stocking should not exceed the two-month requirement of the agency. If an office wants to stock for its needs for a year, it would need the approval of the President.

"Examination of Annual Procurement Plan for common use supplies showed that despite the existence of stock for Calendar Year (CY) 2017, additional purchases were made in CY 2018 resulting in overstocking," the audit report said.

The overstocked supplies include markers, ink cartridges, stamp pad inks, and batteries which "in the long run may become unusable," said auditors.

PAO also bought twine plastics, cutters, ribbons, insecticides, data file boxes, pens, envelopes, and other cartridges worth P80,113,  which did not meet the two-month requirement.

According to the audit report, PAO cited the Dengvaxia cases as justification for overstocking of supplies.

"In view of the influx of Dengvaxia cases, office supplies such as paper-multi copy long, and ink cartridges must readily be available for use considering the voluminous printing and photocopying of documents relating to the criminal and civil complaints," said PAO, as quoted by auditors.

'Extra funds'

In their letter to the Ombudsman, the lawyers accused PAO of deliberately overstocking on supplies to prompt the release of additional funds for the purchase of fresh stocks – but no new stocks were reportedly bought.

"The funds that were intended for the purchase of office supplies were never used for its intended purpose. (PAO) did not purchase new stock. Instead, (PAO) still rationed the excess supplies of 2017," said the letter.

"The use of purchase orders or requests is one of the schemes that respondent Acosta is able to obtain extra funds from the PAO budget," it added.

The lawyers also accused their chief of antedating and tampering with purchase requests and orders to "justify the diversion of the PAO's budget to the Dengvaxia victims."

Acosta and Erfe were also accused of manipulating PAO's data in order to get more budget.

The lawyers "implore" the Ombudsman "to use its power to conduct an investigation against respondents Acosta and Erfe."

Critics have accused Acosta of fanning the Dengvaxia scare with her "alarmist" treatment of cases which, ultimately, also caused fear of using proven vaccines. A measles outbreak was declared in the country earlier this year, as parents refused to have their children vaccinated following the Dengvaxia controversy. ([ANALYSIS] Dengvaxia scare: how viral rumors caused outbreaks) 

To date, there is no scientific proof that Dengvaxia has caused deaths. Following the declaration of a national dengue epidemic in the country, health advocates had urged the government to consider lifting the ban on Dengvaxia sales for private use, which President Rodrigo Duterte said he was open to. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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