By Jeffrey Damicog
The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) has renewed calls to President Duterte to veto provisions in the 2020 budget which slashed the funds of its forensic laboratory.
In a letter to the President, PAO employees asked that he “veto the inserted special provision in the General Appropriations Bill, limiting the PAO in the use of its MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses) and prohibiting the use of funds for the meetings and other maintenance and operating expenses of the PAO Forensic Laboratory Division.”
“It has come to our attention that the House of Representatives minority, led by Rep. Edcel Lagman, introduced amendments to the National Expenditure Program (NEP)/General Appropriations Bill affecting the PAO. Provision/s was/were reportedly inserted limiting the use of Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE), such that no funds may be used for the meetings and other maintenance and operating expenses of the PAO Forensic Laboratory,” read the letter signed by almost 200 PAO personnel.
The letter also informed the President that his P19.5 million budget allocated for purchase of equipment for the PAO forensic laboratory in 2020 was also deleted by some senators during budget deliberations.
Because of this, the PAO personnel also asked Duterte to “ensure the continuous and improved delivery of forensic services to the millions of Filipino poor clients of PAO, by allowing the purchase of the necessary forensic equipment for the PAO Forensic Laboratory Division, which may be derived from available appropriation allocated to the PAO by the President and the DBM (Department of Budget and Management).”
“We humbly submit that said amendments are contrary to the 1987 Constitution and pertinent laws,” the letter pointed out.
Since the Constitution states that no person shall be deprived of due process of the law, the PAO personnel stressed the importance of the examinations provided by the PAO forensic laboratory which have been presented on behalf of its clients as evidence in court cases.
“We most humbly submit that PAO clients should not be made dependent on forensic findings of either the Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), or the Commission on Human Rights (CHR),” they said.
They explained “if victims approach the PAO intending to challenge the PNP/NBI/CHR forensic findings, the PAO wil be left with no choice but to deny them legal assistance.”
“Alternatively, if PAO clients are to secure the services of private practitioners to challenge the forensic findings of the NBI/PNP/CHR, thus would be tantamount to denying them such opportunity because they are, in the first place, indigents,” they added.
PAO Chief Persida Acosta and other PAO officials earlier wrote to Duterte asking for the veto of the provision slashing the budget of the PAO forensic laboratory.