“Legal assistance is not the same as legal protection.”
This was stressed by Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra as he pointed out that the legal assistance being provided by the government to law enforcers who are sued in the performance of their functions is not a shield to protect the erring ones from liability.
“It is just providing law enforcement agents some means to defend themselves in court for acts done in relation to their official duties such as fighting terrorists, criminals,” Guevarra said.
“Unless proven guilty, they are presumed innocent like every one of us. They are also entitled to the due process of law,” he explained.
During the State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday, July 26, President Duterte called on Congress to pass a law providing free legal assistance to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to help defend themselves from charges arising from incidents related to the performance of their official duties.
Guevarra said that free legal assistance is already being provided to policemen and other uniformed personnel who face charges in connection with the performance of their duties.
“The DOJ has a standing directive to the PAO (Public Attorney’s Office which is an attached agency of the DOJ) to extend legal assistance to police officers up to the level of SPO4 and other uniformed personnel who get sued in the course of performing their official duties,” Guevarra said.
But, he said, “the provision of free legal assistance is subject to the PAO’s evaluation of the case, including a determination of conflict of interest, as when the adverse party has also sought legal assistance from the PAO.”
He said that in case the PAO would reject its assistance due to conflict of interest, “I think the PNP and the AFP have special funds to enable them to meet cases arising from the performance of their official duties.”
“Maybe an increased budgetary allocation for this purpose will be enough, assuming existing funds are insufficient,” he said.