By MB Online and Jeffrey Damicog
The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) had asked President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the special provision of the general appropriations bill for the 2020 budget due to modifications which prevent the funding of its existing forensic laboratory.
In a letter dated December 11, the PAO asked the President to “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, which is presently composed of eight plantilla personnel.”
The letter was signed by PAO Chief Persida Rueda-Acosta and seven other officials of the PAO, namely, Deputy Chiefs Silvestre Mosing and Ana Lisa Soriano; regional chiefs Marlon Buan of National Capital Region (NCR) and Revelyn Ramos-Dacpano of Region 4b or MIMAROPA; administrative service chief Demiteer Huerta; and legal service chief Ronald Jerome Nieves.
The PAO said the modification was inserted after some lawmakers made “the deletion from the 2020 National Expenditure Program (NEP) of the President and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) of the P19.5 million allocated for the purchase of equipment of the PAO-Forensic Laboratory Division.”
“We most humbly submit that the deletion of the budget for the PAO Forensic Laboratory Division’s equipment, and the prohibition for the use of funds for its operations, run contrary to the constitution, the law, and the proprietary rights of its eight (8) complement plantilla personnel,” the PAO pointed out.
The PAO suspects “the 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.”
“Notably, the PAO Forensic Laboratory Division’s most controversial case as of the moment is the Dengvaxia controversy, which involves the purchase and indiscriminate mass vaccination without informed consent and proper screening of the experimental vaccine Dengvaxia by the Department of Health (DOH), spearheaded during the term of the former administration, with now Congresswoman Janette L. Garin as then DOH Secretary,” it stated.
“We cannot help but wonder whether the modifications introduced by the minority in Congress is an act averse to the PAO’s and this administration’s efforts in giving justice to the Dengvaxia victims and impose liability upon the government officials responsible for the untimely deaths, illnesses, and exposure to the systemic risks of Dengvaxia, of their children – at the expense of the PAO’s existing and future clients composed of victims of torture, rape, VAWC (violence against women and children), physical injuries, and mysterious deaths and cases, as well as the accused in criminal cases,” the PAO added.
In an interview with DZMM, Acosta questioned why there was an inserted provision in the agency’s budget limiting the agency’s maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).
Acosta said under the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), the agency’s forensic lab division cannot use the MOOE.
She added that P19.5 million meant for the procurement of forensic equipment was also slashed from PAO’s budget.
“Bakit po nasuksok iyan, eh ‘di naman pinag usapan iyan sa plenary? Sa plenary po wala naman kaming tapyas, sa Lower House wala din naman limitasyon na pinag-usapan, bigla na lang po nasuksok ito,” Acosta said.
(Why was that inserted there when it wasn’t discussed in plenary? In the plenary hearing our agency had not cuts, neither in the Lower House, there were no limitations discussed, then suddenly this provision is inserted.)
“Nakikiusap po ako sa ating Pangulo, paki veto naman po iyan dahil ‘di naman po sa akin ang pondong iyan, sa mamayang Pilipino iyan eh,” she added. (I am requesting our President to please veto this because these funds aren’t mine, they belong to the Filipino people.)
The PAO chief agency’s fund cut is “killing” the agency’s power to investigate.
“Para matigil na rin siguro ang imbestigasyon sa Dengvaxia,” she added. (So that the Dengvaxia investigation can be brought to an end.)
In November 2016, the House of Representatives, spearheaded by the Committee on Health, started a probe on Dengvaxia and found that the experimental anti-dengue vaccine had adverse effects on some of the children who were vaccinated.
In 2018, PAO’s Forensic Laboratory conducted an autopsy on five children who reportedly died months after they were injected with Dengvaxia. While declaring that its findings were inconclusive, PAO said it found “strong links” between Dengvaxia and the deaths of the five children.
As of 2019, PAO said it has autopsied 149 persons who received shots of Dengvaxia.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, in an interview with the same radio station on Thursday, said solons questioned the budget for PAO’s forensic lab division because both the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) already have crime labs.
“Bakit kailangan magkaroon ng lab yung PAO, pwede naman silang mag-request sa NBI at saka sa PNP,” said Lacson. (Why does PAO need to have a crime lab when it can request [for help] from the NBI and PNP?)