PUBLIC Attorney’s Office (PAO) Chief Persida Acosta was extremely emotional and almost in tears as she expressed her heartfelt gratitude to President Rodrigo Duterte for having directly vetoed a rider in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2021 which prevents the staff of the PAO’s forensic laboratory from receiving salaries and benefits. The insertion states, thus: “Nothing in the appropriation provided in this act shall be used for the salaries or compensation of personnel, travel allowance, meetings and maintenance and other operating expenses of the PAO Forensic Laboratory Division.” Upon learning of this, Acosta wasted no time and immediately issued an ‘extreme urgent appeal’ to President Duterte to veto the said insertion in the 2021 national budget that will abolish the agency’s forensics laboratory and for the retention of its seven regular employees.
Acosta branded the said insertion as “illegal and contrary to law; unconstitutional rider, despotic, whimsical and vindictive; and [a] violation of the Civil Service Commission’s rules and regulations” even as she cited Republic Acts 9406 (“PAO Law”), 9745 (“Anti-Torture Law”) and 9262 (“Anti-violence Against Women and Children Act”) as among the laws that give the agency the “clear mandate to carry out its job to help the Filipino poor who cannot afford an expensive legal service.” The said lab, according to Acosta, “was indispensable in evidence-gathering and case build-up, and proved its worth in the Dengvaxia controversy when it conducted autopsies on 158 school children said to have died after being injected with the dengue vaccine.”
“Without the lab, indigents who challenge the forensic findings of the national police, the National Bureau of Investigation or Commission on Human Rights would be forced to hire private forensics experts,” part of the five-page letter of appeal of PAO read.
“You, Mr. President, are the only hope but not only of PAO, but of our millions of poor, downtrodden and oppressed who solely depend on the agency’s legal assistance to seek justice,” it added.
Forensics lab head Dr. Erwin Erfe said Duterte himself approved the creation of the forensics lab as endorsed in January 2019 by then Department of Budget and Management Secretary Benjamin Diokno.
Since 2017, Acosta and her team had been helping the families of Dengvaxia recipients who have either died or suffered injuries and various kinds of illnesses said to be related to the vaccine.
Notably, when the President made the veto, Acosta continues to grieve over the death of her 14-year-old nephew, whom she reportedly lost also to Dengvaxia.
In fact, the veto was said to have come while Acosta’s nephew was being laid to rest. Her nephew reportedly got vaccinated with Dengvaxia and died just last December 26, 2020 and is the 161st Dengvaxia recipient who had been subjected by the PAO forensic team to an autopsy.
Dr. Alexis Sulit, PAO Forensic Laboratory senior medical expert, had stated that cerebral hemorrhage and edema as well as pulmonary hemorrhage and edema were the immediate cause of death of Acosta’s nephew.
In a press conference, Acosta said she has not personally talked to the President for the past two years but that she knew exactly what’s in his heart.
She also said that President Duterte really has a heart for the poor, who are the recipients of the legal assistance that she and her forensics team had been extending, since they cannot afford the high costs of having to hire personal lawyers in their quest to get justice for their departed loved ones.
Congrats, PAO chief Acosta. President Duterte may be a lot of things to some, but this move of his proved that his heart is in the right place.
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