Drilon hits unauthorized PAO forensic lab, moves to transfer its budget to NBI

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Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon questioned the lack of legal basis for the creation by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) of its own forensic unit, calling it a mere duplication of the forensic works of government investigative bodies and vowing to transfer its P19.5 million budget to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) instead to improve its crime laboratory.

During the budget hearing of the Department of Justice and its attached agencies including the PAO late Monday, Drilon said the PAO did not have the proper authority and mandate to create its own forensic unit that it used to investigate and file cases related to the alleged dengvaxia-related deaths, even if private health experts and the Department of Health officials questioned PAO’s findings.

“In my view, your forensic laboratory has no basis in law. It is not authorized by your own charter. It is a mere duplication of the functions of our investigative bodies which have not been shown to be inefficient and incompetent,” Drilon said.

Drilo said the creation of the said unit is not only unauthorized but is also fraught with danger.

“The problem is, you want to be the NBI by putting up your forensic laboratory. Doctor ka na, pulis ka pa,” he told PAO chief Persida Acosta, who throughout the hearing appeared evasive and was speaking too fast, prompting even the chair of the committee, Sen. Sonny Angara, to interject and ask her to answer Drilon’s questions directly.

Drilon raised that in cases of conflicting forensic results by government bodies, including the relatively inexperienced PAO forensic laboratory, “the administration of justice may be put in jeopardy.”

“I will propose at the appropriate time to remove the budget for the forensic laboratory from PAO and have it transferred to the NBI where it properly belongs, so it can augment its crime laboratory,” he added.

Acosta defended her agency’s move by enumerating a number of laws, including the 2019 General Appropriations Act, as her basis for creating a separate unit for forensic investigation.

But Drilon, his former boss in the justice department, was quick to point out that nothing in the laws that the PAO chief enumerated authorized the creation of a forensic unit, not even its own charter.

Drilon countered that only the Constitution and an act of Congress that a public office could be created.

“A public office can only be created by law. You cannot create an office through the GAA,” he told Acosta.

Citing the GAA as a basis to create an office, or a unit, that is not within the scope and mandate of the agency could set a very dangerous precedent.

If Acosta’s assertion that the GAA is enough basis to create an office, or even a unit that is not within its mandate, Drilon said any lawmaker, through the GAA, can create an office and oblige the executive to provide funding every year.

Acosta also cited as basis the instruction of then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre for the establishment of the forensic unit.

However, Drilon said that then Sec. Aguirre’s order is only for PAO to provide legal services to the families of dengvaxia patients and that there is no justification of a forensic laboratory.

“Why could you not avail of the forensics of the NBI and the PNP? These agencies are the investigative arms of the government, apart from the DOJ. But, in effect, you are saying that you established this separate unit because they cannot perform the job,” Drilon said.

The minority leader also raised the issue of vaccine scare, which was said to have been caused by PAO’s mishandling of the dengvaxia issue.

“The common concern in the medical profession and the health department is the loss of confidence is principally attributable to all the noise created by the PAO,” Drilon said. SENATE.GOV.PH