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PAO defends legality of forensic services, laboratory

MANILA, Philippines — The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) has continued to insist on the legality of its forensic services and forensic laboratory.

Some lawmakers had questioned the legality of those sections during the hearing conducted by the House appropriations committee on the 2020 budget of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

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READ: Solons question legality of PAO’s forensics lab division

PAO wrote a letter, dated Sept. 9, 2019, to Rep. Ruwel Peter Gonzaga, vice chair of House Committee on Appropriations vice chairperson, who also serves as the sponsor of the proposed budget of the Department of Justice (DOJ) for 2020.

In that letter, PAO defended the two sections by citing the PAO Law (Republic Act No. 9406), the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, and Republic Act 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act of 2004.

“The PAO Forensic Laboratory is aimed to promote the office’s capacity building and manpower empowerment to answer the needs of the PAO clients who are victims of evidence manipulations, wife battering, child abuse, sexual molestation, fraud, torture, mysterious deaths, natural and man-made disasters, and those who are wrongfully accused or convicted because of false forensic evidence,” PAO said.

“The PAO Forensic Services is for the purpose of investigation, evidence-gathering and case build-up — an indispensable part of legal representation and assistance pursuant to the PAO’s mandate under the law,” it added.

PAO also cited the “authority vested by law to the Department of Budget and Management [DBM] pursuant to the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for Fiscal Year 2019.”

According to PAO, the creation of the Forensic Laboratory Division does not require legislation as its creation by the DBM falls within the latter’s authority under the law.

As to the forensic examinations conducted on deceased Dengvaxia patients, PAO said it was on the orders of then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and that their assistance to the victims should not be “confused with that of the National Bureau of Investigation [NBI].”

During the budget hearing, one of the factors questioned was the “replication in the duties that are already being made by the NBI,” according to Magsasaka Rep. Argel Cabatbat.

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“As may be further gleaned from the foregoing enumeration, the NBI renders technical aid to all prosecuting and law-enforcement officers and entities of the Government. In some instances, the PAO represents accused in criminal cases; they, too, need expertise in forensic science,” PAO said.

Of the P21.8 billion proposed 2020 budget of DOJ, some P4.2 billion or 2.3 percent was allotted for PAO.

/atm

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