PAO chief Persida Acosta and President Duterte
By Leony R. Garcia
MANILA—Employees and staff of the Public Attorney’s Office welcomed the New Year with a big bang as President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed the budget cut on the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), among others.
Led by PAO Chief Persida Acosta and PAO Forensic Lab head Atty. Erwin Erfe, the PAO team released balloons in thanksgiving to celebrate their victory.
The budget cut on the PAO office — meant to abolish its forensics laboratory division and would render in the process seven of its regular employees jobless (including Erfe himself) — was reportedly inserted by Senators Franklin Drilon and Juan Edgard “Sonny” Angara.
Acosta thanked the President for the veto, saying it retained the rights of indigents to gain access to free legal and medical services. She added that the President “has saved the 13 million indigent clients [of PAO] from inserted rider that undermines the human rights and due process clause of the constitution.”
PRRD’s veto message
President Duterte signed and approved the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA) on December 28, 2020 which included his Veto Message on specific items and provisions to the said GAA. This is to ensure the judicious implementation of the FY 2021 budget which is crafted to help the country reset, rebound, and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the President’s Veto Message, provisions which do not relate to particular appropriations, of which would effectively amend the Constitution, or any existing laws were subjected to direct veto. Specifically, the President directly vetoed any provision which allows agencies to use their income without separate legal bases since these provisions will reduce the sources of financing for next year’s budget as well as increase the appropriations of agencies beyond the approved expenditure levels.
Moreover, the President directly vetoed any provision on the use of savings by an agency or department without his approval since the Constitution limits such power to the President with respect to the Executive department.
The President also directly vetoed any provision which exempts from, and defers, respectively, the application of the cash budgeting system to programs, projects and activities in line with its adoption beginning FY 2019 pursuant to Executive Order No. 91, s. 2019.
The lady chief had lobbied and pleaded to Duterte to veto the budget slash on PAO as she accused Drilon-Angara tandem of disrespecting the President by “illegally” inserting a provision in the 2021 budget that would effectively dissolve the laboratory.
Drilon is a known ally and supporter of former Health secretary and Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, who is a respondent in cases filed by the PAO in connection with the Dengvaxia controversy.
Garin was Health chief during the mass immunization of schoolchildren with the vaccine for dengue. Hundreds of children and counting, who received the shot died, and their families and PAO filed close to 160 cases against Garin. Several Health officials and executives of the Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur, along with Garin, are being sued for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide. Inserting the provision against PAO was political in nature, Acosta said. It was reported that the senator is a partner of the Angara law office (ACCRA), the legal counsel of Sanofi Pasteur.
Meanwhile, Drilon said the vetoed provision is a replication of an existing provision in the 2020 General Appropriations Act. In a statement, he said the forensics function is best left to experts in the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
The President’s Veto Message on the FY 2021 GAA is uploaded on the DBM website which can be accessed through this link: https://www.dbm.gov.ph/index.php/budget-documents/2021/president-s-veto-message-on-fy-2021-general-appropriations-act-gaa. (ED/AI/MTVN)