A poster of Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta hangs on the wall as employees perform their duties at a district office in Quezon City yesterday. Several PAO lawyers have reportedly asked the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate Acosta and forensics head Erwin Erfe for allegedly using the Dengvaxia controversy to overstock office supplies and obtain extra funds.
Michael Varcas
Palace won’t interfere in complaints vs Acosta — Panelo
Elizabeth Marcelo, Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - August 16, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang won’t meddle with the filing of complaint against Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta, who was accused of using the Dengvaxia controversy to make money.

“As a matter of policy, the President does not interfere in the work function, activity of any constitutional body or any branch of the government. Let the law takes its course,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a press briefing yesterday.

“If there is a case in the ombudsman, then we will let the ombudsman do its work,” he added.

Panelo said officials continue to enjoy the President’s trust as long as there is no probable cause to file charges against them.

“But if there is probable cause, that’s a different story, then there will be a suspension from the ombudsman but that is not within the territory of the President,” he added.

This came after a newspaper report came out about the alleged diversion of a portion of PAO’s fund for 2018, intended for the purchase of office supplies, to supposedly finance the campaign of Acosta and PAO forensic laboratory chief Erwin Erfe against Dengvaxia.

The report cited a seven-page manifestation supposedly filed by anonymous “intervenors,” who claimed to be PAO lawyers, before the Office of the Ombudsman on Aug. 8.

Private lawyer Wilfredo Garrido Jr. filed the manifestation on behalf of the intervenors. Garrido had earlier filed a criminal and administrative complaint against Acosta and Erfe for supposedly creating public hysteria over Dengvaxia.

Based on the manifestation, Acosta, in conspiracy with officials from PAO finance, budget and supplies departments, made it appear that her office had valid purchase requests and purchase orders for the replenishment of stocks of office supplies.

According to the intervenors, no office supplies were actually purchased last year and only the surplus in stocks from 2017 were distributed to PAO offices.

They added that the fund was instead used to “ambulance-chase” the families of the suspected Dengvaxia victims going to their homes and hospitals to offer PAO’s legal services. 

Furthermore, it said the PAO even financed the protest rallies of the families of the suspected Dengvaxia victims providing them with allowance, as well as the t-shirts, tarpaulins and other protest materials including fake coffins and picture frames containing photos of the deceased victims.

The intervenors also said the PAO held monthly seminars and workshops in extravagant hotels as Acosta allegedly received “commissions” for every seminar or event held therein.

They asked the ombudsman to place Acosta and Erfe under preventive suspension while it is investigating the allegations, saying that the two officials might use their positions to tamper possible evidence and intimidate potential witnesses against them.

‘It’s fake news’

The PAO chief, however, branded the report as “fake news.”

“That’s fake news. The document used in the report was fictitious because it does not bear any signature. Anyone who used that falsified document may face charges under Article 172 of Revised Penal Code,” Acosta said in a text message to reporters.

Acosta denied the allegations, maintaining that all the fund releases and purchases of her office have undergone proper procedures.

“We follow Commission on Audit rules. Department of Budget and Management and all (procurement) laws,” Acosta said in a separate text message.

“You may see our COA report for 2018, we have no disallowance or negative findings,” she added.

In his complaint filed in October last year, Garrido said Acosta and Erfe must be held criminally liable for graft, falsification of public documents and malversation of public funds for supposedly “fanning the flames of public hysteria” by attributing at least 80 deaths to Dengvaxia using questionable and inconclusive autopsy reports by the PAO forensic laboratory.

Garrido said Acosta and Erfe must also be held liable for administrative offenses of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, grave abuse of authority and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of public service.

Garrido’s complaint remains pending for investigation despite his urgent motion filed last April 30 calling for Acosta and Erfe’s preventive suspension.

“My complaint has been pending for almost a year, and it just got a boost – from within PAO, of all places,” Garrido said in a press statement issued yesterday.

“Instead of disparaging the anonymous complaint, Persida Acosta should address the anomalies raised in the Manifestation which could have been laid bare only by highly placed sources within PAO. These are lawyers with intimate knowledge of the operations of PAO, to which strangers like me have absolutely no access,” he added.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday said he is not inclined to investigate the corruption allegedly committed by Acosta and Erfe, saying he will leave the matter to the ombudsman.

While the PAO is an attached agency of the Department of Justice, Guevarra said he would let the Office of the Ombudsman resolve the matter since a complaint has already been lodged before the graft investigating agency.    – With Rhodina Villanueva, Evelyn Macairan

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