Guevarra bats for more funding for existing legal aid to troops, cops

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Guevarra bats for more funding for existing legal aid to troops, cops
This undated photo shows Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra at a Senate committee hearing.
The STAR / Mong Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — The police and military, as well as the Public Attorney’s Office, have mechanisms in place for free legal aid for uniformed personnel facing charges for acts done in the line of duty, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, in his last State of the Nation Address on Monday, asked Congress to pass a bill that will provide free legal assistance to Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel "to help [defend] them from charges arising from incidents related to the performance of official duty."

Guevarra noted that the AFP and PNP may already have the budget for legal assistance, but additional allocations may help.

"I think the PNP and the AFP have special funds to enable them to meet cases arising from the performance of their official duties. Maybe an increased budgetary allocation for this purpose will be enough, assuming existing funds are insufficient," he told reporters Tuesday.

Guevarra also said the PAO, an attached agency of the DOJ, already has a standing directive to provide legal assistance to police officers, up to the rank of Police Executive Master Sergeant, and other uniformed personnel sued in the course of their duties.

"The PAO has existing memorandum circulars to its public attorneys regarding this matter," he explained.

The Public Attorney's Office is mandated to provide free legal assistance provide the indigent sector.

The DOJ chief also added: "Provision of free legal assistance is subject however to the PAO’s evaluation of the case, including a determination of conflict of interest, as when the adverse party has also sought legal assistance from the PAO."

'Legal assistance is not legal protection'

Guevarra also stressed that police and military personnel, like everyone else, have the right to due process and are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The DOJ is leading an inter-agency panel review of “drug war” operations that resulted in deaths, and a special committee that is investigating, among others, the bloody Calabarzon police raids where nine activists were killed.

The justice chief said: “Legal assistance is not the same as legal protection. It is just providing law enforcement agents some means to defend themselves in court for acts done in relation to their official duties, such as fighting terrorists and criminals.”

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers President Edre Olalia earlier pointed out that law enforcement agents have the right to legal counsel.

But he also noted that there would be no need for a measure to give them access to free legal aid if they only perform their duties regularly.

“[M]ore fundamentally, such proposed free legal assistance to them will be totally unnecessary if only they perform their jobs properly, regularly and legally, consistent and in accordance with basic rights and freedoms of the people,” he said.

Olalia continued: “In fact, with all these rights violations and abuses, it is the victims of security forces that most need free, competent and independent counsel.”

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