The PAO under fire

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak - The Philippine Star
The PAO under fire
Personally, I feel that if the campaign against Dengvaxia was largely fabricated then we should take a closer look. Whether or not this vaccine is going to be a viable option in the future (after more tests and studies), we need to know as early as now if it was really responsible for what happened to those that died.

The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), which falls under the Department of Justice, is now under fire for alleged graft and corruption charges against its top two officials. After some back and forth on the matter and calls for the president to get involved (he said he would leave it up to the Ombudsman at this point), the Ombudsman is launching a formal investigation into charges filed against PAO chief Persida Rueda Acosta and PAO forensic laboratory head Erwin Erfe.

The corruption complains allege that Acosta and Erfe violated at least two provisions in Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corruption Act along with falsification and illegal use of public funds and property. The claims allege that Acosta has funneled funds earmarked for official use into personal accounts and personal projects. They also claim that she and Erfe created the PAO forensic laboratory without the proper legislative authorization.

What’s more – allegations state that Acosta and Erfe used funds to create a large scale attack on Dengvaxia by going after potential victims, paying off families, and using skewed autopsy reports claiming the vaccine’s responsibility. While the jury is still out on the vaccine in general, if this is true then they will have caused mass and wide-spread panic about it – something that will not help the people in the long run and make them wary of vaccination in general. This will set a dangerous precedent for scientifically backed and proven vaccines that are essential in our protection and the protection of our children.

Personally, I feel that if the campaign against Dengvaxia was largely fabricated then we should take a closer look. Whether or not this vaccine is going to be a viable option in the future (after more tests and studies), we need to know as early as now if it was really responsible for what happened to those that died. Only then can more research be done to see if it will ever be a viable option for use. Research needs to be true – 100 percent proven to ever be effective in the vaccine’s development.

In the end, the allegations against Acosta and Erfe need to be fully investigated. It’s a lot to process and if found guilty they should be held accountable to the highest punishments the law allows. However, right now it’s a matter of finding the truth and getting to it amidst all the he said/she said. Only evidence should be looked at here without the colored commentary coming from both sides.

I don’t agree with Acosta on the case being dismissed outright and the first manifesto being stricken from the record just because it suits her best. She has the right to be heard just as much as those who accuse her do, so neither side should be silenced. However, both sides must do their job and submit evidence and hard proof. And the Ombudsman must do its job and look at all the facts objectively before making a decision.

Personally, I know this is going to be a tough one to call. Corruption is just so ingrained in our government that hearing new allegations is hardly a surprise anymore. And for the most part – where there’s smoke there’s fire. Acosta theoretically has nothing to fear if she’s done nothing wrong, but the very fact that this has come up at all could be very damaging to her career and to the public’s perception of her and how she does her job.

One part of the manifesto allegations that really popped out to me was how she allegedly treats the PAO like her own personal fiefdom. This was a standout, because there are so many Philippine government officials who do the same – corruption or not. They are given power over an agency or town or city and treat it like there own little kingdom operating outside and autonomously. Allegations claim that Acosta uses the PAO budget “fast and loose” at her discretion. If this is proven to be true – changes need to be made and they need to happen quickly.

For her part, Acosta denies all allegations claiming them to be “fake news” with no supporting evidence other than hearsay. She will need to focus on providing her own evidence against this though instead of finding ways to get the case dismissed. As they say – cat is out of the bag and it can’t be shoved back in. To start, she’s created her own manifesto with lawyers from PAO claiming that the allegations are false. With over 100 signatures she’s set to present this as testimony from their side.

But again – this should be more he said/she said. If what they say about her is true then the accusers better make sure they already possess the smoking gun because they claim that Acosta surrounds herself with loyal allies, populating the many positions in PAO with employees she pays (bonuses and all) and whom remain extremely loyal to her. If that is the case then they aren’t going to turn tail now. I guess we’re going to have to wait to see how this one plays out.

*      *      *

I truly hope that President Duterte brings up the West Philippine Sea issue with the Chinese president and soon. He has been playing it far too safe with China and making it seem as if we will just continue to bow to their every whim. Chinese warships are invading our territory and we aren’t doing anything about it. Honestly, we can already see such a change in the Philippines as Chinese influence (and population) grows and we can’t afford to be quiet about the big issues anymore. If we do, we may as well accept that we’re going to be a province of China.

I think we can all come to an agreement that is beneficial for both parties. If the President wants to come to a mutually beneficial understanding then he should do it diplomatically – and soon.

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