Public lawyers face admin complaint

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Monday, January 10, 2011


MANILA -- Administrative complaints were filed Monday by two concerned individuals against the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) for its role in the appeal of Lauro Vizconde seeking the reversal of a Supreme Court decision acquitting Hubert Webb and six others.

Rodelio Dabalos and Cris Frondoso asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to “apply necessary sanctions” to PAO lawyers, led by its chief, Persida Acosta, if they committed offenses.

In their complaint-affidavit, Dabalos and Frondoso enumerated the reasons why PAO is not eligible in taking up Vizconde’s appeal at the Supreme Court.

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They alleged that PAO violated the so-called Merit Test under Section 2, Article II of the PAO Operations Manual, which states that the Public Attorney must decline to handle a case “if it appears that it has no chance of success, or is intended merely to harass or injure the opposite party, or to work oppression or wrong.”

The complainants cited the provision in connection with Section 21, Article III of the 1987 Constitution, which bars the filing of a second complaint or prosecution of a person for the same offense.

The complaint further cited PAO Memorandum Circular 18, series of 2002, Article II, Section 7, which prohibits PAO lawyers from handling the prosecution of criminal cases as well as handling those that represent conflict of interest.

Dabalos recalled that Acosta admitted in an interview over TV5 that she is related to Estrellita Vizconde, one of the massacre victims, and also served as private counsel to the Vizconde patriarch during the case trial from 1995 to 2000.

The complainants also said Vizconde does not qualify as an indigent litigant, citing his ownership of his current residence, a real property on Vinzons Street in BF Homes, Paranaque City.

Citing the Rules of Court, the complainants said indigent litigants should not own real property with a fair market value of more than P300,000 as stated in the current tax declaration, and only entitling them to one public attorney.

In filing their motion for intervention, Vizconde was represented not just by Acosta but by 11 PAO lawyers, namely, Macapangcat Mama, Silvestre Mosing, Amelia Garchitorena, Howard Areza, Revelyn Ramos-Dacpano, Meizelle Antonio, Demiteer Huerta, Vanessa Joy Ong Pe, Nazario Bancoro Jr., Madonna Ebreo and Ana Lisa Soriano.

While immediate members of the family and relatives within the fourth degree of consanguinity of a public attorney may avail of his or her services under the indigency test, the PAO Manual prohibits them from handling cases “where they would be representing conflicting interests.”

“Therefore, as Attorney Acosta is related to private complainants Lauro Vizconde by affinity and in her capacity as chief PAO is responsible for determining who may avail of his/her services regardless of qualification under the indigency test, this represents conflict of interest,” complainants said.

On the same grounds, Acosta violated Republic Act (RA) 6713, or the law on ethical standards for public officers, and Section 3 of RA 3019 or the corrupt practices of public officers, referring to the causing any undue injury to any party and evident bad faith in the discharge of official administrative duty.

Vizconde, for his part, violated Section 4 of RA 3019, which prohibits any person having family or close personal relation with any public official “to capitalize or exploit or take advantage of such close personal relation by directly and indirectly requesting or receiving any… pecuniary advantage from another person having some business, transaction, or request with government, in which such public official has to intervene.”

Interviewed during the filing, Frondoso denied any personal ties with Webb and his co-accused in the June 30, 1991 massacre of Estrellita and her two daughters, Carmela and Jennifer, nor did they receive any compensation from the accused in filing the complaint.

“We filed this complaint as concerned citizens. PAO may have exceeded their mandate in the handling of the Vizconde case. To be honest with you, I have not gotten anything, or received any compensation or favor from the Webb family. I’ve met a few of them on occasion but I don’t know Hubert Webb personally,” he said.

For her part, Acosta labeled the complaint as mere harassment and a manipulated attempt by some quarters to oust her from office.

Acosta claimed that Vizconde was able to secure a certification from his barangay that he is an indigent. She added that she represented Vizconde only during the prosecution state, but she is not precluded from appearing during appeal at the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

Enrile defends PAO lawyers

In a related development, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Monday defended the PAO against talks that its lawyers are not qualified for government service.

Enrile, principal author of the RA 9406 or the law that strengths the PAO, reacted to the legal opinion of the Department of Justice (DOJ) that public attorneys do not have security of tenure.

According to the DOJ, PAO lawyers need to be Career Service Executive Officers (Ceso) to stay in their posts.

"There is nothing in the provisions of the RA 9406 that requires the Chief Public Attorney, Deputy Chief Public Attorneys and Regional Public Attorneys to become career executive officers before they can serve in office," said Enrile.

He added if public attorneys need to be rated Ceso, the requirement should also apply to prosecutors.

The Senate President pointed out that public attorneys and lawyers in the National Prosecution Service have the same qualifications.

Enrile noted that the PAO represents indigents in civil, criminal, and administrative cases.

He said public lawyers have even expanded their services to offer quasi-judicial settlements for the poor. This, he said, makes justice accessible to even the poorest of the poor.

"This issue, if remained unresolved much longer, will be to the detriment of PAO's clientele", he warned.

Enrile added RA 9406 gave the PAO autonomy from the DOJ. He said the Public Attorney's Office is only attached to the DOJ for policy and program coordination.

President Benigno Aquino III has given the DOJ free rein over the issue of the eligibility of the public attorneys. (JCV/Jonathan de Santos/Sunnex)

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