Graft, misconduct raps vs PAO chief junked

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    THE Office of the Ombudsman has thrown out criminal and administrative complaints filed in 2019 against Persida V. Rueda-Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), and Forensic Laboratory consultant Erwin Erfe for alleged misuse of agency funds and riding on the dengue immunization program controversy to achieve media mileage.

    Criticizing the complaint as a mere collection of news articles and posts from social media unsupported by substantial evidence, Graft Investigation and Prosecution officer Roseann Claudine M. Pasion submitted a recommendation for dismissal.

    Ombudsman Samuel Martires approved Pasion’s findings and recommendations on June 10, 2020 but the ruling was released by the anti-corruption body only last January 13.

    Complainant Wilfredo Garrido Jr. accused Acosta and Erfe of maliciously stoking public anger over dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, ambulance-chasing, and unlawfully diverting PAO funds to build the PAO Forensic Laboratory with no imprimatur from Congress.

    The respondents countered that PAO’s assistance to parents of children who died after receiving Dengvaxia shots was part of its mandate.

    They also said the agency was requested by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and the Samahan ng mga Magulang, Anak at Bitktima ng Dengvaxia to provide assistance.

    Acosta also explained that former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre issued DOJ Department Order No. 792 dated Dec. 12, 2017 directing the PAO to extend free legal assistance to “victims of Dengvaxia” in all civil, criminal and administrative proceedings related to injuries, illnesses or deaths traceable to the vaccine shots.

    As of 2019, the parents have filed 34 civil lawsuits for damages before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, with the assistance of PAO.

    In dismissing Garrido’s complaint, the Ombudsman held that RA No. 9406 which created the PAO provides sufficient authority for Acosta to represent the parents of the deceased children.

    It also affirmed the validity of the creation of the PAO Forensic Laboratory, citing prior approval by the Department of Budget and Management of the budget for the project.

    Furthermore, the Ombudsman swept aside the allegation that the PAO officials acted with wrongful intent to injure third persons by providing assistance to the dengue vaccine recipients in filing cases in court.

    “There is no probable cause for illegal use of public funds or property. Acosta’s actions in engaging the services of Erfe was duly approved by the DBM. It was also established that Erfe rendered the services for which he was hired,” it added.