DETAINED Senator Leila de Lima urged the Public Attorney’s Office to focus on its original mandate to serve “truly indigent” defendants in criminal cases and stop allowing itself to be used as a tool for political persecution.
The lady senator, who is facing drug charges, also observed how PAO’s functions have been used by rich personalities to the detriment of indigent clients. Thus she sought to amend Republic Act 9406 which created PAO as the government’s principal law office for indigents, by filing Senate Bill 1345 that will redefine the PAO’s mandate to make it more responsive to the needs of indigents with legal concerns.
“The existing Public Attorney’s law allows the PAO, in the exigency of service, to be called upon by proper government authorities to render service to other persons, even if they be non-indigent,” De Lima, who is facing drug charges, said.
Moreover, she added ” This power, as we have seen in recent years, has been invoked to represent individuals who can afford to contract the services of their own private counsels, to the detriment of those who need PAO’s services the most, such as indigent individuals who are threatened to be deprived of their liberty or property and indigent accused who are languishing in ails due to adequate legal representation.”
De Lima deplored noted that non-indigent individuals used the PAO to the detriment of the poor who really need the services of public attorneys. She named the convicts notorious for their luxurious lifestyle inside the New Bilibid Prisons who had testified against her, Ma. Cristina Sergio, the illegal recruiter behind the drug trafficking case of Mary Jane Veloso; and pork barrel fund scam “queen” Janet Lim Napoles as the among the non-indigent clients of the PAO.
“The existing mandate of PAO needs to be fleshed out so that its personnel will be unburdened of other matters and can focus on providing the utmost attention to their clients accused of committing a crime,” she said.
She noted that in 2014 alone, PAO had served 7.5 million clients, mostly for non-judicial clients, with each public attorney handling more than 500 cases.
“The present enabling law of the PAO establishes it as the principal law office of the Government in extending free legal assistance to indigent persons in criminal, civil, labor, administrative, and other quasi-judicial cases, a mandate that is too broad for its personnel complement and resource constraints,” she said.
De Lima said the immediate passage into law of SBN 1345 would lead to a “more efficient delivery of justice to indigent citizens, improving the case disposition with the availability of more lawyers to defend the poorest of the poor.”