by Xave Gregorio
Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta admitted that the funds of the government law office extending free legal assistance to indigents are being used to provide transportation and medical assistance to children who have received the anti-dengue Dengvaxia vaccine.
“Ang PAO po nagtitipid, nagtitipid kami para gastusin namin dito,” Acosta told lawmakers during the House appropriations committee hearing on the proposed supplemental budget to provide assistance for Dengvaxia vaccinees.
An impassioned Acosta said PAO funds have been used to provide parents of children who received the Dengvaxia vaccine transportation to hospitals and medical assistance, purportedly due to orders from resigned Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
“Ang PAO lawyers pa natin ang nagha-hire ng van dahil sabi nga po ng magulang, ‘Inutusan ka ni Secretary Aguirre na ikaw ang magasikaso,” Acosta said.
“‘Yun po tinanatanggap kong responibilidad ‘yun sapagkat tayo po ay lingkodbayan,” she said.
But PAO, according to Republic Act No. 9406, is only mandated to “render, free of charge, legal representation, assistance, and counselling to indigent persons in criminal, civil, labor, administrative and other quasi-judicial cases.”
Acosta also revealed that she has talked to the Commission on Audit to sway it from disallowing her from spending PAO funds for transportation and medical assistance.
“Kinausap ko ang COA, wag tayong i-disallow dahil tayo ay nagsasagip-buhay,” she said.
The government agency which typically provides medical assistance to indigents is the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, as provided in Republic Act No. 1169.
PAO has been previously hit for supposedly overstepping into the Dengvaxia controversy, as it took upon itself to conduct autopsies on the bodies of children who died allegedly due to the Dengvaxia vaccine, while also refusing to share results to the DOH-sanctioned expert panel.
However, Acosta, after appealing to congressmen to provide more funding for assistance to those inoculated with Dengvaxia, was not called out for providing transportation and medical assistance.