Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Public Attorney's Office is Lawyering for the Wrong Client

There seems to be something wrong with the Public Attorney’s Office taking on the case of the PNP personnel involved in the EDSA shooting as their legal counsel.

First, the PAO’s mandate is to “Provide the indigent sector access to counsel at the time of need” and this is elaborated further in their Mission, which states, “Provide indigent litigants free access to courts, judicial and quasi-judicial agencies by rendering legal assistance in consonance with the constitutional mandate that says ‘free access to courts shall not be denied by reason of poverty’.”

The PNP personnel do not fall into the category of clients that the PAO is supposed to cater to. They are not indigents who do not have free access to the courts, judicial and quasi-judicial agencies and they are not unable to avail of the services of counsel to assist and represent them during litigation.

While some may say that a policeman’s salary prevents him from availing the services of top notch lawyers or law firms, the policemen involved in the EDSA incident are not totally defenseless.

The policemen are being accused of violations of human rights and proper rules of procedure while in the performance of their duty. The Chief Public Attorney herself concurs with this, since she is arguing that the policemen were in a legitimate police operation. If that were the case, then it is clear that the policemen should be defended by the PNP’s own Legal Service, which is primarily tasked to serve the police’s legal counsel.

In fact, the PNP Legal Service’s Mission Statement says, “To provide quality, efficient and effective legal services to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and legal assistance to its members and their legal dependents.”

Another fact is that a policeman may avail of the service of the PNP-LS even if his case is not connected to his official duty, as listed in the PNP-LS functions, which specifically says that that the PNP-LS will “Provide legal assistance and advice to PNP members and their legal dependents regardless of whether or not the legal issue arose from the official functions of the member concerned.”

In the performance of this function, the PNP-LS is not even alone. As listed in their functions, the PNP-LS will “Serves as legal counsel of the PNP. Represents the PNP and/or collaborates with the Office of the Solicitor General in all civil actions before the regular court and quasi judicial bodies where the PNP is involved or has an interest to protect.”

So it is very clear that the policemen involved in the EDSA shooting do not qualify as clients of the PAO. Ironically, it may even be the suspects, who are unfortunately now dead, who may be qualified as clients of the PAO.

Second, it is disturbing to see the Public Attorney’s Office castigate the Commission on Human Rights for performing its constitutional mandate to defend the rights especially of those who may be victims of the State’s use of power and means of violence.

The PAO’s mistaken assumption of the role as the policemen’s counsel has placed the two agencies on a collision course, while the PNP, which is responsible as an institution and equipped for the purpose to answer for their personnel’s actions stands aside and be detached from the fray.

It really disconcerting to hear the PAO even moving for the CHR to cease and desist from investigating what clearly is a question of human rights.

What the PAO needs to do is cease and desist from being the counsel of the policemen because it is not within its mandate of providing legal assistance for the indigent and deprived. The PNP is perfectly capable to legally defend itself.

What the PAO should be doing instead of taking the airwaves to defend a case that is not within its mandate is to do an inventory of the thousands of indigents who are presently rotting in jail without the benefit of counsel. The precious time of the PAO spent in media castigating the CHR is best spent in defending those are suffering incarceration and litigation without a counsel to speak in their behalf.

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