Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta on Tuesday called for a retooling of policemen on the provisions of Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act and RA 9406 or the PAO Law.
At a media briefing in Quezon City, Acosta clarified that Sec. 30 of RA 11479 has given PAO the duty to provide free legal aid to any person charged with or suspected of committing any acts terrorism.
Acosta, in a five-page letter, urged Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. to end red-tagging of public defenders for representing in court an arrested or detained person accused of being a communist.
“If one cannot afford the services of a counsel of one’s choice, the law enforcement agent or military personnel concerned shall immediately contact the free legal assistance unit of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines or the PAO,” Acosta told the Manila Standard.
She also cited Sec. 1, Article III of the 1987 Constitution which stipulated that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.
Earlier, the PAO chief hit Col. Dennis Siruno, Surigao del Sur provincial police chief, for red-tagging and profiling public defender Carol Anne General, who had provided legal aid to members of a suspected communist group.
“There is a need to re-educate the PNP. In fact, they are also our clients. We do not choose our clients,” the PAO chief said.
According to PAO deputy chief Ana Lisa Soriano, PAO only acts on any (terrorism) case based on evidence.
She gave the assurance that as public defenders, they support the government’s call to end terrorism.
“Better watch #PALA May Batas Pala,” Acosta told the PNP, referring to her weekly Facebook program.
On the other hand, lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, who joined the conference, said even the leftist groups, “such as Gabriela, Makabayan or ACT,” may seek PAO’s legal aid.
“But that does not mean PAO is a pro-communist,” he said.