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Government okays legal stakeholders in A4 priority group

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has included other stakeholders in the justice system in the priority population group A4 of the government’s vaccination drive against COVID-19, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Monday.

Guevarra made the statement when asked to confirm a letter sent by vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez to National Vaccine Operations Center-Task Force Immunization Program Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje recommending the approval of the request made by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Pasay, Paranaque, Las Pinas, and Muntinlupa (IBP-PLLM) Chapter.

In its letter to Galvez, the IBP-PLLM requested for the inclusion of their members in the priority population category A4, particularly public prosecutors as per list to be submitted by the Department of Justice, public attorneys as per list to be submitted by the Public Attorney’s Office, legal aid lawyers of the IBP as per list to be submitted by the IBP National Center for Legal Aid and Trial or Litigation Practitioners as per list to be submitted by the Clerk of Courts.

“I’m not in a position to confirm the existence or contents of the subject letter as I’m not privy to the said communication. However, I know for a fact that judges, prosecutors, public attorneys, and similar individuals directly involved in the dispensation of justice have been included by the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) in priority A4 of the national vaccination program,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.

The SC earlier announced that at least 30,000 judiciary employees have also been included in priority population group A4.

In its letter-request dated March 31, 2021 sent to Galvez, the SC insisted that justices, judges, and court personnel of the SC, Court of Appeals, Court of Tax Appeals, Sandiganbayan and trial courts are frontline government workers in the justice sector, whose functions are essential at all times, especially during the pandemic.

Those in the A4 priority population includes frontline personnel in essential sectors including uniformed personnel and those in working sectors identified by the IATF as essential during ECQ.

This prompted the IBP to appeal to the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTFC) and IATF- EID to include lawyers in the list of priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination.

In a letter dated March 30, the IBP through its national president Domingo Egon Cayosa stressed that lawyers should be included in the A4 priority population which includes frontline personnel in essential sectors including uniformed personnel and those in working sectors identified by the IATF as essential during ECQ.

Cayosa explained that  lawyers are working as frontline personnel since the start of the pandemic by "proactively supporting COVID-19 patients, health workers and frontliners" as well as through collaboration with government agencies and local government units in "educating the public about laws and ordinances pertaining to the pandemic."

"More importantly, the presence of preferred counsel is constitutionally required especially for those charged with criminal offenses and lawyers are deemed essential officers of the court in their mandate to dispense justice, maintain peace and order, and safeguard public welfare under the rule of law," Cayosa said.

He noted that there were judges, prosecutors and practicing lawyers who lost their lives due to COVID-19 , despite repeated site or area lockdowns and travel restrictions.

"The legal frontliners are particularly at risk and should be similarly protected," Cayosa added.

Topics: COVID-19 , Menardo Guevarra , Carlito Galvez , Myrna Cabotaje
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