Press Release
January 11, 2011

JPE defends PAO

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, principal author of R.A. 9406, defended the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), in the midst of disagreements arising from the issuance of a legal opinion that top-level positions in PAO require Career Executive Service eligibility.

Enrile pointed out pertinent provisions on of the current law that was passed by Congress to strengthen and reorganize PAO. "To me, provisions under Section 16 on the appointment and tenure of PAO officials and employees already provides for a security of tenure for PAO officials so that they can guarantee the continuity of legal services for the poor despite changing political landscape."

The enactment of R.A. 9406 also gave PAO autonomy from the Department of Justice (DOJ) so much so that it has only become an attached agency of the DOJ for purposes of policy and program coordination.

On 3 January 2011, the Legal Department of the Department of Justice issued an opinion rendering the security of tenure of the Chief Public Attorney, Deputy Chief Public Attorneys and Regional Public Attorneys of the PAO as temporary because the current appointees are non-Career Executive Service Officers (CESO).

Enrile pointed out however that "there is nothing in the provisions of the R.A. 9406 requires the Chief Public Attorney, Deputy Chief Public Attorneys and Regional Public Attorneys must first become career executive officers before they can serve in this office."

"But if we want to go along the lines of the DOJ legal opinion, should we not then require the fiscals or the prosecutors to take and pass the CESO exam as well? E di lahat na lang sila kailangan mag-CESO?" Enrile asked.

The qualifications for appointment of the Chief Public Attorney, Deputies, Regional Public Attorney are the same as those of their respective counterpart in the National Prosecution Service. Pursuant to Section 14, R.A. 10071 or the National Prosecution Service Act, the qualifications of the Chief State Prosecutor, who is the counterpart of the Chief Public Attorney, are also the qualifications for appointment of the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals.

Enrile further said, "the PAO helps the poor who cannot afford to get the services of lawyers. PAO, as the principal law office of the government in extending free legal assistance to indigent persons, handles civil, criminal, administrative and even quasi-judicial cases of poor clients." "I am aware that the current leadership of PAO has already expanded their services in order to reach out to the indigents, making justice accessible even to the poorest members of our society. There's no doubt that they have carried out their mandate to the best of their abilities. This issue, if remained unresolved much longer, will be to the detriment of PAO's clientele."

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