Ombudsman Samuel Martires has dismissed the criminal complaint of graft and corruption, falsification of public documents, misuse and illegal use of public funds of property against Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta and Erwin Erfe of the forensic division for lack of evidence.
He also dropped the administrative complaint of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, grave abuse of authority and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service filed against the duo.
“WHEREFORE, the criminal and administrative complaints against the respondents are hereby dismissed for insufficiency of evidence,” the Oct. 3, 2019 resolution read.
PAO received the order on Jan. 14 this year.
On Oct. 22, 2018, Wilfredo Garrido, a lawyer from Leyte, filed the “malicious, baseless and unsubstantiated” complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against Acosta and Erfe, accusing PAO, along with the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, of stepping into the investigation involving school children whose deaths were linked to the Dengvaxia vaccine, followed by the filing of 21 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide charges against former and active health officials.
He questioned PAO’s creation of a forensic laboratory using its medico-legal findings on the remains of the deceased children as evidence in court.
At a media briefing in Quezon City, Acosta praised the Ombudsman for the case’s dismissal, the Office of the President for the veto of a budget insertion removing the budget of PAO’s forensic laboratory, and the Supreme Court for the designation of one family court to handle and litigate all Dengvaxia-related cases.
She also thanked the VACC, kin of the deceased school children, the media, Commission on Audit and Department of Budget and Management.
“You (Garrido) wanted to send me to jail and I be removed from my post. You were trying to destroy the morale of PAO,” Acosta said.
She said on Aug. 15, 2019, on her birthday, PAO as an institution was rocked when news came out about a “falsified anonymous unsigned” manifestation with a prayer for her immediate preventive suspension allegedly filed by PAO lawyers.
Acosta, however, said she had no plans to get back at Garrido.
The Ombudsman said “there is no probable cause of Section 3(e), (i) and (j) of Republic Act No. 3019 as amended,” saying the complainant based his allegations on “news articles and other online postings lifted from the internet and social media.
Martires said Garrido’s accusations were “hearsay” and could not be admitted as evidence.
Moreover, the complainant filed an unsigned pleading, it stated.
The Ombudsman said there was no sufficient evidence to “show that respondents, in representing the relatives of Dengvaxia vaccine recipients, were engaged in ambulance-chasing activities.”
Martires said Acosta and Erfe acted in accordance with the law under the PAO Law or RA 9406 authorizing them to represent the indigent relatives of the Dengvaxia vaccine recipients, and that the Department of Justice on Dec. 12, 2017, gave PAO the specific authority to extend free legal assistance to all possible victims of Dengvaxia-related injuries, illnesses and deaths.
“In fact, in the Sulpicio Lines m/v Princess of the Stars incident, DOJ Department Order No. 439 dated 16 July 2008 specifically authorized Acosta to extend free legal assistance regardless of PAO’s indigency test,” the Ombudsman said.