Speech at Public Attorney’s Office Training

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Thank you for the kind invitation to be here at the meeting between the Chief Public Attorney and the PAO from the NCR group.

I am glad to join once again the family of the Public Attorney’s Office, especially the Public Attorneys from this side of our country. Time has flown so fast. It has been six (6) years since the last time that we met, and at that time when you had your Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) lecture series. I distinctly remember that was in 2009, it was around that time of the filing of certificates of candidacy for the then upcoming 2010 national elections then, where I would eventually be elected as Senator of the Republic—thanks, of course, to the thirteen million Filipinos who had voted me to office.

Now, we are having this meeting again, just a few weeks after filing of certificates of candidacy for the national elections of 2016. Kung suwerte talaga para sa akin ang PAO, napakalaki ng utang na loob ko sa inyong lahat! Uunahan ko na, maraming, maraming salamat sa inyong swerte na ibibigay sa akin. At dahil kayo ang suwerte ko, at tutal ay panahon na naman ng budget ngayon, ay para madagdagan ang aking suwerte, kukunin ko na rin ang pagkakataon na ito upang ipahayag ang aking buong suporta para sa 2016 budget ng PAO.

Nakita ko ang huling accomplishment report ng PAO, at nakita ko na maganda ang naging performance ng ahensiya, at maganda rin ang mga nakalatag na mga plano. Kaya tama lang naman at karapat-dapat na ipagpatuloy pa ng PAO ang magandang pamamalakad at magandang serbisyo sa bayan, sa pamamagitan ng sapat na pondo ninyo.

I am fully cognizant of the role of the Public Attorneys in our society, which is why I am fully supportive of its aims and the aspirations of this agency of government. In my years of public service, I know for a fact that a reasonable and adequate budget is essential for the PAO to be able to accomplish its legal mandate in an “independent and autonomous” manner, pursuant to RA 9406.

I also firmly believe that this is likewise essential for the PAO to effectively render its service to the Filipino people, especially during these trying times of our history as a nation.

First, we all know that poverty in the Philippines has been unfortunately and saddeningly on the rise. It was reported early this year that, at 26%, the high poverty incidence in our country severely affects 26 out of 100 Filipinos that amounts to over 26 million Filipinos and is the highest among the ASEAN big-six countries.

This rising incidence of poverty singularly explains the 7 and a half million clients assisted by the PAO, and the almost-800,000 pending cases handled by Public Attorneys!

Let us recall Aristotle’s observation, which remains true up to this day, that “poverty is the parent of crime”. Indeed, here in the Philippines, countless studies have confirmed the correlation between poverty and crime. It is no surprise that alongside the rising poverty incidence observed in the country, the PNP has just recently reported a 46% spike in the national crime rate. And despite their attempted explanations that this is only because of better reporting of crimes, 26% is much too big a number for that to be the single reason.

And combining the rising incidence of poverty and rising criminality—and the correlation between these two statistics—this will certainly yield a heavy and sizeable criminal case load involving indigent defendants.

Here in Metro Manila, although the overall crime rate in the NCR has dropped, still, Metro Manila has the biggest share of the crimes committed in the entire country! Halimbawa pa nga, sabi ng PDEA, 92% ng barangays ng Metro Manila ngayon ay apektado na ng ipinagbabawal na droga.

So, ngayon, alam na natin agad kung sino ang may pinakamaraming criminal cases na hawak sa lahat ng PAO sa Pilipinas—siyempre, ang PAO-NCR.

While we are on the subject of criminal cases, I noticed that trainings and workshops in forensic science are part now of the PAO’s proposed programs and activities for the coming year.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of your training in this field, because it serves to counter-balance the usual and default advantage of the prosecution over the defense on this aspect, especially when indigent defendants are involved.

A few months ago, I spoke before the PNP Crime Lab, and shared with them the recent and very shocking revelation of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about the gross “forensic failure”, not here in the Philippines but in the United States. According to the FBI, ninety-percent (90%) of the evidence “contained erroneous statements”. And what made this mea culpa very shocking is the fact that these faulty evidence had been the basis for criminal convictions, some of which even involved the death penalty.

Nakakatakot kung ating iisipin ng mabuti. United States na ang ating pinag-uusapan dito. Sometimes we wonder how a country as wealthy and powerful as the United States can still be a victim of its own success and technological advancements.

Moreover, you all know that in our courts today, DNA evidence is not only acceptable and admissible evidence, but also persuasive evidence. However, even DNA testing has now been the subject of strong criticisms—even at its present supposedly advanced technological state.

Sa katunayan, pinagpipilitan ngayon itong DNA evidence, lalong-lalo na doon kaso na isinampa laban sa kasamahan ko sa Senado. Parati kaming niloloko na kesyo magkapatid daw kami, kaya maganda raw na magpa-DNA test na para matapos na ang intrigahan at hulaan ng aking “sis”.

Joking aside, it is because of these reported occurrences of flawed utilization and unreliable results of forensic evidence in a highly developed country as the United States that, all the more, we must guard against the possibility of injustice in our own imperfect legal system through indiscriminate introduction of these kinds of evidence in our courts.

It is best that we equip our public defenders with the capability and the know-how to be able to stand toe-to-toe with the prosecution and challenge their claims, especially if the constitutional rights of the accused are on the line.

If necessary, build linkages with the PNP Crime Lab, which is just as much concerned with truth and justice, as you all are. Like you, they too are mandated to protect the falsely accused and the innocent—and not just to ensure the conviction of a person charged with a crime.

When in doubt, it is always best to err on the side of caution, on the side of the protection of rights, on the side of protection of life, liberty and of property. Do not hesitate to proffer bold conclusions, even to the point of acquitting and liberating defendants who may already be perceived as guilty.

The State has all the resources to ensure a strong case against them and their conviction. Through your help, the lone individual will truly be a majority of one when protected by the Bill of Rights. According to Justice Isagani Cruz, and I quote, the Constitution protects the lone individual, who is “confronted by the full panoply of State authority.”

I personally witnessed the significance of this precept during the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona. Perhaps you all know that I was one of three Senator-Judges who voted for his acquittal.

In explaining my vote, I emphasized that the Bill of Rights stands supreme over all the powers of government. And nowhere was the precept more apposite than in the case of CJ Corona, where the government had mustered all the resources at its disposal, not only legal, but also political, not only to secure evidence against the Chief Justice, but also to ensure his conviction.

Kung Chief Justice ng Supreme Court kayang pagtulungan at tirisin ng pamahalaan gamit ang kanyang todong-lakas, paano pa kaya ang isang pangkaraniwan at malilit na tao, ang mga walang pangalan, na walang mukha, at mga mahihirap na akusado?

Kaya bilang mga Public Attorney ng bayan, ako ang unang-una na magtataguyod sa kahahalagahan ninyo sa bayan. Ituloy lang ninyo ang inyong ginagawang mahalagang serbisyo para sa ating mga kababayan.

‘Ika nga, “i-Push n’yo lang ‘yan!”

Sabi ni William Blackstone sa kanyang legendary “Blackstone’s ratio”: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent one suffer”!

And to quote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I think it is less evil that some criminals should escape than that the government should play an ignoble part.”

On a final note, please allow me to make the following appeal to all Public Attorneys, especially to Chief Percy, in her capacity as the leader of all public defenders of our country.

It has been observed that our country is suffering from dismal and declining agricultural sector. Part of the reason is because our farmers are being dispossessed by oppressive landowners of their farm lots, which is their main source of livelihood.

Throughout the country, underpayment of wages and other monetary benefits under the law are prevalent. Minimum wage na nga, hindi pa binabayaran. Pati hulog sa SSS, PhilHealth at Pag-IBIG, hindi na rin ibinibigay.

Oppressive contractualization, the so-called “5-5-5” labor contract, which stifles and defeats the constitutional guaranty of security of tenure, is not only becoming rampant, but is now more so, the industry’s standard to which DOLE seems to want to turn a blind eye. Nowadays, the prospect of “ENDO” or “end of contract” is as loathed and detested by Filipino employees, just the same as they fear and dread the threat of illegal dismissal.

Sa katunayan, kung ako ay maihahalal bilang Pangalawang-Pangulo ng ating Republika, gusto ko sana makatulong sa ating DOLE sa pagpapalakas ng ating paggawa at empleyo, sa pagpaparami ng trabaho, at sa pangangalaga ng mga manggagawa sa ating bansa.

Every day, poor people and informal settler families get evicted from their homes, through the use of violence and intimidation. Worst of all, all these happen even with the constitutional guaranty and the promise of the State to provide affordable and decent housing and resettlement to all underprivileged and homeless Filipinos.

Now, these are “little guys”, lowly farmers, the underpaid and the oppressed laborers, the homeless and informal settler families threatened by eviction, they are all your clientele.

Protect them from the scourge of unbridled capitalism and urbanization, and uphold their rights under the Constitution and of our laws. Kayo po ang pag-asa nila. Inaasa nila ang kanilang buong buhay at kinabukasan sa inyo, mga magigiting na Pampublikong Tagapagtanggol, tulad ng mga akusado na mga walang pambayad ng sariling abogado na siya ring umaasa sa inyo.

Through your mandate of providing effective legal services to the poor and underprivileged, not only do you ensure the primacy of the rights of the individual vis-à-vis the State. You also indispensably participate in social reform. Gradually and steadily, you will help make the government realize the very prevalent and alarming social problems that we are facing now as a nation, and force the government’s hand to address such problems in a timely and effective way.

Mabuhay kayong lahat, mga Public Attorneys, sa Public Attorneys Office at ng Public Attorneys sa buong bansa!

Maghari nawa ang hustisya at katarungan ng ating bansa ay nasa inyong kamay!

Maraming salamat at magandang gabi po sa inyong lahat.

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