By Benjamin Pulta
MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday turned down the Public Attorney’s Office’s (PAO) plea to amend a part of the updated Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA).
In a statement, the SC en banc said it has “resolved to deny the request of Atty. Persida V. Rueda-Acosta, the Chief of the Public Attorney’s Office, in her letter dated April 20, 2023, addressed to Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, to delete Section 22, Canon III of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA), which limits the invocation by the PAO of the rule on conflict of interest.”
The high court reminded the PAO of its primordial mandate to “[extend] free legal assistance to indigent persons in criminal, civil, labor, administrative and other quasi-judicial cases.” To turn away indigent litigants and bar them from availing of the services of all PAO lawyers nationwide due to alleged conflict of interest would be to contravene PAO’s principal duty and leave hundreds of poor litigants unassisted by legal counsel they cannot otherwise afford, it added.
The questioned provision sought to be taken down by PAO states that: “A conflict of interest of any of the lawyers of the Public Attorney’s Office incident to services rendered for the Office shall be imputed only to the said lawyer and the lawyer’s direct supervisor. Such conflict of interest shall not disqualify the rest of the lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office from representing the affected client, upon full disclosure to the latter and written informed consent.”
However, the SC said, “to turn away indigent litigants and bar them from availing of the services of all PAO lawyers nationwide due to alleged conflict of interest would be to contravene PAO’s principal duty and leave hundreds of poor litigants unassisted by legal counsel they cannot otherwise afford.”
The high tribunal likewise directed Acosta “to show cause why she should not be cited in indirect contempt for her social media posts and newspaper publications which tended, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice” and characterized her resort to social and print media to air her unfounded grievances against the SC as a threat to the independence of the judiciary.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said he had misgivings account [on] the PAO’s position on the matter.
“Ako kasi naniniwala na ang PAO is serbisyo. Ito ay hindi law office. Ang conflict of interest frame of mind na pinamamalas ng PAO sa atin ay isang pagtingin sa kanilang opisina bilang isang law office. Hindi po, sila ay legal service ng Republika ng Pilipinas. Dapat naman manatiling ganun yun kaya dapat mailinaw ito ng PAO sa Korte Suprema kasi ang talagang pwedeng magsabi nyan kung ano ang conflict of interest at hindi ay ang Korte Suprema. Sila ang arbiter dito (Personally, I believe the PAO is a service. It is not strictly a law office. The conflict of interest frame of mind showed by PAO is strictly for law office which is not the case because they are in the service of the Republic of the Philippines and should remain so. The Supreme Court is the correct agency to decide whether there is conflict of interest or not),” Remulla said. (PNA)