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Davao solon seeks free legal aid for law enforcers

December 27, 2022 People's Tonight 247 views

PROVIDING free legal assistance to men and women in uniform facing charges in connection with the performance of their duties will help boost morale and productivity among the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and other law enforcement agencies, according to Davao City 1st District Representative Paolo “Pulong” Duterte.

Duterte said the recent approval by the House of Representatives on the third and final reading of House Bill (HB) No. 6509 is a step closer to providing this legal protection to “uniformed personnel who are wrongfully accused and charged, especially when their job involves having to expose high-profile criminal syndicates.”

HB 6509, a consolidation of the bill jointly filed by Duterte and Benguet Rep. Eric Yap, along with other similar measures, covers military and uniformed personnel (MUP) of the AFP, PNP, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

“Free legal assistance will strengthen our uniformed personnel’s morale, safeguarding them from unfortunate circumstances that may come with performing their sworn duties. This free legal assistance, in the premise that is not misused, could serve as an incentive and boost productivity,” Duterte and Yap said in calling for the urgent passage of the measure.

Under the bill, any MUP facing criminal, civil or administrative charges involving service-related incidents before a prosecutor’s office, court, administrative body, or any competent body or tribunal shall be entitled to free legal assistance.

Those who have been granted free legal aid shall continue to enjoy this privilege even after their retirement from the service. “Retired officers or uniformed personnel shall also be given free legal assistance for cases or charges involving service-related incidents committed by such retired officers or uniformed personnel while still in active duty,” the bill further states.

Duterte urged the Senate to pass its counterpart measure of HB 6509 once Congress resumes session next month.

HB 6509 mandates the leaderships of the AFP, PNP, BFP, BJMP, and PCG to submit to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) their respective revised organizational structures and staffing patterns for their legal offices to ensure adequate and effective free legal assistance to their qualified MUP.

The bill also states that “the government lawyer so designated to provide legal assistance to an officer or uniformed personnel of the AFP, BFP, BJMP, PCG, or PNP shall be entitled to payment of actual travel and other expenses, including Special Counsel Allowance, subject to existing laws, rules, and regulations.”

Under the measure, qualified MUP may also be provided, “in the interest of justice,” with private counsel at the expense of the government when necessary, Duterte said.

If the measure is passed into law, it will also apply to all MUP with pending charges involving service-related incidents, he added.