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Defying The President: PAO Requires Employees To Report For Work On Election Day

Defying The President: PAO Requires Employees To Report For Work On Election Day

The queen of Acosta republic strikes again.

The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), still fending off criticisms after requiring its employees to attend a prayer vigil and concert to show support to the families of alleged Dengvaxia victims, is embroiled once again in another controversy.

This time the office is accused of openly defying an official declaration no less by President Rodrigo Duterte.

On May 3, 2018, Malacanang furnished reporters a copy of Proclamation No. 479 dated May 2, 2018 signed for and in behalf of the president by Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea.

Through the said proclamation, Duterte declared May 14, 2018, a Monday, as a special non-working day throughout the country.

May 14, 2018 is election day for Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan. Thus, the day was declared a special non-working day “to enable the people to fully exercise their right of suffrage.”

Then here comes Office Order No. 056, Series of 2018 of PAO.

Based on the said office order, and completely ignoring Duterte’s proclamation, “all Public Attorneys and staff nationwide are hereby directed to report for office duty during the May 14, 2018 SK and Barangay Elections.”

The PAO office order, signed for and by authority of the Chief Public Attorney Persida Rueda-Acosta by Deputy Chief Public Attorney Silvestre A. Mosing, was dated May 4, 2018. Hence, the same was issued a day after Duterte’s proclamation was made public.

As expected, lawyers and other personnel of PAO are up in arms about this latest display of power by their chief. That is understandable. It could have been a day used for rest and recreation by public defenders of the country and their staff, probably one of the most overworked but dedicated sector in the public service.

Moreover, they are placed in an unfair situation because the employees of other government agencies and offices need not report for work but will still be paid just the same as provided for by law.

This is not the first time that Acosta and PAO ignored an official pronouncement by Malacanang.

During the holy week, the president declared Holy Wednesday as halfday for government employees. PAO did not follow the president’s declaration and those who went home early were considered to have worked undertime while those who stayed received the so-called “special inquest allowance.”

The same practice is observed by the office every time a work suspension is declared due to typhoons, flooding and other disasters. Acosta, not minding the safety and welfare of her people, refuses to allow PAO employees to go home early despite Malacanang’s official announcement.

In order to put some color of validity to the office order, PAO cited a supposed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) entered into by and among the PAO, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the Department of Education (DepEd) where it is provided that PAO will ensure that free legal services will be provided to public school teachers and members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) who may need assistance in the course of the performance of their election duties.

But will the said MOA prevail over a presidential proclamation? Definitely not.

A presidential issuance or declaration has the force and effect of law and, unless declared invalid by the Supreme Court, is presumed legal. While the MOA is just a document evidencing an agreement but does not have the force and effect of law.

Moreover, a presidential issuance or declaration, unless otherwise stated therein, affects the general public. A MOA, on the other hand, is just binding between or among the parties involved.

Thus, it is clear that the MOA cited by PAO cannot supersede or override the proclamation issued by the president.

Furthermore, PAO cannot through a mere MOA set aside the Civil Service rules that governs and protects all government officials and employees.

According to insiders within PAO, the running joke is that the chief public attorney acts as if she is a queen of her own kingdom or a ruler of her own country. If this brazen and disrespectful defiance of the president’s official directive is of any indication, it appears that the high and mighty Persida Acosta really sees herself as above the law.