JUSTICE SECRETARY Menardo I. Guevarra said the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) has already been ordered to provide legal assistance to uniformed personnel who are facing charges in relation to the performance of their duties, and what is needed is a bigger budget for this rather than passing a new law.

“The DoJ (Department of Justice) has a standing directive to the PAO to extend legal assistance to police officers (up to the level of SPO4) and other uniformed personnel who get sued in the course of performing their official duties,” Mr. Guevarra told reporters in a group message on Tuesday.

He also said the national police and the military have special funds for such cases, hence “maybe an increased budgetary allocation for this purpose will be enough, assuming existing funds are insufficient.”

In his last State of the Nation Address on Monday, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said there is a need to pass a law that will provide free legal assistance to military and police officers as well as other enlisted personnel “to help them from charges arising incidents related to the performance of official duty.”

Mr. Guevarra also clarified that the provision of free legal assistance “is not the same as legal protection.”

The provision of free legal assistance for uniformed personnel is just to provide them with the means to “defend themselves in court for acts done in relation to their official duties, such as fighting terrorists and criminals,” he said.

He added that military and police who are charged with cases are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and “like every one of us, they are also entitled to due process of law.” — Bianca Angelica D. Añago