June 19, 2018, 7:51 pm
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Anti-corruption drive

OUSTED Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno had described the position of Solicitor General as the most powerful government official around, perhaps next only to the President. Sereno ascribed to the government’s lawyer -- whoever he or she is -- these awesome powers because the OSG can unseat the head of the judicial branch with just a quo warranto petition, bypassing the constitutional remedy of impeachment by Congress.

With Jose Calida at the helm of the OSG, this description of power inherent in the office looks like an understatement.

Calida’s hogging the headlines has been a long-running affair. It started when he filed the quo warranto petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the appointment of Sereno on the basis of lack of integrity and qualifications. In particular, Calida pointed out that Sereno allegedly did not file her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth for several years when she was teaching at the University of the Philippines.

This petition sidestepped the impeachment process also against Sereno that was under way in the House of Representatives at that time. This was followed by the Solicitor General’s moment of glory when the SC gave the majority vote granting the quo warranto petition and effectively ousting the Chief Justice.

Calida’s legal victory cannot be a genuine cause for celebration as it became apparent that President Duterte was somehow behind his legal maneuvers, and that Sereno’s colleagues were pissed off with her for various reasons, personal and professional. 

Then came the news, confirmed by Calida himself, that his family-owned security agency bagged some P140 million in contracts with various government agencies, including the Department of Justice which has oversight jurisdiction over his office. It was reported-- and he did not deny-- that he still owns 60 percent of Valiant Investigative and Security Agency (VISAI), and that the contracts were awarded to this firm when he was already the solicitor general.

Conflict of interest is clearly present here, and this may even be a violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act which says one of the corrupt practices of public officers is “directly or indirectly having financial or pecuniary interest in any business, contract or transaction in connection with which he intervenes or takes part in his official capacity.” The question is asked -- will Calida represent a particular government office in court when it files a case of non-performance against his family-owned security agency?

While this case goes to the Office of the Ombudsman, Duterte was quick to absolve Calida of any responsibility, with Palace apologists saying the security services contracts were above board, having passed competitive bidding.

With heads of Cabinet members, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, directors, and the government corporate counsel rolling on the basis of just complaints, innuendoes and “whiffs” of corruption, the case of Calida has become a litmus test on Duterte’s anti-corruption campaign. Is it genuine or just a sham?
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