House OKs bill abolishing agency hunting Marcos ill-gotten wealth
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The House of Representatives approved a bill that would abolish the agency tasked to recover the billions of pesos plundered during the Marcos dictatorship and transfer its powers to the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).
On Tuesday, May 15, the House voted 162-10-0 in approval of House Bill (HB) No. 7376, which seeks to strengthen the OSG by increasing its powers and functions.
One of HB 7376's key provisions is the abolition of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) and the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC). The two agencies' responsibilities will be transferred to the OSG instead.
Solicitor General Jose Calida himself supports the bill, which was first proposed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte. Calida argued that the bill's passage would "result in a leaner, cleaner government bureaucracy which is better able to address the people's urgent needs."
It was Calida who had defended before the Supreme Court (SC) the Duterte administration's move to give a hero's burial to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 2016.
Marcos ruled with an iron fist for 21 years, his term marred by disappearances, torture, killings, media oppression, and corruption. (READ: Martial Law, the dark chapter in Philippine history)
Transparency International estimates that Marcos embezzled from $5 billion to $10 billion from 1972 to 1986 through shell corporations, real estate properties, and money in numerous offshore banks. (READ: What you should know about the agency hunting Marcos' ill-gotten wealth)
Over the last 30 years, the PCGG has recovered at least P170 billion despite working on an overall budget of P2.9 billion over the same period.
Since its establishment in 1986, however, the PCGG has been under fire for taking too long to recover the illegal wealth of the Marcos family. The PCGG itself has also been criticized for being a breeding ground for corruption.
The bid to abolish the PCGG is not unique to the Duterte administration, however.
Various politicians over the years wanted to dissolve the agency, including ex-senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr and Sergio Osmeña III, and even former president Benigno Aquino III's appointed PCGG chief and now resigned Commission on Elections chairman Andres Bautista, among others.
Part of 'rehabilitation of the Marcos family'
Aside from abolishing the PCGG and the OGCC, HB 7376's other key provisions include:
- Creation of at least 50 legal divisions in the OSG, each headed by an Assistant Solicitor General, with at least 10 lawyers and other personnel needed by the OSG to carry out its functions
- Survivorship benefits for the Solicitor General, Assistant Solicitor Generals, and State Solicitors
- Consolidation of legal representatives of all government agencies
- OGCC and PCGG personnel who will not be absorbed by the OSG will have the option to get retirement and separation packages
- OSG lawyers will be allowed to receive honoraria and allowances directly from each client department, agency, government owned and controlled corporation, or instrumentality of government for legal services
Similar bills are pending at the committee level in the Senate.
ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio said that while he understands HB 7376 is part of the government's intention to trim the bureaucracy, he condemns the proposed abolition of the PCGG.
"Kaya malinaw pa na bahagi ang panukalang batas na ito, ang partikular ang abolition ng PCGG, sa nakita na nating itinutulak ng Duterte administration na rehabilitasyon ng pamilyang Marcos – mula sa pagpapahintulot ni Pangulong Duterte na ilibing sa Libingan ng mga Bayani ang diktador na si Marcos hanggang sa kanyang pagsuporta sa vice presidency ng natalong kandidato na si Bongbong Marcos," said Tinio.
(It's clear that this bill, particularly the abolition of the PCGG, is part of the Duterte administration's rehabilitation of the Marcos family – from President Duterte allowing the burial of the dictator Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani to his support for the vice presidency of the defeated candidate Bongbong Marcos.)
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate also slammed the bill.
"Sa ilalim ng batas na ito, mas lalong lalakas ang kapangyarihan ng Solicitor General at hindi malayong ang Solicitor General na, madam speaker, ang isa sa mga pinakamakapangyarihang opisyal ng ating bansa," said Zarate.
(Under this bill, the powers of the Solicitor General will increase and it is possible, madam speaker, that the Solicitor General will become one of the most powerful officials in the country.)
This was the same assessment Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon made when the SC granted Calida's quo warranto petition to nullify the appointment of ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. – Rappler.com