MANILA, Philippines – Hours before President Rodrigo Duterte announced he was fired, former government corporate counsel Rudolf Philip Jurado sent Malacañang a letter defending the legal opinion that earned him the Chief Executive’s ire.
His 3-page letter, a copy of which was obtained by Rappler, was received by the Office of the President on Monday, May 28, at around 9 am.
In the letter, Jurado explained that his legal opinion, affirming that the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (Apeco) can operate outside the zone but only in Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA)-controlled areas, merely reiterated the amended law that created Apeco.
He said that the amended Republic Act No. 9490 is “clear and categorical” in saying that Apeco can grant licenses for online gaming facilities that would operate outside Apeco’s territorial jurisdiction.
“Section 12(g) of Apeco’s amended charter is categorical and needs no further interpretation…. The OGCC merely relied on the law, which is clear and categorical,” said Jurado.
The legal opinion signed by Jurado rests on two items in Section 12 of the amended Apeco law. The two lines, he said, expressly allow Apeco licenses to operate in PEZA zones.
The two items in the law are listed as powers and functions of Apeco under Section 12:
(f) To operate on its own, either directly or through a subsidiary entity, or concession or license to others, tourism-related activities, including games, amusements and nature parks, recreational and sports facilities such as casinos, online game facilities, golf courses and others under priorities and standards set by the APECO;
(g) To authorize the APECO to enter into mutual cooperation agreement with the PEZA for the utilization of the PEZA’s resources, facilities and assets
Jurado also clarified that Apeco did not ask his office for authority to grant gaming or gambling licenses, but requested for a legal opinion on the matter, which is part of his mandate as government corporate counsel.
Corrupt or fighter vs corruption?
Jurado also responded to the claim that he granted a 75-year permit for a casino. The issue stemmed from the Nayong Pilipino Foundation Incorporated (NPFI) asking the OGCC to review its proposed contract of lease with a foreign corporation lasting 50 years but renewable for another 25 years.
Jurado, as OGCC chief, then responded that based on laws, the property can only be leased for a maximum of 25 years, unless some conditions are met. He had also cautioned the NPFI that if key conditions are not met, the contract could be terminated.
Jurado had emphasized in his letter to Duterte that he is far from corrupt.
“I have been a resolute supporter in your war against corruption,” he said.
It was this stance, he said, that led him to issue last March an order prohibiting lawyers in his office from directly accepting allowances and honoraria from their government corporation clients, which the Commission on Audit (COA) itself flagged as irregular.
COA recently said that 5 OGCC lawyers directly received a total of P2.25 million from government-owned and -controlled corporations. These direct payments exceeded the allowable amount and were not taxed, said state auditors.
Jurado, in his letter, said “false news and information” about him started to circulate after he issued the March order and after he sent a memo on the matter to Malacañang and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. He claimed that the OGCC lawyers who received the questionable allowances had been “maligning” his reputation.
A source privy to these events also questioned why Jurado’s legal opinion on Apeco only became controversial now when the opinion had been issued on July 25, 2017.
Malacañang had also known about the legal opinion since August that year, with meetings supposedly even called about it, said the source.
It was only in mid-May when media began reporting about a letter from OGCC lawyers accusing Jurado of favoring Apeco and approving a 75-year casino permit.
Before the month was out, Duterte publicly sacked Jurado on Monday, May 28.
It’s unclear if the President had read Jurado’s letter before making the announcement.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday, May 29, said Jurado was fired for giving a “wrong” legal opinion.
“He (Duterte) fired the government corporate counsel because of the wrong legal opinion that the Aurora [Pacific] Economic Zone can give a franchise to a casino outside Apeco’s territorial jurisdiction,” said Roque.
Though he spoke of Jurado’s sacking as part of Duterte’s fight against corruption, Roque did not explicitly state how Jurado’s legal opinion is proof of corruption. – with reports from Lian Buan/Rappler.com
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