Calida wants Supreme Court to block Senate probe into firm contracts
MANILA, Philippines – Solicitor General Jose Calida and his family filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking it to block the scheduled Senate investigation into their family-owned security firm’s government contracts worth at least P261.39 million.
The Senate’s calendar shows the Blue Ribbon and Civil Service and Government Reorganization and Professional Regulation committees were supposed to conduct a hearing into the Calida contracts 10 am on Thursday, August 16. The calendar also shows the hearing was canceled as of 4 pm the day before, or Wednesday, August 15.
It turns out that Calida, wife Milagros, and children Josef, Michelle and Mark Jorelle sent their petition to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, August 14.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, as chair of the civil service committee, sent the invitation to Calida.
The en banc issued on Thursday a notice ordering Trillanes to comment to the petition within a non-extendible period of 10 days.
It is Calida’s position that the investigation is invalid because it has no legislative purpose. Senate probes are conducted in the aid of legislation.
“The objective is to conduct an inquiry in order to humiliate and carry out the personal and hostile agenda of [Trillanes],” Calida said.
What’s the issue? There is a pending complaint against Calida before the Office of the Ombudsman, which questions the government contracts won by Vigilant, the security agency owned by his family.
Rappler has found that after Calida was appointed Solicitor General in July 2016, Vigilant won 14 government contracts worth at least P261.39 million.
Calida resigned from Vigilant’s board but he has not divested and remains as a holder of 60%. No other person aside from the Calida family owns shares or is part of the board.
Section 6 of the Code of Conduct of Public Officials states that if a conflict of interest arises, the official “shall resign and/or divest himself of his shareholdings or interest within sixty (60) days from such assumption.”
Calida said resigning is enough, but Rule IX of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Code of Conduct says that if certain conditions are met, “divestment shall be mandatory for any official or employee even if he has resigned from his position in any private business enterprise.”
What are Calida’s grounds in the petition? Calida said Trillanes committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when the senator invited them to appear in the Senate probe.
Calida said Trillanes acted on his own in initiating the probe, and inviting the family. “These letters [invitations] were not issued by the committee. The letters were issued by respondent even if the proposed resolution to conduct an investigation or inquiry has not yet been approved,” Calida said.
Calida also said that the civil service committee does not have jurisdiction over the issue because it supposedly covers “only matters relating to rules and policies of civil service and the status of officers and employees of government as these apply or are applicable to all employees.”
Calida said it should be the blue ribbon committee that should investigate.
Senate records actually show the blue ribbon committee is handling the issue.
The resolution was filed on May 30 while session was on break. It was then referred to Trillanes’ civil service committee on July 24. However, on August 7, Senator Gregorio Honasan II questioned why it was referred to Trillanes’ panel when it should have been directed to the blue ribbon committee, chaired by administration ally Senator Richard Gordon.
A day after, the resolution was transferred to Gordon’s committee, making Trillanes’ panel just the secondary committee.
In his SC petition, Calida argued that Gordon’s Blue Ribbon committee has jurisdiction over contract issues and NOT Trillanes' civil service panel. Records, however, show that Senate already transferred authority from Trillanes committee to Gordon’s @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/wzDEmvRvCs— Camille Elemia (@CamilleElemia) August 16, 2018
Still, Calida said, the Blue Ribbon Committee is “also not allowed” to investigate the issue because legislative inquiries should address accountability of public officers.
“[But] not on actual or possible violations done by specific performance…it is not allowed to conjure up an assessment of Petitioner Solicitor General that departs from the tests laid down in R.A No. 6713..” Calida said.