Aguirre to BuCor legal chief: Explain unauthorized private practice

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II ordered the legal chief of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to explain why he should not be administratively charged for unauthorized private practice.

The notice to explain was issued to lawyer Alvin Lim on February 9, shortly after a memorandum signed by Lim was leaked to the media. That memo said Aguirre approved privileges for inmates in return for their testimonies against Senator Leila de Lima.

Lim, according to the notice from Aguirre, allegedly handled a case pending before Lucena Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 58, even if he did not have authority to do so.

Lawyers employed by the government cannot engage in private practice unless they are authorized by their department heads. In Lim's case, he has to get Aguirre's approval, since the BuCor is under the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Aguirre said court documents from the Lucena RTC "divulge what appears to be (Lim's) private practice of profession, despite the absence of an authority to undertake the same."

The justice chief then said in the memo, "You are hereby directed to explain in writing and under oath, within 72 hours from receipt hereof, why you should not be administratively charged in connection with the...court documents in criminal case nos. 2008750 and 2008751."

He added, "Failure to submit your explanation shall be considered as a waiver of your right to submit the same and the matter shall be resolved/evaluated on the basis of the evidence at hand."

It was Lim who wrote the controversial December 9, 2016 memo that said high-profile inmates inside the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Custodial and Detention Center "continue to enjoy lavish lifestyles e.g. use of electronic gadgets, smart television sets, air conditioning units, internet, cellular phones."

In the memo, which was addressed to BuCor chief Benjamin delos Santos, Lim wrote, "When pressed for comment, elements of both PNP and BuCor invoked that they are just following the express instruction of the Honorable Vitaliano N. Aguirre II to allow the entry of the above-enumerated gadgets in return for the testimony they gave during the congressional inquiry on the proliferation of drugs" inside Bilibid. (READ: FACT CHECK: Did Aguirre reward inmates who testified vs De Lima?)

Aguirre denied the contents of the memo, and directed Delos Santos to investigate the leakage.

"You are hereby directed to immediately verify and investigate the said incident, and if warranted, to file the appropriate administrative charges to those officials or employees involved," said a memo from Aguirre dated February 10. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.