File photo by Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang sees no conflict of interest in the P150 million worth of government contracts awarded to the security firm owned by Solicitor General Jose Calida's family.
"My reading of the Constitution and the Anti-Graft Law supports the conclusion made by the Solicitor General, that there is no conflict of interest," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday, May 28, during a press briefing.
He claimed that it is not unlawful for Calida to own stocks in the company, even if this means he would benefit from the government contracts scored by the firm.
"Mere stock ownership is not prohibited for as long as you declare it in your SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth).... He is not exercising management powers," said Roque.
Section 13 of Article VII of the 1987 Constitution prohibits Cabinet members from being "financially interested in any contract with, or in any franchise, or special privilege granted by the Government or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries."
Calida's SALN is still being requested by Rappler. He resigned as chairman and president of the firm, Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency Incorporated, before he became Solicitor General. But he owned 60% of shares in the company as of September 2016.
His wife, Milagros Calida, became president and chairperson. Their son, lawyer Josef Calida, was its vice president and corporate secretary. Their daughter Michelle was its treasurer.
Roque said that, to be guilty of violating Section 13 of Article VII of the 1987 Constitution and the Anti-Graft Law, Calida should have a management position in the company. The transaction should also have required the approval of his office, which he said was not the case.
Thus, Roque said Calida's case cannot be compared to that of former tourism secretary Wanda Teo who resigned from her post after the Commission on Audit (COA) questioned the P60 million ($1.15 million) paid by her department for ad placements on the show of her brothers Ben and Erwin Tulfo.
"He (Calida) has not entered into any contract with his own office, [the] Office of the Solicitor General. I think there is a world of difference between the Wanda Teo transaction and Solicitor General Calida," said Roque.
'I could be wrong'
However, Roque said his interpretation of the law and the Constitution when it comes to the Calida firm's government contracts could be wrong.
"I don't see conflict of interest, but I could be wrong. I'm sure this matter will be pronounced upon by our courts," he said.
Recently, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales made a decision on a similar case. She charged Davao del Norte 2nd District Representative Antonio Floirendo Jr for having financial interests in transactions with government.
Morales said Floirendo violated the Anti-Graft Law which prohibits officials from "directly or indirectly having financing or pecuniary interest in any business, contract or transaction in connection with which he intervenes or takes part in his official capacity, or in which he is prohibited by the Constitution or by any law from having any interest."
The Floirendo family-owned Tagum Agricultural Development Company (Tadeco) has a lease with the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) under the Bureau of Corrections.
Cabinet officials like Calida are subject to provisions in the Constitution similar to those which Morales cited Floirendo as having violated.
The provision that applies to Cabinet members states that they "shall strictly avoid conflict of interest in the conduct of their office."
After giving his legal opinion, Roque dismissed the accusations against Calida as being politically-motivated.
"Alam 'nyo naman kung bakit lumalabas 'yang mga pula na 'yan kay SolGen Calida. Nanalo kasi siya do'n sa quo warranto petition niya. Binabawian siya ng mga kalaban niya, 'yung mga nasaktan doon sa ruling ng quo warranto. Obvious naman 'yan, please!" said Duterte's spokesman.
(You know why those claims are being made against Solicitor General Calida. It's because he won in his quo warranto petition. His enemies are getting back at him, those hurt by the ruling on the quo warranto. It's obvious, please!) – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.