Opposition senators seek probe into Calida firm's gov't contracts

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition senators filed a resolution seeking a Senate investigation, to be led by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, into the multimillion-peso contracts of Solicitor General Jose Calida's security firm with government agencies.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and fellow senators Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Risa Hontiveros, Leila de Lima, and Trillanes filed Senate Resolution No. 760 on Wednesday, May 30.

The minority bloc urged the Senate committee on civil service, government reorganization, and professional regulation, chaired by Trillanes, to investigate the issue.

Rappler earlier reported that Calida's security firm Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency Incorporated won at least 14 government deals worth P261.39 million starting August 2016, or after Calida became Solicitor General. (READ: Calida firm bags P150M in deals from gov't, including DOJ and Gov't database shows additional P110M contracts for Calida firm)

"Considering that the Solicitor General acts and represents the Republic and its people before any court, tribunal, body or commission as the ends of justice may require, it is of highest importance that the person occupying the office remains beyond reproach, acts in a manner that inspires confidence in the civil service and in the rule of law, and conducts himself with utmost integrity and decency," the opposition said.

Citing the 1987 Constitution, the minority bloc said public officials must not, "directly or indirectly, practice any other profession, participate in any business, or be financially interested in any contract with, or in any franchise, or special privilege granted by the Government.”

The Constitution also mandates that public officials "strictly avoid conflict of interest in the conduct of their office.”

The bloc also cited Republic Act No. 6713 which states: "A public official or employee shall avoid conflicts of interest at all times." Such conflict, the law says, "arises when a public official or employee is a member of a board, an officer, or a substantial stockholder of a private corporation or owner or has a substantial interest in a business, and the interest of such corporation or business, or his rights or duties therein, may be opposed to or affected by the faithful performance of official duty."

It remains to be seen if the resolution would indeed be referred to Trillanes' committee, as the majority senators could block it. In January 2017, majority senators stripped Trillanes of power to investigate corruption in the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

At the time, Senator Richard Gordon insisted that the resolution be referred to his committee on justice, as the BI is under the Department of Justice (DOJ). In the end, majority voted in favor of Gordon, a known ally of President Rodrigo Duterte. Gordon ended the investigation by clearing then justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and merely recommending a reprimand.

This time, Gordon could again insist that either of his two committees – blue ribbon or justice – handle the probe. After all, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) is also an attached agency of the DOJ.

In his earlier statement, Calida said there is no conflict of interest in his firm bagging DOJ contracts because the OSG is "independent and autonomous" except only when it comes to budget, which the DOJ prepares for them.

Calida also said earlier that the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees requires that he resigns or divests, but not both.

Calida added that the anti-graft law also does not prohibit his firm's government contracts, saying that, under the Constitution, only Cabinet members are prohibited from having financial interest in government transactions.

"Although he is conferred Cabinet rank by RA 9417 and is invited to Cabinet meetings by the President, he does not head an executive department and his appointment, unlike those of Cabinet members, did not require Commission on Appointments confirmation," said the Solicitor General's camp.

A complaint against Calida over Vigilant's government contracts has been filed by a private citizen with the Office of the Ombudsman.

Opposition lawmakers have called for his resignation. (READ: Duterte not firing SolGen Calida– Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

image