MANILA, Philippines – Government Corporate Counsel Rudolf Philip Jurado alleged on Thursday, May 24, that certain lawyers of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) have been receiving “secret allowances” from government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCC).
The OGCC is the statutory law office of GOCCs.
Jurado made the claim in a statement sent to radio dzMM on Thursday, May 24. This was in response to corruption allegations made by OGCC lawyers against their chief in a letter read over dzMM the day before.
On Wednesday, May 23, a radio dzMM report cited a letter from OGCC lawyers alleging that Jurado favored the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO) in a legal opinion, and approved a 75-year casino permit.
Citing the Audit Observation Memorandum (AOMs) of their resident auditors in March, Jurado said in his letter, “Some of our client GOCCs released funds in favor of certain OGCC lawyers, which, for reasons known only to these lawyers, have been kept secret and were not disclosed to our office.”
“Now, these OGCC lawyers are trying to malign my reputation by alleging that I am supposedly incompetent and corrupt,” he added.
Jurado said that following the AOMs, he directed the GOCC clients to stop giving the extra allowances to the lawyers.
All of this comes against the backdrop of President Rodrigo Duterte's threat to fire "the corporate counsel."
In a May 11 memorandum addressed to both Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Jurado said that 16 OGCC lawyers received extra compensation directly from GOCC clients.
The OGCC is an attached agency of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Some of the extra compensation was more than the lawyers' annual salaries, which is prohibited by the Commission on Audit (COA). Using that formula, a total of P4.5 million was computed by auditors to be in excess.
According to the memorandum, Jurado said he instructed the OGCC lawyers to refund the excess amount, but as of March 26, they had yet to comply.
The refund order was upon the recommendation of the auditors, the memorandum said, noting that this had been an issue since 2012 and that its irregularity had been repeatedly affirmed by the Commission on Audit.
The memorandum also noted that the extra compensation paid to the lawyers were without tax.
“In view of these events and circumstances, please be assured that I will keep the faith of the people in my Office as the defender of the GOCCs and ensure that my ranks are in accord with the vision of the President for a clean government for this country,” Jurado said in his 13-page memorandum, a copy of which was obtained by Rappler.
On Wednesday night, May 23, dzMM read a letter supposedly from OGCC lawyers which questioned Jurado’s alleged corrupt acts involving APECO and a casino.
Jurado was compelled to make a clarification on Thursday, through a letter to the radio station, a copy of which he provided to Rappler.
The APECO issue involves a legal opinion from the OGCC that said it was allowed to operate outside the Aurora Economic Zone as long as it was within Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA)- controlled areas.
Jurado said a government corporate attorney and Assistant Government Corporate Counsel Ma Dolores Rigonan had drafted the opinion that APECO can operate outside the Aurora Economic Zone because its amended charter – Republic Act No. 9490 – allowed this.
The draft opinion was reversed by Deputy Government Corporate Counsel Elpidio Vega.
“When the revised draft opinion passed through my office, I also reviewed APECO’s amended charter. Seeing that APECO’s amended charter allows it to operate outside the Aurora Economic Zone, but within a PEZA, controlled area, I agreed with the opinion of AGCC Rigonan,” Jurado said.
Vega is among the lawyers who received extra compensation computed at P1 million, the biggest chunk.
There was also an allegation of corruption that went into approving a 75-year casino permit.
“I really do not know what the OGCC lawyers were referring to...because the OGCC has no power to approve casino permits or grant gambling franchises. I hope that the OGCC lawyers could show this 75-year casino permit I supposedly issued,” Jurado said.
Jurado said that a GOCC client requested for a lease contract review. The OGCC issued a legal opinion which said the client is allowed to lease its property for a period of 50 years, renewable for another 25 years.
Jurado said the OGCC imposed 12 conditions on the lease, among them, that the property should be used as an amusement/cultural park, “as opposed to the OGCC lawyers’ allegation of a casino.”
Jurado said he has yet to impose disciplinary sanctions on the lawyers over the allowances, but he directed them to refrain from accepting allowances, to comply with the auditors’ recommendations.
“However, the OGCC lawyers, for reasons known only to them, refused to inform their client GOCCs to cease from paying these allowances in secret,” Jurado said.
On May 11, the same date as his memorandum to DOJ, Jurado said he was ”constrained to serve, inform and direct clients GOCCs to cease/refrain from further giving these allowances secretly to GOCC lawyers.”
Jurado said his actions prompted the allegations against him, including his supposed incompetence.
“The OGCC lawyers alleged that I am trained in criminal law and not in corporate law. Yet, they failed to realize that I did all these things to protect them from committing criminal acts,” Jurado said.
Jurado is also resisting the current move of Solicitor General Jose Calida to abolish their office, and put their functions under the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).
Jurado is a lawyer of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC). – Rappler.com