Unlike in House, joint Senate panel rejects PCGG abolition

MANILA, Philippines – Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate is not keen on abolishing the agency tasked to recover the billions of pesos plundered during the Marcos dictatorship, and transferring its powers to the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).

In their joint report on the strengthening of the OSG, the Senate committees on justice (the primary committee), civil service and government reorganization, ways and means, and finance thumbed down the abolition of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), and excluded the proposed provision in the substitute bill, Senate Bill 1823. 

The joint report also disregarded the proposal to abolish the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC), which serves as the statutory law office of government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs).

Nineteen senators signed the committee report, and some of them indicated their desire to interpellate and introduce amendments. 

Senator Richard Gordon, justice committee chair, sponsored the report on May 28. Gordon admitted changing his mind after he himself filed a bill seeking the abolition of PCGG and OGCC and transferring its powers to the OSG in December 2017. (READ: Gordon's about-face on PCGG abolition)

“Initially, I was in favor. But having taken a look at the pros and cons, we decided to take a good second look at the matter,” Gordon said in his speech.

Gordon now said he disagreed with the PCGG abolition because it's a performing agency.

He said the PCGG has so far recovered cash amounting to P171 billion or $3.5 billion since it was established in 1986.

“The recovery ratio is P1 per P140. In other words, PCGG recovers P140 for every P1 the government spends. The beneficiaries of the remittances is the CARP which is P79 billion and the human rights victim, P11 billion. PCGG still expects recovery of P102 billion by 2020,” Gordon said.

As for the OCGG, Gordon said its consolidation with OSG would only result to “conflicts of interest.” He also said that the OCGG specializes in corporate law and has long experience in GOCCs while the OSG is a “general practice firm.”

“If the representation is consolidated in OSG, if the OSG position favors one over the another, the [OCGG] will be deprived of legal representation,” he said.

If the OSG absorbes the two agencies, Gordon said it would only “worsen” the case backlog, as he pointed out that there are 1,400 total active cases assigned to each OSG lawyer, which they can “hardly handle.”

Still up for debates

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who filed a bill seeking the abolition of the PCGG and OCGG, said the proposal is still in the committee report and would have to undergo debates and amendments before it is finalized.

“It’s still a committee report that is subject to floor deliberations and amendments. We will argue our position of course and try to convince majority of our colleagues to support our position,” Lacson said in a text message to Rappler.

The Senate’s version is far different from the House bill. The House approved HB 7376 on third and final reading, which seeks to abolish the two agencies.

Critics of the proposed PCGG abolition, among them Vice President Leni Robredo, have slammed the bill as an attempt to revise history. Solicitor General Jose Calida himself, a known Marcos supporter, supports the bill, arguing that it would "result in a leaner, cleaner government bureaucracy which is better able to address the people's urgent needs."

It was Calida who had defended before the Supreme Court (SC) the Duterte administration's move to give a hero's burial to dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 2016. (READ: Martial Law, the dark chapter in Philippine history)

The bid to abolish the PCGG is not unique to the Duterte administration. Over the years, various politicians wanted to dissolve the agency, including former senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr and Sergio Osmeña III; and resigned Commission on Elections chief Andres Bautista, who recommended it when he still served as PCGG chief under the administration President Benigno Aquino III. – 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

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