Ombudsman for Calida, or expanded powers as SolGen?

Lian Buan
Ombudsman for Calida, or expanded powers as SolGen?
Rumors about Calida as a top pick for Ombudsman when Conchita Carpio-Morales retires in July have not abated. His sly responses when asked about it are also telling.

Solicitor General Jose Calida is looking at two bright paths ahead: a more powerful Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) or the Office of the Ombudsman.

Rumors about Calida as a top pick for Ombudsman when Conchita Carpio-Morales retires in July have not abated. His sly responses when asked about it are also telling.

For example, on the sidelines of a press conference on March 5, Calida replied with a flat out “no” when asked if he was going to apply for a justice post at the Supreme Court (SC).

How about Ombudsman? “I don’t know,” he said.

The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) has started accepting applications for Morales’ replacement. (READ: Jose Calida’s many hats for friend Rody)

More powerful OSG

If Calida doesn’t become Ombudsman, he can be the most powerful Solicitor General yet, if a proposed measure in Congress to expand the powers of the OSG is passed into law.

The House of Representatives has just passed on second reading House Bill No. 7376 or the OSG Charter.

Under the proposed bill, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) and the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) will be abolished, and will be placed under the OSG.

This would put the OSG in charge of recovering the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses. 

The proposed House bill seeks to empower the OSG to “grant immunity from criminal prosecution to any person who provides information or testifies in any investigation previously conducted by the PCGG or in future cases investigated by the OSG involving ill-gotten wealth.”

The bill is backed by both Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. (READ: Will PCGG withdraw Marcos loot cases? ‘It depends’)

Opposition

Progress is slower at the Senate, where Senate Bill No. 1613 is still pending before the justice committee.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the committee, has apprehensions about integrating the PCGG with the OSG.

“No, I don’t think PCGG will be abolished. Noong una, we were going to see kung puwedeng pagsama-samahin [‘yung 3 offices) pero mukhang hindi pupuwede eh. Pero we will still await the recommendations of SolGen Calida on conflict of interest. Kasi lahat sila, except him, nagsasabi may conflict of interest,” Gordon said.

(At first, we were going to see if we can integrate all 3 offices but it looks like it’s not possible. But we still await the recommendations of SolGen Calida on conflict of interest. Because everyone, except him, is saying there’s a conflict of interest.)

The conflict of interest is that Calida is a Marcos loyalist. He campaigned for vice presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr in the 2016 elections.

“It’s like letting a fox into the chicken house….How can a Marcos defender recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses? This is a sick and cruel joke at the expense of Martial Law victims and the nation’s coffers,” said opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros. (READ: Drilon wants removal of SolGen power to intervene in annulment cases)

Under the proposed bill, the OSG’s budget will be sourced from the Office of the President (OP). It is currently attached to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for budgetary purposes.

What Gordon wants is to fill up all lawyer vacancies at the OSG, for more efficient services. But he could not help but tease Calida.

“Anyway, you’re going to the Ombudsman. Ibibigay mo sa iba ginawa mo. Iba makikinabang (You’ll pass on your accomplishments at the OSG to someone else. Someone else will benefit),” Gordon told Calida during a hearing on January 31.

Meanwhile, Calida busies himself with the quo warranto proceeding in a bid to remove Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from office.

If he succeeds, he continues his winning streak that includes getting a hero’s burial for the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr, upholding martial law in Mindanao, and keeping staunch administration critic Leila de Lima in jail. – Rappler.com

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 lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.