After scrutiny for potential conflict of interest over past contracts, Solicitor General Jose Calida and his family divested from the family-owned Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency – but not before winning at least 3 more government contracts worth P78 million, documents obtained by Rappler showed.
Vigilant’s General Information Sheet (GIS) submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission on August 16, 2019, shows that the new owners are Dominic Edgard Angeles Cabangon (60% shares) and Benjamin del Villar Ramos (39.998% shares).
Cabangon is the son of the late former ambassador Antonio Cabangon-Chua, who chaired Nine Media Corporation, among other businesses. According to a disclosure in the Philippine Stock Exchange, the younger Cabangon was recently elected director of Citystate Savings Bank. Ramos was on the board of directors of Citystate Savings Bank, according to a July 2020 PSE disclosure. Ramos has held important positions in a number of Cabangon companies.
Calida used to own 60% shares of Vigilant, with wife Milagros and children Josef, Michelle, and Mark Jorel each having 10%.
Josef remains an officer of Vigilant under the new owners, as vice president for legal, holding a 0.001% share.
“After divestment Josef Calida was issued 1 share by the new owner in order to qualify as director, in order to provide a transition personality. Josef is a lawyer and was also appointed as an officer, VP Legal,” Jose “Bong” Bernas, the Calida family lawyer, told Rappler when sought for comment.
Contracts before divesting
Rappler found 3 contracts awarded to Vigilant from May 2018 up to August 2019, after which the family divested.
We set May 2018 as a benchmark because it was the time Rappler first reported on Vigilant’s contracts with government, putting the firm under scrutiny. The Senate was about to investigate at the time whether there was conflict of interest when a company of a sitting public official signed contracts with government.
The Senate investigation was derailed because Calida himself blocked it via a petition with the Supreme Court.
The High Court mooted the issue in 2019 because the 17th Congress had ended sessions. But if a senator in the current Congress decides to launch a new probe, the Supreme Court decision cannot stop it, or at least not yet.
According to award notices, Vigilant won an P8.3-million contract with the Department of Justice (DOJ) on December 20, 2018, with Milagros Calida as contact person.
Vigilant won a big contract on January 1, 2019, to provide security for one year to the House of Representatives at a cost of P53.52 million. The House went with a new contractor for 2020.
On May 27, 2019, Vigilant won a P16.81-million contract with the National Parks Development Committee, again with Milagros Calida as contact person.
These 3 contracts were worth P78.63 million.
“In light of new information that the Calida family’s security agency still managed to corner [more than] P70 million in government contracts, I am calling on the Senate to pursue the investigation I started, so that these brazen conflicts of interest by Calida would be checked and eventually be prosecuted,” former senator Antonio Trillanes IV told Rappler when sought for comment. It was Trillanes who sought the Senate investigation in 2018.
Bernas said the contracts were won fair and square through public bidding.
“It is unfair to lay down false premises and then solicit comment from Trillanes or anyone else,” Bernas added.
When Rappler investigated the contracts in May 2018, we found 14 projects won by Vigilant worth a total of P261.39 million in the two years since Calida became solicitor general in July 2016.
These contracts were found through the public database Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (Philgeps), whose search system currently doesn’t have a feature that can show all contracts awarded to one company.
Rappler had to comb through individual government agencies and search contracts per goods or services to find Vigilant’s award notices.
Rappler’s latest investigation yielded an early 2018 contract that we didn’t find when we first reported on the Vigilant contracts in May 2018. It was a P68.7-million deal with the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 4, awarded on February 1, 2018, with Solicitor General Calida himself as “contact person.” This was before his divestment.
The award notices are here:
Conflict of interest?
Calida has maintained that his resignation as president of Vigilant in June 2016 was enough to exempt the company’s contracts from scrutiny over conflict of interest while his family still owned the company. Calida also said in the past that he had always been transparent about his family’s business.
“Calida as SolGen has the rank and pay equivalent probably of a CA (Court of Appeals) justice and a department head. The prohibition versus executive officials being in business should apply to him,” said law professor Tony La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.
La Viña was referring to Section 13, Article VII, of the Constitution prohibiting Cabinet members from having direct or indirect interest in a government contract.
Calida as solicitor general is Salary Grade 31. In 2019, that paid him a basic government salary of P2.9 million. An appellate court presiding justice and a department secretary have the same salary grade. The numerous perks that Calida received, however, made him the second highest-paid government official that year. (More on Calida’s wealth later in the story.)
But in earlier statements, Calida said the constitutional prohibition does not cover him because he is technically not a member of the Cabinet. He was just conferred a Cabinet rank.
Conflict of interest cases at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan also deal with two other laws:
- Section 3(h) of the Anti-graft Law prohibits conflict of interest in a government contract.
- Section 9 of the Code of Conduct of Public Officials requires a public official to resign and/or divest himself of any private enterprise.
Calida had said before that the wording of the Code of Conduct – the use of “and/or” – gave him the choice to either resign or divest from Vigilant.
Bernas echoed this justification, insisting that the Solicitor General was not legally required to divest, “but he did anyway.”
La Viña said “this is more a question of propriety rather than legality” because the company has a choice not to take contracts from government, especially if the owner is a high-ranking public official.
“Public office is a public trust, and one must never be perceived as violating that trust,” said La Viña.
Bernas said Vigilant under the Calidas thought mostly of their security guards in getting those contracts.
“The overwhelming bulk of contract payments for security services are payments for salaries of security guards. The agency fees portion is minimal so the contract amounts vastly overstate the income of the agency arising from fees,” said Bernas.
Before she retired, former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said that in deciding whether there was conflict of interest in the Vigilant case, it’s worth checking whether Vigilant got a contract with a government agency which the Office of the Solicitor General represented as state lawyer.
Rappler had consistently requested for Calida’s Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) from 2017 to 2019. (The 2020 SALNs are in limbo because of a recent Ombudsman prohibition on public release.)
So far, we have been able to obtain only his 2017 SALN, which was released by Malacañang’s Record Office in September 2020 upon our filing of a Freedom of Information request. It shows that Calida listed Vigilant and a realty company called Credenza Corp. as his business interests.
For 2017, Calida had a net worth of P36.9 million and zero liabilities.
As a government official, Calida has received P27.9 million in allowances and honoraria alone, making him the highest-paid solicitor general in about a decade.
Calida’s millions in allowances and honoraria propelled him to become the second highest-paid government official in 2019.
No solicitor general has entered the Top 10 list of highest-paid government officials since 2009, the earliest year of a Report on Salaries and Allowances that’s uploaded on the Commission on Audit’s public database.
Contracts for new owners
After the Calida family divested in 2019, Vigilant under its new owners won 4 contracts with a combined worth of at least P37.4 million.
On January 29, 2020, Vigilant won a 3-year contract worth P21.9 million with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor)-Manila, valid from June 2020 to June 2023.
On February 6, 2020, the company won a P2.7-million contract with the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC).
On July 15, 2020, it also won a 6-month extension contract worth P4.4 million with the DOJ.
On December 29, 2020, Vigilant bagged a P25.1-million contract to provide security for 3 years for Pagcor-Davao starting January 2021, according to both the bids and awards committee resolution and the notice of award. However, the Philgeps entry reflected only the P8.4 million for the first year.
For both the Pagcor and PITC contracts, the contact person was Josef Calida.