[OPINION] Mr Calida, read the rules!
The conflict of interest is as clear as day. But Solicitor General Jose Calida and his defenders in Malacañang want us to believe that there is none. Zero.
Please don't take us for fools.
Here are the facts:
- Calida owns 60% of the shares in a family-owned company, Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency Incorporated.
- This security agency bagged contracts worth P261.39 million since Calida was appointed the government’s lawyer in July 2016. (Details here and here)
- He did not divest his majority shares in his family-owned company.
- He resigned his posts as chairman and president of Vigilant before he became solicitor general.
- His wife, Milagros Calida, and children Josef, Michelle, and Mark Jorel own the rest of the shares (10% for each).
Now, Calida finds shelter in the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials, saying he had resigned his posts, thus he did not need to divest his substantial shares. It was one of two options offered by the law, he argues, and he had complied with Republic Act 6713. In effect, he’s saying, “Look, my hands are clean.”
Far from it, Mr Calida. There are leopard spots all over your hands.
Let’s go over the rules that give life to RA 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials. These are known as the IRR or implementing rules and regulations.
Rule IX – Conflict of Interest and Divestment – of the IRR explicitly states that when a conflict of interest arises, an official has 60 days to divest his shares from the time he assumed office. Divestment is mandatory if the official is a substantial stockholder “even if [he has] resigned from his position.”
Thus, resigning is not enough.
There’s more: divestment, the rules say, should be to a person or persons “other than his spouse or relatives.” Remember, the rest of the shareholders in Vigilant are the Calida wife and children.
A lawyer who has combed through the IRR of this basic law that serves as the bible of ethical conduct in government tells me: “By admitting that he (Calida) is owner of 60% of the shares, he already violated the IRR, which has the force and effect of law.”
He thinks that Calida and his defenders are doing sloppy work. They only read the law but not the IRR.
I tend to take a different view. Calida should know the IRR, being the government’s top lawyer. It looks like he may be deliberately setting us off-track to save himself.
Moreover, he poisons the air by saying that all these issues are being brought up by his enemies, especially those allied with the ousted chief justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno. This is an excuse older than Calida. Such has always been the refuge of public officials rigorously scrutinized by the media. I have heard this countless times in my decades in journalism. These government officials do not want to admit any wrongdoing and blame everybody else but themselves for their sins.
Lost in legalese
The sad fact is: lost in all these legalese is the paramount tenet that public office is a public trust. Government officials should uphold the common good rather than their private interests. They should be perceived as honest, fair, and suffused with integrity, without a whiff of corruption or conflict of interest.
The appearances of being clean and upright matter. I remember that, in 1992, the first administrative order of President Fidel Ramos was a requirement for all members of Cabinet, undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries to “resign from all private offices and employment and to divest their shareholdings or interest in private corporations or businesses in case of conflict of interest in the conduct of their office.”
RA 6713 was already in place then. But Ramos’ Administrative Order Number 1 spelled out the terms of divestment: “Divestment…must result in the complete and actual transfer of title and beneficial ownership over the shares of stock or business interest, without any obligation or option on the part of the Cabinet Official to re-acquire such shares or business interest in the future.” It also required full disclosure of resignations from private companies and “instruments of divestment.”
Ramos’s first AO sent the message that public office is a calling, a position of trust, and not a source of trust accounts.
It would do Calida well to spend time to reflect on what it means to be in the service of the people. – Rappler.com