The camp of Solicitor General Jose Calida on Wednesday insisted on the regularity of the contracts that his family’s security agency has with several government offices.
In a four-page letter to the Senate committee on civil service led by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Calida’s lawyer Jose Bernas conveyed that there is no need for the Solicitor General to appear during the hearing on Senate Bill No. 1924 that seeks to amend the provision on “conflict of interest” under Republic Act. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Bernas also told the Senate committee which started hearing the proposed law last Tuesday that the Solicitor General did not violate any law as the contracts of his family’s Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency Inc. were aboveboard and did not violate the rule against conflict of interest.
“We reiterate that based on textual reading of R.A. 6713, and as confirmed by jurisprudence, the Solicitor General is not in conflict of interest,” stated Calida’s letter sent to the committee also last Tuesday.
Bernas said that the appearance of Calida in the hearings is not necessary - contrary to the pronouncement of the committee in its summons last August 30.
“Our client is not an expert on matters involving conflicts of interest. He does not administer R.A. 6713 and did not practice in that area of law prior to his appointment as solicitor general,” Bernas said.
“It seems to use that the issue sought to be explored by the hearing is whether the solicitor general or his family or other public officials should be absolutely prohibited from having an interest in government transaction, directly or indirectly. Under current jurisprudence and law, there is no such prohibition and it would be unfair to carry out the hearings premised upon the existence of such a prohibition,” he added.
Calida’s camp also informed the Senate committee of his petition before the Supreme Court seeking to stop the hearings on the issue involving his family’s security firm that he said: “lacks legislative intent and is, therefore, unconstitutional.”
Bernas explained why his client did not attend the hearing because “he must take a position consistent with his petition” before the SC.
Besides, the lawyer said the scheduled hearing coincided with the High Court’s oral arguments on the petition challenging the government’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court.
For these reasons, Calida asked to be excused from the committee’s hearings.
Bernas suggested to the committee to consider looking into other government transactions involving government officials, including the controversial Hacienda Luisita stock distribution plan and the acquisition of assets sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government, in the next hearings.
Nonetheless, the Solicitor General still submitted to the Senate committee his position on the proposed amendment in R.A. 6713 by adding “undue influence” to the definition “conflict of interest.”
“In his view, the proposed amendment to the definition of ‘conflict of interest’ under R.A. 6713 is unnecessary. From an academic viewpoint, ‘conflict of interest’ and ‘undue influence’ are two distinct matters and must not be classified as one and the same,” read the letter.
“Exertion of undue influence by a public officer to another officer in government dealings for personal gain is covered by Section 3 (a) of Republic Act no. 3019 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act... Thus, amending the conflict of interest provision under R.A. 6713 may be, in our client’s opinion, superfluous,” it added.
Earlier, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that he reviewed the contract of VISA and his department and found that it was aboveboard.
Calida emerged at the center of controversy after it was discovered that his family’s security firm bagged P150-million contracts in at least 10 government agencies.
Apart from DOJ, Calida’s security agency also bagged contracts with the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC), the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.
A complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman accused Calida of conflict of interest in violation of Republic Act No. 6713.
But Calida denied any violation of the law, saying there was no conflict of interest because he already resigned as president of the security firm prior to joining the government in 2016.