HOUSE Bill 7376, ‘An Act further strengthening the Office of the Solicitor General [OSG] by increasing its powers and functions, and redefining, expanding and rationalizing its organization, repealing for the purpose Republic Act [RA] 9417, RA 2327 and Executive Order [EO] 1 and 2, s. 1986, and appropriating funds therefore” (otherwise known as the “OSG Charter”), was recently passed by the House of Representatives, voting 162-10. The fact sheet on HB 7376 distributed by the House Committee Affairs Department highlights the following:
- To strengthen the OSG in order to fulfill its role of upholding the best interest of the government as Tribune of the People.
- To eliminate overlapping of functions of government agencies and address the expanding needs of government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) for legal representation.
- To enhance government efforts to recover ill-gotten wealth and prosecute cases relative thereto.
- To abolish the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) and the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), and to transfer their powers and functions to the OSG.
- Provides for the creation of at least 50 legal divisions in the OSG, each of which shall be headed by an Assistant Solicitor General, with at least 10 lawyers and such other
personnel as may be necessary for the OSG to effectively carry out its functions.
- Provides for survivorship benefits to the Solicitor General, Assistant Solicitor Generals and State Solicitors.
- Consolidates legal representation of the government, its agencies, and instrumentalities, including GOCCs, and the official powers and functions of the PCGG and OGCC shall be transferred in the OSG.
- Abolishes the OGCC and the PCGG and transfers the powers and functions of said offices to the OSG.
- Mandates that affected personnel of the OGCC and the PCGG who will not be absorbed into the new staffing pattern of the OSG due to redundancy or failure to comply with the standard of completeness and proficiency has the option to avail themselves of retirement and separation package.
- Allow lawyers of OSG to receive
honoraria and allowances directly from each client department, agency, GOCC or instrumentality of government for legal services rendered.
From even a cursory reading of HB 7376, it is evident that the Solicitor General (and his office) has been effectively given omnipotent powers with almost unconscionable salaries, compensation benefits and other privileges (Section 12). Thus:
1. The Solicitor General is given the rank of Cabinet Secretary and “the Solicitor General shall have the same qualifications for appointment, prerogatives, salary grade, allowances, emoluments, privileges, retirement and other benefits, and shall be subject to the same inhibitions and disqualifications, as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. (Section 8)
2. The Solicitor General is appointed by the President himself but all others under him shall be appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Solicitor General (Section 7).
3. The organizational structure (Section 4) includes Assistant Solicitors General, Solicitors, at least 50 legal divisions consisting of at least 10 lawyers and “such other personnel as may be necessary” and support administrative agencies (e.g., Fiscal Management, Docket Management, Human Resources Management and Administrative Services, Budget and Planning Services, Office of Legal Services) including such personnel as may be absorbed from the proposed to be abolished PCGG and GOCC. (This bureaucracy will be humongous and probably bigger than the top 10 biggest law firms in this country combined.)
4. The powers and functions of the PCGG, created by President Corazon C. Aquino under EO 1 on February 28, 1986, to investigate ill-gotten wealth, are transferred to the OSG:
a.) File and prosecute all cases investigated by the PCGG under Executive Order 1, dated February 28, 1986, EO 2, dated March 12, 1986, and EO 432, dated May 26, 2005, as may be warranted by its findings;
b.) Continue handling cases relative to the recovery of ill-gotten wealth and behest loans;
c.) 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, to establish the unlawful manner in which any respondent, defendant or accused has acquired or accumulated the property or properties in question in any case where such information or testimony is necessary to ascertain or prove the latter’s guilt or civil liability. The immunity thereby granted shall be continued to protect the witness who repeats such testimony before the Sandiganbayan when required to do so; and
d.) Call upon any department, bureau, office, agency, instrumentality or corporation of the government, or any office or employee thereof, for such assistance as it may need in the discharge of its functions relative to recovery of ill-gotten wealth and behest loans. (Section 5, m)
5. The legal representation of the government, its agencies and instrumentalities, including GOCC and officials and agents acting in their official capacity will be transferred to the OSG.
6. The funds required for the OSG will be sourced from the 20 percent of the monetary awards, 10 percent of the value of assets upon liquidation adjudged by the courts, 50 percent of fees, collected by the Special Committee on Naturalization, and all other income, fees and revenues earned and collected by the OSG (Section 21).
7. The OSG will no longer be attached to the Department of Justice. It will be attached to the Office of the President for budgetary purposes (Section 4).
But corruption in the PCGG, lack of transparency, a lackluster performance or even incompetence are not reasons enough to abolish the PCGG and transfer its function to the OSG. I agree with Senate Justice Committee Chairman Richard J. Gordon that such transfer “is the quickest way to forget” the recovery of the alleged billions of pesos of ill-gotten wealth, not only of the Marcos family but also by corrupt government officials and cronies. Allegation that OSG Jose C. Calida is an alleged Marcos supporter only adds ignominy to injury.
Critics of HB 7376 claim that Congress’s decision to pass the bill was to absolve the Marcoses against their crimes to the Filipino people and is “a step backward toward our fight to hold the Marcoses accountable.”
The PCGG was implicated by corruption scandals after allegations came out that PCGG Commissioners were “milking” sequestered corporations, using excess foreign-travel allowances and taking cash advances without liquidation. I had filed with the NBI a request for investigation against former Chairman Andy Bautista, Divina Law Offices, Luzon Development Bank and Smartmatic for possible plunder based on official PCGG findings.
The PCGG may be seriously ailing, but it is not dead. To kill the PCGG and transfer its functions to the OSG might quicken its death instead of restore its life. The Solicitor General is not a Marvel Hero—let us leave him alone instead of giving him more work.