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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

The unusual power of Jose Calida

Back then in Davao City’s legal orbits that included among others “Fiscal Rody,” he was known as “Attorney Joe.” When Rodrigo Duterte ran for president in 2016, Jose Calida was tapped as one of Mr. Duterte’s campaign managers (but for Alyansang Duterte-Bongbong). “If Duterte’s slogan is ‘build, build, build,’ mine is ‘win, win, win,’” he once said.So how is he winning as solicitor general, the “law firm” of the Republic? If the Commission on Audit’s (COA) constant flagging of his excess allowances since 2016 is any indication, Jose Calida must be one who wears many hats for his boss.

For the record, COA had also flagged previous solicitor generals Francis Jardeleza (2012) and Florin Hilbay (2016), but none were as serial as Calida’s. A note to readers: a “red flag” in audit parlance is a warning suggesting a potential problem or threat in the use of public funds.

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For instance in 2016, COA said Calida received an excess of P1.123 million in allowances. Then, in its May 31, 2017 report, COA said Calida received P1.8 million in salaries and P8.37 million in allowances. COA Circular No. 85-25-E prohibits allowances exceeding 50 percent of salary. COA maintained that Calida earned P7.46 million in excess and was ordered to return the amount. There is no public record that he heeded COA’s warning.

But another COA public database is more telling. The Report on Salaries and Allowances (Rosa) for 2017 listed Calida as the fourth highest paid official in government. Topping that list was Nestor Espenilla (then Bangko Sentral governor) at P14.9 million, followed by Diwa Guinigundo (Bangko Sentral deputy governor) at P13.5 million, then by Cecilia

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Borromeo (Development Bank of the Philippines president) at P12.46 million. Calida was fourth at P10.917 million. But heads of government finance institutions normally sit on the board of many of the state’s regulatory funding agencies, thus the higher emoluments.

Calida’s salary soared even higher in the 2018 Rosa. Compare his salary with those next in line at the Office of the Solicitor General: Calida, Jose Callangan, solicitor general, P12,469,650.68; Angeles, Henry Sumaway, assistant solicitor general, P4,697,524.42; Ramos, Renan Espinoza, assistant solicitor general, P4,355,676.61.

Since COA had made public its Rosa database in 2009, the solicitor general had never made it to the Top 20 highest paid government officials. Calida is the first; he is a winner, after all.

The splendor of government databases is their accessibility to the public’s fingertips at any one time. One such is the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGeps), a website that posts all procurement movements of all agencies of government. The portal lists all procuring entities; what goods, services and supplies are procured; which suppliers (i.e., manufacturers, distributors, contractors, and consultants) are registered and qualified for bidding. The goal is greater transparency.

Calida owns Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency. In 2017, the House of Representatives awarded two contracts worth

P96 million to Vigilant. PhilGeps showed two additional contracts given to Vigilant by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. worth P14.3 million. Since Calida took office, Vigilant’s government contracts have increased to 14, worth a total of P261.39 million. Government contracts were “won” starting August 2016, a month after he took office. Calida said he has resigned as president, yet records show he still owns 60 percent of the shares, with the remainder evenly spread among his family.

For a man tasked to run after Mr. Duterte’s pet peeves, Calida is a dogged lieutenant. Consider the names in this record: Leni Robredo, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Antonio Trillanes IV, Leila de Lima, Rappler, and now ABS-CBN. It was also Calida who recommended the acquittal of pork barrel scam queen Janet Napoles in a serious illegal detention case. Yet we wonder how he cannot outpace the 1,069,856 cases of backlog his office has amassed.

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He says he is the “tribune of the people.” But the last word that styles him comes from the journalist, British Chevening scholar, and Nieman journalism fellow of Harvard, Glenda Gloria: “The man is certainly earning his keep.”

[On Twitter: @AntonioJMontal2. E-mail: [email protected]]

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TAGS: Antonio J. Montalvan II, COA, Commission on Audit, Jose Calida, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Rodrigo Duterte
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