Dereliction of duty
Is the Solicitor General going for some sort of dubious record?
In August, September, and October last year, the government’s lawyer lost three consecutive Marcos ill-gotten wealth cases for the same reason: violating the “best evidence rule” of court by presenting only photocopies and not the original documents in the court inquiry.
The latest setback is the Jan. 23 Sandiganbayan resolution, released in early March, which denied the Office of the Solicitor General’s (OSG) bid to reverse the 2019 antigraft court decision to dismiss a P267-million forfeiture case against dictator Ferdinand Marcos, former first lady Imelda Marcos, and their cronies for insufficiency of evidence.
So dismal and sloppy is the OSG’s record in pursuing the Marcos cases that the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division called it out last week, ordering Solicitor General Jose Calida to inform the court of the agency’s “proper legal action” in one of the civil cases against the Marcos couple.
The case, filed before the antigraft court more than 20 years ago in 1997, involves 20 private individuals who allegedly held 3,305 shares of stock for the Marcoses in Eastern Telecommunications. The court noted that the case had remained stagnant for more than a year, with the OSG filing a motion to suspend the preliminary conference on Sept. 24, 2018, its last action on the case.
As if that were not enough proof of its incompetence, the OSG also missed a recent court-appointed deadline to comment on the appeal lodged by a defendant in another Marcos case involving a beach property in Cavite allegedly held by cronies and dummies.
The OSG’s comment was submitted only on Feb. 20, about a week after the deadline. The agency claimed it received the Jan. 10 court order belatedly since a secretary had allegedly included it in another case file.
But records showed that at the time the OSG should have been working on the Marcos case, it was busy filing petitions to the high court on the ABS-CBN case.
On Feb. 10, the OSG filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court, seeking to void the network’s franchise due to expire on March 30, saying it had violated the terms of its license to operate. Then, on Feb. 18, the OSG filed a gag order against the media giant based on the sub judice rule.
The agency apparently had its priorities skewed — busying itself with the attempt to shut down a media outlet prematurely when its unfinished, and very urgent, business all this time was to run after the Marcoses’ plundered billions. Needless to say, the late filing of the OSG comment could adversely affect the government’s case against another Marcos crony. Yet again.
Such a record of bumbling through court rules, which should be all-too-familiar ground by now for government lawyers after 30 years of legal jousting on these cases, raises a disturbing question: Is the anemic and ineffectual effort to pursue the Marcos ill-gotten cases deliberate? Whose interest has the Calida-era OSG been serving all this time?
One might recall how the House of Representatives in May 2018 had tried to abolish the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the main agency tasked to go after the Marcos loot, with the OSG being the main beneficiary of such efforts, as it would supervise the “consolidation” of the powers and functions of the PCGG and the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel into his office.
Those who know the political ties that bind Calida to the Marcoses and the Marcoses to President Duterte would find this arrangement suspiciously convenient for the Marcoses.
In the 2016 presidential election, Calida was a member of Alyansang Duterte-Bongbong — the group that campaigned for then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte for president and then Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. for vice president.
While Marcos, Jr., the son of the late dictator, lost his bid, the Marcoses have since forged an informal alliance with Mr. Duterte who, in November 2016, allowed the stealthy burial of the Marcos patriarch in the Libingan ng mga Bayani despite widespread protests.
Given this history of interlocking personal and political interests, can the public expect unalloyed loyalty to duty from the OSG? And does Calida think the public will overlook his shoddy work, with the COVID-19 crisis overtaking all other concerns at the moment?
He should think again. His office’s string of dismal losses and suspicious missteps in the Marcos cases, expressly called out by the Sandiganbayan, may very well constitute dereliction of duty.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.