Ombudsman probes Calida’s security firm deals
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has hinted that there could be a case of conflict of interest against Solicitor General Jose Calida.
The Office of the Ombudsman has begun a fact-finding investigation of a complaint filed in May over Calida’s failure to divest himself of his majority stake in a security agency that has won multimillion-peso contracts from several government agencies since he took office in 2016.
In the fact-finding stage, field investigators gather documents and other evidence to build up a case, which will be set for preliminary investigation.
Morales said investigators were “looking into” the angle that Calida, as the chief state lawyer, could be considered having duties toward some government agencies that may be affected by the transactions of his family-owned Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency Inc. (Visai).
Faithful performance of duty
“It means your client is Neda (National Economic and Development Authority) because you have a security agency, and at the same time, Neda is also your client because you are representing it in the judiciary or in any case lodged against it,” Morales said on ABS-CBN’s “TV Patrol” on Tuesday evening.
Before her appearance on the program, Morales had mostly kept quiet about the allegations of wrongdoing leveled against Calida.
In an interview on CNN Philippines’ “The Source” on Monday, Morales said: “I don’t like to preempt the result of the fact-finding investigation … Whatever I might say now, he might say I’m taking revenge.”
Even then, she said, the main issue to resolve in a conflict-of-interest case is whether “that has to do with the faithful performance of the duties of the public official.”
Morales and Calida have been at loggerheads since her office initiated a fact-finding investigation involving Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s P2.4-billion plunder complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte.
Calida lashed out at Morales, accusing the Ombudsman of breaching the confidentiality of the President’s bank records and of refusing to be transparent about the Nov. 29 termination of the investigation, about which he was informed only on Feb. 12.
The investigation against Calida was triggered by the May 10 complaint of Silent Majority founder Jocelyn Marie Acosta-Nisperos, a known supporter of ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Her complaint was mostly based on Securities and Exchange Commission records establishing Calida’s continued relationship with Visai.
Failure to divest
Calida allegedly violated Section 9 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards, which requires officials to divest themselves of their private business interests within 30 days of assuming office, or their shareholdings within 60 days.
“Respondent cannot be the lawyer of the government, at the same time its client. By basically owning Visai, respondent places the government at a disadvantageous position,” Nisperos said in her complaint.
Later in May, news website Rappler reported that Visai had secured 14 government contracts totaling P261.39 million.
In a May 28 press statement, Calida claimed he was not required to divest himself of his 60-percent shareholding in Visai. (His wife and three children each hold 10 percent of the company).
He argued that the Office of the Solicitor General was not involved in the government agencies’ approval of the security contracts and it was not mandated to regulate security agencies like Visai.
Calida also claimed he was not covered by Section 13, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, which prohibits Cabinet members from having a direct or
indirect business interest in any transaction involving the government. This was despite Republic Act No. 9417 conferring Cabinet rank on the Solicitor General.
Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr. has a graft case pending in the Sandiganbayan for alleged violation of Section 14, Article VI of the Constitution, which also prohibits legislators from having business interests.
The prohibition was applied to Floirendo even if he was just a shareholder in Tagum Agricultural Development Corp., the joint venture partner of the Bureau of Corrections.
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