Lawyer tells Aquino: Don’t name pal chief counselBy TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A lawyer has written President Aquino advising him against appointing his classmate, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, as chief presidential legal counsel.
Lawyer Ernesto Francisco Jr. said the President should refrain from appointing a practicing lawyer like Caguioa as his chief legal counsel to avoid a conflict of interest.
He said Caguioa and his law firm, Caguioa and Gatmaytan, had served as the legal counsel of three mining companies that had appealed the revocation by the Office of the President of agreements to explore, develop and use minerals in the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.
Thus, he said, Caguioa may not be “impartial” in handling the government’s position on mining matters.
In an opposition letter filed with the Office of the President, Francisco said the position of presidential legal counsel was perceived to have been used in the past to favor private interests, law firm’s and colleagues of the lawyer occupying the post.
“But this perception can be changed if in line with your avowed policy of ‘daang matuwid,’ you will deliberately refrain from appointing a private law practitioner to the position of presidential legal counsel,” Francisco wrote Mr. Aquino.
Francisco said there were many retired justices, judges, government lawyers and nonpracticing lawyers, including some in the academe, who were “more than competent and qualified” for the post.
Before the new year, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that Caguioa was being considered to replace Eduardo de Mesa, who had quit and moved on to the Bases Conversion Development Authority as board director.
A classmate of Mr. Aquino’s from grade school to college at the Ateneo de Manila University, Caguioa topped the bar exams in 1986, was an honor graduate of Ateneo Law School and was an “able” law practitioner, according to Lacierda.
In his letter, Francisco said Caguioa’s law firm had lawyered for Narra Nickel Mining and Development Corp., Tesoro Mining and Development Inc. and McArthur Mining Inc. whose financial and technical assistance agreements (FTAAs) issued in the homestretch of the Arroyo administration were revoked by the Office of the President.
He said the OP had ruled that the issuance of FTAAs was “highly anomalous and irregular.”
“I must stress that I am not casting aspersions on the person of Attorney Caguioa or his law firm,” Francisco said, but their lawyering for the three mining companies could lead to a conflict of interest and “impact on national interest” if Caguioa were appointed.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Monday there was no word from the Office of the Executive Secretary on the appointment of a new presidential legal counsel.