Speaker’s bill wants OSG to pursue ill-gotten wealth cases
MANILA — Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has made good on his vow to seek the expansion of the Office of the Solicitor-General’s functions and the absorption of the Presidential Commission on Good Government and the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel under the agency.
Alvarez has filed House Bill No. 5233, or the OSG Charter, which proposes to consolidate functions related to government-owned and controlled corporations and the recovery of ill-gotten wealth under just the government’s primary law office.
The explanatory note for the proposed measure reasons out that the OCGG sometimes refers its cases to the OSG anyway. Additionally, the OSG “has been representing” the PCGG, the agency tasked to recover the wealth amassed from public funds during the 21-year rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“The OSG, as the primary law office of the government, continues to render legal services to GOCCs and the PCGG,” the explanatory note read.
“In order to achieve economy, eliminate overlapping of functions, addressing the expanding needs of GOCCs for legal representation, and enhance government efforts to recover ill-gotten wealth and investigate and prosecute cases related thereto, the legal services mentioned above must be consolidated into one office,” it explained.
Fate of OGCC, PCGG personnel
OGCC and PCGG lawyers and personnel will not be automatically absorbed to the OSG. The bill said doing so would “defeat the purpose” of streamlining the functions.
Instead, the affected employees will be allowed to “apply for the needed positions, without prejudice to their entitlement to full retirement gratuity and pension.”
Personnel who have reached 50 years of age and have served the government for at least 15 years (with at least the past five years served at the OGCC or PCGG) will be entitled to full retirement gratuity and pension. Others may receive separation pay equivalent to one-and-a-half months’ salary for every year of employment.
Not taking on all the affected employees would also be a way of “upholding meritocracy” in the hiring process, the explanatory note read.
Transferred to OP
The proposed measure will place the currently Department of Justice-attached agency under the supervision of the Office of the President to ensure that it becomes a “truly independent and autonomous office.”
Under the bill coauthored by Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and justice committee chair Reynaldo Umali, the OSG will review all GOCC contracts prior to execution and enforce the Property Insurance Law.
The bill’s explanatory note states that the OSG should take a “more proactive stance” in ensuring the GOCC contracts strictly conform to the regulations to avoid lawsuits.
As for the PCGG functions, the OSG will take over the filing and prosecution of forfeiture cases to recover ill-gotten wealth.
This means the OSG will also have the power to grant immunity from forfeiture suits to any person who provides information or testifies in ill-gotten wealth investigations.
The number of OSG legal divisions, which have 10 lawyers each, will be increased to at least 50 from the current 30. The increase in plantilla positions for solicitors is partly because of the absorption of OGCC functions.
During the transition, OGCC lawyers will be required to submit a status report of all the cases they handle. The certification of the completeness of records will be required before the lawyer can claim his separation pay or retirement benefits.
A transition case migration committee will also be created to ensure the smooth turnover of the legal concerns handled by the OGCC and PCGG.
Improved benefits for solicitors
The OSG will also be empowered to engage the services of an outside counsel to help in highly specialized litigation, subject to the President’s approval.
Salary levels for the solicitors will still be the same, with the Solicitor-General still at Salary Grade 31. But, the bill upgrades his allowances, benefits and privileges to those of an associate justice of the Supreme Court.
State solicitors likewise will be able to enjoy the same privileges as judges, prosecutors and public attorneys under the proposal, in an attempt to address how “the OSG merely serves as a training ground for lawyers” who end up being lured to higher-paying jobs at other government offices or the private sector. SFM/rga
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