Sandiganbayan allows Alvarez, Ombudsman lawyers to team up vs. Floirendo
The Sandiganbayan has allowed Ombudsman prosecutors to join forces with two lawyers of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez in the graft case against Davao del Norte 2nd Dist. Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr.
In a three-page resolution on May 23, the court’s Sixth Division granted the Office of the Special Prosecutor’s plea to allow lawyers Edgardo de Jesus and Paul Joseph Mercado to “assist and coordinate” with state prosecutors.
However, in the courtroom, De Jesus and Mercado will only be allowed to “sit beside and assist” the prosecution and will not appear on the Ombudsman’s behalf.
This was because the Ombudsman did not deputize the two lawyers to act as special prosecutors as required by the Ombudsman Act of 1989.
Mercado, who holds the position of supervising legislative staff officer III in the House of Representatives, was directed to ensure his participation in Floirendo’s case would not “impair in any way his efficiency nor be in conflict or tend to conflict with his official functions.”
The court also stated that “no government funds will be utilized in such assistance” by the House employees.
Section 7(b) of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees limited the ability of government employees to “engage in the private practice of their profession” to actions that “will not conflict or tend to conflict with their official functions.”
Meanwhile, House Secretary-General Cesar Pareja authorized Mercado to take part in Floirendo’s prosecution outside office hours.
Floirendo stands accused of violating Section 3(h) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which penalizes public officers who have an interest in any transactions prohibited by the Constitution.
The case arose from Alvarez’s March 13, 2017 complaint questioning his financial interest in Tagum Agricultural Development Corp. (Tadeco).
The banana exporter entered into a 2003 joint venture agreement with the Bureau of Corrections when Floirendo was already a congressman.
Article VI, Section 14 of the 1987 Constitution states that no senator or House member shall “directly or indirectly, be interested financially in any contract with, or in any franchise or special privilege granted by the Government… during his term of office.”
Floirendo had objected to the entry of Alvarez’s lawyers into the case on May 2, saying its right to a fair trial would be violated by their conflict of interest.
He said that unlike private attorneys who perform duties in favor of their indiviudal clients, prosecutors should not be “an adversary concerned with winning cases” instead of ensuring that “justice shall be done.”
In a related development, the House good government committee terminated on Wednesday its year-long inquiry into Tadeco’s joint venture agreement with BuCor for the use of Davao Penal Colony land.
“The committees have exhaustively deliberated on the matter, and with sufficient information already with the committees, we are now ready to complete our task and report our findings and recommendations,” committee chair Rep. Johnny Pimentel said in a Wednesday hearing.
The joint inquiry, which began on May 9, 2017, was also initiated by Alvarez. /vvp
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