MANILA – Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay on Thursday said the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has no authority to assist in initiating the filing of criminal cases, following the agency’s statement it provided legal assistance to the Philippine National Police (PNP) in drafting the affidavit of Peter Joemel Advincula alias Bikoy.
Advincula had accused Vice President Leni Robredo, former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and other opposition figures of plotting to overthrow President Rodrigo Duterte in the sedition complaint the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group lodged before the Department of Justice.
ABS-CBN News reported on Tuesday that two persons connected with the OSG authored and reviewed a Microsoft Word document containing Advincula’s affidavit, which was released to the media on Friday night.
In a statement Wednesday, the OSG admitted providing legal assistance to the PNP-CIDG, saying that as the Republic of the Philippines’ principal lawyer, it has the “legal duty to serve its clients when they seek legal advice.”
But it refused to give further details invoking “client-lawyer confidentiality.”
For Hilbay, assisting the PNP in filing a criminal complaint is beyond the scope of the OSG’s authority. Hilbay served as solicitor general from 2014 to 2016 during the Aquino administration.
“Wala sa jurisdiction, sa kapangyarihan ng Office of the Solicitor General 'yung mag-assist ng mga kliyente for the purposes of initiating criminal complaints. Tanungin niyo ‘yung lahat ng taga-OSG or nagkaroon ng trabaho dyan sa OSG, they’ve never done anything of that sort,” he told ABS-CBN News.
(It’s not within the jurisdiction, authority of the Office of the Solicitor General to assist a client for purposes of initiating criminal complaints. You can ask anyone from the OSG or anyone who had worked for the OSG, they’ve never done anything of that sort.)
He explained that in criminal cases, the OSG comes in only in the appellate stage, once an accused who has been convicted appeals the conviction to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
“’Yung OSG, siya 'yung mukha ng ating gobyerno pagdating sa mga appellate cases. Pero yung sa pag-initiate ng complaint, that’s the work of the Department of Justice, yun talaga trabaho nila. Walang kinalaman yung OSG dun sa pagsisimula ng mga criminal cases laban sa mga mamamayan,” he said.
(The OSG is the face of the government in appellate cases. But in initiating a complaint, that’s the work of the Department of Justice. The OSG has nothing to do with initiating criminal cases against citizens.)
Hilbay pointed out that by involving itself in the early stage of a criminal case, the OSG is putting itself in a difficult spot.
“There’s a conflict of interest because pagdating sa appeal, nakatali na posisyon ng Office of the Solicitor General,” explaining that the OSG has the option either to back or oppose a conviction.
(There’s a conflict of interest because when you reach the appeal stage, the OSG’s hands are tied.)
“Kung sa umpisa pa lang, may posisyon na siya na ginawa at tumulong siya dun sa isang partido, ay wala na siya 'yung independence na sinasabi para magawa niya 'yung kanyang trabaho,” he added.
(If, from the start, the OSG already has a position and it helped one party, it will no longer have the independence to do its job.)
Hilbay also doubted if the government can even use Advincula as a state witness given his involvement in the alleged “Project Sodoma” plot to remove Duterte and install Robredo and Trillanes as president and vice president, respectively.
Advincula identified himself as the hooded figure who accused the Presidential family and Senator Bong Go of involvement in the illegal drug trade.
“Malinaw na hindi siya qualified dahil he is the most guilty party doon sa lahat ng mga nakalista doon sa complaint,” he said.
(It’s clear that he is not qualified because he is the most guilty party among those listed in the complaint.)
The witness protection law requires that a state witness should not be the “most guilty” among those accused of having committed a crime.
Hilbay, an Otso Diretso senatorial candidate, is one of the respondents named in Advincula’s affidavit, accused of having taken part of a March 4, 2019 meeting with other candidates and Advincula inside the Ateneo de Manila University campus in Quezon City, on the same day a forum was organized by news website Rappler and attended by mostly opposition senatorial candidates.
Both Hilbay and the Ateneo denied any such meeting ever took place.
“I deny that the meeting took place. Hindi ako pumunta doon sa forum na yun. Hindi ko pa nakausap o nakita si Bikoy. Hindi ko siya kilala kaya malinaw na kasinungalingan yung factual allegation dun sa complaint,” he said.
(I deny that the meeting took place. I did not go to the forum. I have not talked to nor seen Advincula. I don’t know him so it’s clear that that factual allegation in the complaint is a lie.)
Hilbay expressed dismay that the office he once served in is now being used to go after members of the opposition.
“It’s very hard to deny dahil merong evidence na may kinalaman yung OSG doon sa pagdraft ng complaint at pangalawa, wala yan dun sa trabaho ng Office of the Solicitor General. So that means that the institution is being used for purely political purposes para i-harass ang opposition,” he said.
(It’s very hard to deny because there is evidence that OSG had a hand in drafting the complaint and secondly, it’s not part of its job. So that means that the institution is being used for purely political purposes to harass the opposition.)
“Nakakatakot, nakakabagabag,” he added. (It’s scary, it’s disturbing.)