Calida touts Sereno ouster as 'legacy,' other 'triumphs' in 3 years as SolGen

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 28 2019 05:50 PM

CALIDA: 'FRIENDS' IN CONGRESS INCREASED OSG BUDGET BY 47 PERCENT

MANILA – Solicitor General Jose Calida on Wednesday touted his office’s “legendary” success in the many landmark cases it has handled for the Philippine government, particularly citing the ouster of former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno as his “legacy.”

“In an unprecedented feat, I used archaic law and jurisprudence known as quo warranto to topple Atty. Maria Lourdes Sereno from her perch as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,” he told lawyers and staff of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) gathered in Parañaque for their 118th founding anniversary, based on a recording recently provided to ABS-CBN News by one of the attendees to the event.

The event was off limits to media but ABS-CBN News confirmed these statements from other sources.

In a historic 8-6 vote, SC magistrates in May last year declared Sereno disqualified from holding the top magistrate post due to her failure to fully disclose her wealth.

“This landmark case is my legacy to our jurisprudence and also to our beloved guest of honor,” Calida said, referring to Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin who attended the celebration.

Bersamin is the second magistrate to take the chief justice post after President Rodrigo Duterte appointed retired Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro in August last year to replace Sereno.

Sereno was supposed to stay in office until 2030 prior to her removal.

The contentious landmark ruling laid the basis for a new remedy to remove an impeachable official who had been invalidly appointed or invalidly elected to the post.

The camp of Sereno and other legal experts have contended an impeachable official can only be removed through an impeachment proceeding.

But Calida used Sereno’s alleged “lack of integrity” – supposedly shown by her failure to file and submit her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) to the Judicial and Bar Council – to argue that she was not qualified, in the first place, to hold office.

OSG’S WINNING RECORD

In his speech, Calida went on to cite other cases his office has successfully handled.

Among them is the legality of the burial of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, which he justified as being “consistent with the President’s objective of national healing and reconciliation.”

He also mentioned the Supreme Court decisions allowing detained Senator Leila de Lima’s continued prosecution on drug-related charges in a regional trial court and not in the Sandiganbayan, the declaration and extension of martial law in Mindanao, the closure of Boracay Island for rehabilitation and the junking by the Court of Appeals of rights group Karapatan’s plea for a writ of amparo and habeas data.

The most recent among his claim of victory is the withdrawal by fisherfolk from Palawan and Zambales of a petition for a writ of kalikasan, meant to compel government agencies to enforce environmental laws and protect marine life in the West Philippine Sea.

“Just two weeks ago, during my opening statement before the Supreme Court with the case of Abogado et al. v. DENR, I exploded a bombshell. I unearthed the truth that the majority of the fisherfolk petitioners did not consent to the filing of the petition for the issuance of Writ of Kalikasan and writ of continuing mandamus against government agencies. Some fishermen also complained that they did not sign the petition,” he said.

“This ultimately led to the voluntary withdrawal of the petition by the IBP lawyers,” he added.

ABS-CBN News recently reported that two fishermen from Palawan claimed they were approached by the Philippine Navy to execute statements withdrawing the petition, in what the fishermen’s lawyers raised as a possible breach of legal ethics.

Calida, for his part, accused the fisherfolk’s lawyers of deceit and threatened to file disbarment cases against them.

In previous media interviews, Calida had hailed his spotless record before the high court, with the writ of kalikasan petition being “the fastest” he has ever appeared in. The petition was filed in April and the motion for withdrawal was filed mid-July. The Supreme Court has yet to act on the motion.

He credited these “triumphs” to members of his agency.

“Against all odds and criticism, coming from the anti-administration and anti-republic personages, we have persevered and we have overcome. The hero in you contributed to the strength of our office today,” he said.

OSG’S BUDGET INCREASE

Calida disclosed an increase in the agency’s budget allowed him to allot funds to retrofit and renovate their old building and sponsor training for their lawyers and staff.

“My friends in Congress bolstered OSG’s budget significantly. On the average, our funds for maintenance and other operating expenses and capital outlay have increased by 47% in the last 3 years,” he said.

Since his appointment in 2016, Calida said he has promoted 6 assistant solicitor generals, 17 senior state solicitors, 61 state solicitors, 78 associate solicitors, 3 attorneys and 112 administrative employees.

In the same speech, Calida also bared his plans for the OSG which includes the creation of 2 new legal divisions on top of the existing 28, and the refiling and passage of the OSG bill which will grant retirement and death benefits as well as increase benefits enjoyed by OSG employees.

President Duterte, in March 2019, vetoed a bill which would have expanded the powers of the OSG as well as grant more benefits to its lawyers and employees.

The President himself said in his veto message that the proposed benefits to OSG employees “will create too much disparity and inequality among the public servants in the Executive Branch.”

The OSG figured in a controversy in the past few day after ABS-CBN News discovered it had a hand in the drafting of the affidavit of Peter Joemel Advincula alias Bikoy.

Bikoy’s affidavit became the basis for the filing of sedition and other raps against Vice President Leni Robredo, opposition figures, priests and lawyers accused of plotting to overthrow the President.

The OSG admitted providing legal assistance to the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, which filed the sedition complaint, but justified it, saying it has the “legal duty to serve its clients when they seek legal advice.”