Otso Diretso bets move to disqualify OSG from DOJ sedition probe

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 19 2019 03:43 PM

MANILA – Three Otso Diretso senatorial candidates and a former Supreme Court spokesperson implicated in the sedition complaint against Vice President Leni Robredo and more than 30 others have asked the panel of pros
ecutors investigating the complaint to disqualify the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) from appearing in the probe.

In two separate motions filed Wednesday last week, Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) members Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada and former Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te, as well as former Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano questioned the OSG’s authority to appear in the probe citing lack of authority and possible conflict of interest.

Assistant Solicitor General Angelita Miranda appeared during the August 9 probe at the Department of Justice, representing the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG), a move FLAG lawyer Arno Sanidad immediately questioned.

"The PNP-CIDG has a service with lawyers in its ranks at disposal. There is no justification for the intervention of OSG in these proceedings, especially considering patent lack [of] authority as well as highly probable conflict of interest,” the FLAG lawyers said in their motion.

The group rejected the OSG’s invocation of a general provision in the Administrative Code allowing it to represent any government agency or official in any litigation, proceeding, investigation or matter before any court, tribunal, body or commission. They argued that a 1990 SC decision has abandoned earlier interpretations of this provision.

The FLAG lawyers cited the high court’s decision in Urbano v. Chavez which said that the OSG participates only in a criminal case when it has reached the appellate courts.

"It is the office of the city, provincial or state prosecutor, as the case may be, and not the Office of the Solicitor General, which attends to the investigation and the prosecution of criminal cases in the first instance,” the case said.

Although the case involved a public official, FLAG lawyers argued the same rule should apply “by parity of principle” to a case involving a private respondent like Advincula.

Alejano echoed FLAG’s argument, explaining that the general provisions of the Administrative Code and Presidential Decree 478 which created the OSG must be read in accordance with their specific provisions limiting OSG’s authority to appear in criminal cases only before the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

Both camps raised the possibility of conflict of interest that may arise should OSG insist on representing the PNP-CIDG.

Alejano asked: should the panel of prosecutors decide in favor of the respondents, whom shall the OSG represent before the Court of Appeals – the PNP-CIDG or the DOJ?

“[T]here is a clear conflict of interest here, and one which smacks of ethical considerations, where the Office of the Solicitor General as counsel for the public official, defends the latter in the preliminary investigation stage of the criminal case, and where the same office, as appellate counsel of the People of the Philippines, represents the prosecution when the case is brought on appeal,” both camps said, citing the Urbano decision.

FLAG lawyers also said the OSG cannot invoke its role as “Tribune of the People” in justifying its participation in the probe.

“The ostensible client of the OSG is the PNP-CIDG, which is not, by any stretch, the People of the Philippines. This, by itself, shows that the OSG’s invocation of the ‘People’s Tribune’ justification has no basis,” they said.

Alejano’s camp said the OSG’s right to represent a complainant in a preliminary investigation has no legal precedent, saying its “unprecedented and unusual zeal and persistence in handling the case is itself suspicious.”

FLAG lawyers accused the OSG of a “failed veiled attempt to surreptitiously conceal” its involvement in the case, citing an ABS-CBN News report which revealed that the OSG had a hand in drafting the affidavit of Peter Joemel Advincula, the hooded figure named Bikoy in the viral series of online videos accusing the President of involvement in the illegal drug trade.

Advincula would later retract his statements and accuse the opposition of being behind the smear campaign against the President.

Advincula accused Diokno, Tañada, Alejano and other Otso Diretso candidates of being part of the “shadow group” which allegedly provided financial and logistical support to Project Sodoma, an ouster plot against President Duterte.

They supposedly met with Robredo in Ateneo de Manila University on March 4, 2019 to discuss the ouster plot – a claim the senatorial bets have denied.

Advincula also claimed to have met Te once but did not specify how he was involved in the alleged plot.