MANILA – The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on Tuesday cited legal bases to continue appearing in the Department of Justice (DOJ) probe into the sedition complaints against Vice President Leni Robredo, opposition figures, lawyers, and Catholic Church officials.
The OSG cited its authority to “represent the Republic and/or the people before any court, tribunal, body or commission in any matter, action or proceeding” which affects the welfare of the people, under the Administrative Code.
“The gravity and seriousness of the offense/s, not to mention the personalities involved of plotting to topple the duly constituted government and overthrow its duly elected President will essentially and necessarily affects (sic) the general welfare,” the OSG said.
“Hence, it is for this end, that the OSG represents the CIDG-NRFU, to ensure that the respondents who probably committed a crime against the State, should be indicted in court and bring forth to justice,” it added.
Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay questioned the OSG’s invocation of a general provision, instead of a more specific provision under its own charter limiting its authority to represent the State in appellate cases of criminal proceedings, not during preliminary investigation.
Otso Diretso bets Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada, Gary Alejano, and former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te cited the 1990 case of Urbano v. Chavez echoing this rule, arguing that the prohibition on the OSG from representing a public official during preliminary investigation also extends to the case of a private respondent like Advincula.
Former Senator Rene Saguisag, representing Sen. Risa Hontiveros, warned the OSG it should not “sandbag” itself by choosing to side with one party at the early stage of a criminal proceeding because it could lead to a conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, detained Senator Leila de Lima pointed out that there is no “People of the Philippines” yet at the preliminary investigation stage so there is no one for OSG to represent.
But the OSG, in its motion, said the Urbano case is inapplicable.
“Respondents are misleading, and are truly misled as well. Unlike in the Urbano case, the OSG is now entering its appearance as the legal representative of its client-agency, the complainant CIDG-NCRFU, and not as the legal counsel of the respondent public officials. Once a complaint is filed in court after the finding of probable cause, the real party-in-interest would be the People of the Philippines and no longer the CIDG-NCRFU,” it said.
“Clearly, there can be no conflict of interest because the OSG’s primordial goal is to ensure that individuals committing acts constitutive of a crime against the People of the Philippines are brought to the courts of law for justice to prevail,” it added.
AUTHORITY OF JUSTICE SECRETARY TO FORM A PANEL OF PROSECUTORS
The OSG also insisted on the authority of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to form a special panel of prosecutors to look into the sedition probe.
Free Legal Assistance Group lawyers Diokno, Tañada and Te had questioned Guevarra’s order, saying that under the Prosecution Service Act of 2010, the power to conduct a preliminary investigation lies with the prosecutor general and the Justice secretary’s role is “purely supervisory,” except in cases of national security or probable miscarriage of justice.
The OSG, however, defended Guevarra, saying the DOJ has the primary power to investigate all crimes. It cited previous instances when the justice secretary also formed special panels of prosecutors.
“[C]ontrary to Respondents’ assertion, the Secretary is not ‘acting directly’ on the complaint. Rather, the Secretary has merely directed the Prosecution Staff to perform its duty to conduct an investigation on the possible commission of crimes by the Respondents,” it said.
The sedition complaint was based on the claim of Peter Joemel Advincula, who claimed to be the "Bikoy" who appeared as the hooded figure in a series of online videos linking the first family and Senator Bong Go to the illegal drug trade.
He later recanted his statements and accused the opposition of hatching an ouster plot against the President.
The next setting for the DOJ probe is on September 6.