Duterte defends Calida; DOJ chief now eyes probe

Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Duterte defends Calida; DOJ chief now eyes probe
“Calida, his security firm has been around for a long time. Why should I fire him? He is good, he is also from Davao but he is an Ilocano,” the President said yesterday in a mix of Filipino and English in remarks at the Bureau of Customs in Manila where he witnessed the destruction of smuggled luxury vehicles.
Miguel De Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — For President Duterte, there is no reason to fire Solicitor General Jose Calida just because he’s the majority owner of his family's security agency with multimillion-peso contracts with the government.

“Calida, his security firm has been around for a long time. Why should I fire him? He is good, he is also from Davao but he is an Ilocano,” the President said yesterday in a mix of Filipino and English in remarks at the Bureau of Customs in Manila where he witnessed the destruction of smuggled luxury vehicles.

“Why? Don’t we have the right to own a business?” he added, referring to the Calida family’s Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency Inc. (VISAI).

Duterte said it’s alright for officials to be owners of businesses with contracts with government “as long as you do not participate” directly. “The fact that you have divested, you have retired… So why do you have to impute or attribute malice there?”

Calida had earlier admitted he has yet not divested his 60 percent stake in the security agency.

Although virtually cleared by the President, Calida may have to face investigation by the Department of Justice. 

At a hearing on his confirmation yesterday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra backtracked from an earlier statement and assured lawmakers he would “take a look” into the contract between the DOJ and the Calida family’s security agency.

He stressed, however, he would not investigate the contracts entered into by VISAI with other government institutions like the House of Representatives and the National Economic and Development Authority, among others.

“There’s a presumption of regularity but that’s just a presumption. So if there’s evidence to the contrary, maybe there’s some violation of, let’s say the procurement laws, then that’s something worth looking into,” Guevarra said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan raised the issue on VISAI at Guevarra’s confirmation hearing at the Commission on Appointments.

The DOJ has administrative supervision over the Office of the Solicitor General. A graft complaint has been filed against Calida before the Office of the Ombudsman.

The justice secretary on Tuesday ruled out investigating Calida, citing the absence of complainants. But he expressed belief there was nothing anomalous in the deal.

“Nobody has come up with allegations, now that there’s sort of questions about the validity (of the contract), the DOJ will take a look now that it’s brought to the fore already. To satisfy everyone, we’ll just take a look,” he said.

“He’s (Calida) saying there’s no conflict of interest so I leave it up to him and his counsel to explain that,” Guevarra said.

He said there could only be conflict of interest if a winning bidder has any relation with anyone at the DOJ. He said Calida had already resigned as president of VISAI.

“From a legal standpoint, the company and the shareholder or owner are two different persons. The corporation has a legal personality which is separate or distinct from the owners or shareholders,” Guevarra said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said yesterday Calida’s admission that he still holds shares in VISAI “already pointed to his guilt.”

“By saying that he has not divested himself of his majority shares from a family business that has snared millions of pesos worth of government contracts, Mr. Calida has virtually admitted to allegations of corrupt practices and conflict of interest. Case closed. Game over,” Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros said Section 3(i) of Republic Act  6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, spelled out conflict of interest as a situation where a public official “is a member of a board, an officer or a substantial stockholder of a private corporation or owner or has a substantial interest in a business, and the interest of such corporation or business, or his rights or duties therein, may be opposed to or affected by the faithful performance of official duty.”

The Senate minority bloc, meanwhile, filed a resolution seeking a Senate inquiry into the contracts bagged by VISAI with various government agencies.

Pangilinan said it appears that VISAI has obtained government contracts amounting to P260 million since 2017, not P150 million as earlier reported.

Meanwhile, the House opposition bloc challenged President Duterte to file criminal charges against government officials he dismissed reportedly for corruption and other irregularities.

“It is time for follow-through. If the President is serious about eradicating corruption, he will not let the violators get away with their wrongdoings simply by removing them from their positions,” House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez told a news conference.

“The administration should pursue thorough investigations of the cases and file the necessary criminal charges against officials who will be proven to have violated the law and failed their mandate,” the veteran lawmaker from Quezon province said.

His colleague, Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. of party-list Ako Bicol, issued the same call.

“It is unfair for these officials to be dismissed just like that. They also have to be given their day in court,” he said. – With  Delon Porcalla

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