SECTIONS
Cebu
Wednesday, August 04, 2021
CEBU

Seares: Calida’s ‘conflict of interest’

SOLICITOR General Jose Calida’s family owns the Vigilant & Investigative Security Agency that has just bagged P150 million contract from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Neda and Pagcor.

DOJ and Neda are part of the government: Calida’s office is a “component” of DOJ. Pagcor is owned and controlled by the government. Calida wields a lot of influence in the administration, more so after the Supreme Court “quo warranto” ruling he won. SC Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, tagged by President Duterte as his “enemy,” has been ousted and power of the solicitor general, two SC justices noted, has been expanded.

There must be conflict of interest.

Senate Minority Floorleader Kiko Pangilinan believes so, citing as example the case of Wanda Tulfo-Teo who quit as tourism secretary over the award of a P60 million advertising contract to the Tulfo brothers. Tulfo-Teo’s imprudence involved much less money than Calida’s, Pangilinan noted Monday (May 28).

Yes but no

There is conflict of interest but no, it’s not within the meaning of the law.

Calida, to be sure, has tons of influence in this government. Few will think Vigilant won the contracts on sheer merit or luck of the family-owned company. Or that by “divesting” himself of control or management of the firm, or even his shares, has made him lose his pecuniary interest in it. Assuming it’s now owned and run by his wife and children, Calida still has immense personal stake in it. Yet the conflict of interest that we still see in Calida’s case is not the kind the law punishes.

What law punishes

Republic Act #3019 or Anti-Graft & Corrupt Practices Act requires the public officer to “intervene or take part in his official capacity in connection with his financial interest” or is “prohibited by the Constitution or by law from having any financial interest.”

Calida is a public officer: check. He has direct or indirect interest in the family-owned agency as he reportedly owns shares in it: check.

But he is not prohibited to have the financial interest in Vigilant. And, this is a crucial element: it must be shown he intervened or took part in the award of the contracts to Vigilant in his capacity as solicitor general.

Use of public office

Mary June Cantorias-Marcel, an Arellano University law graduate and an M.A. in law degree-holder of Missouri-Columbia University, noted in a paper on conflict of interest: “Having a pecuniary or financial interest is not the evil sought to be prevented by the law. It is the use by the public officer of his office for private gain or the taking of action in which the officer has such interest that is contrary to law.”

More plainly, owning the security agency or some shares in it is not by itself punishable. It is the act of Calida, if he did, in using his office to get the contracts.

Not embarrassed

Can Panglinan prove that the “sol-gen” used his office to get the multimillion-peso deal? In contrast, Calida can swear with no visible discomfort that he did not.

Tulfo-Teo was embarrassed -- and decent enough to act on the shaming -- that his brothers reaped P60 million from her being DOT chief. Not likely that Calida would feel the same way. He toughed that one out: the harsh criticisms for pushing what Associate Justice Marivic Leonen called the “evil abomination” that was the quo warranto removal of Sereno.

This furor over his security agency would be a breeze, especially that its for the family.


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