By One News
Former senator Bongbong Marcos distanced himself from Solicitor General Jose Calida, who openly supported him in the 2016 vice presidential elections. But their moves seemed synchronized and these are causing a stir.
Eyebrows are being raised as Solicitor General Jose Calida keeps pulling his weight behind vice presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., whom he campaigned for in the 2016 elections.
Calida – who was behind the Alyansang Duterte-Bongbong or AlDub campaign – invoked his power as “Tribune of the People” in echoing Marcos’ call for the voluntary inhibition of Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) member in charge of the electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.
“The Filipino electorate has been on edge as regards the real winner in the elections for Vice President,” the Office of the Solicitor General said without citing any basis. “So while the OSG is not technically a party to the present election contest, it filed the Comment on the defined issues as required by the Honorable Tribunal, and in addition, moves for the inhibition of Justice Leonen.”
Not only did the OSG and Marcos’ camp file their motions only hours apart on Monday, Nov. 9, they also presented identical arguments, although Calida’s motion was lengthier and contained more grounds.
Chiefly, they cited Leonen’s dissent in the SC’s Nov. 8, 2016 decision not to prevent the Duterte administration from burying the remains of Marcos’ father and namesake at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Marcos and Calida also both cited the Oct. 12 and 13, 2020 banner stories of The Manila Times on the leak of the alleged “reflections” that Leonen supposedly provided his PET colleagues on July 11, 2017. They claimed that the news reports showed Leonen’s inclination to dismiss the electoral protest for failure to specifically allege fraud or irregularity.
Likewise, they both questioned Leonen’s alleged delay in resolving the electoral protest, saying the case hardly moved forward since it was raffled off to him in October last year.
The OSG went full force. Besides Calida, the office’s motion was signed by Assistant Solicitors General Ma. Antonia Edita Dizon, Marissa Dela Cruz-Galandines, Bernard Hernandez, John Emmanuel Madamba, Rex Bernardo Pascual, Eric Remigio Panga, Ellaine Rose Sanchez-Corro, Thomas Laragan, Myrna Agno-Canuto, Hermes Ocampo, Nyriam Susan Sedllo-Hernandez, Raymund Rigodon, Angelita Villanueva Miranda, Penafrancia Carpio-Devesa, Alexander Salvador, Joseph Guevarra, Diana Castañeda-de Vera, Gilbert Medrano and James Lee Cundangan.
Marcos tried to distance himself from his major campaign backer. “I have my own legal team. I do not need to consult with the Sol-Gen,” he said. “If he does in fact move to support our motion, then it means he agrees with our arguments.”
He also denied in a press conference that he was in cahoots with the OSG and Larry Gadon – a failed senatorial candidate of Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, the party of dictator Ferdinand Marcos – in unsuccessful attempts to secure copies of Leonen’s statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, in an apparent bid to repeat the ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice by way of a quo warranto case.
Calida first broke away from the Commission on Elections (Comelec)’s legal position in the protest in 2018, when he echoed Marcos Jr.’s contention that only ballots with ovals shaded by at least 50 percent should be counted as valid votes.
The Comelec had applied a 25-percent threshold in 2016, and Robredo asked the PET to keep the system in place. The PET in September 2018 agreed to recognize the validity of votes that meet the 25-percent shading threshold.
It was not the first time that the OSG under Calida lawyered for controversial personalities using taxpayers’ money. In 2017, Calida pushed the Court of Appeals to reverse the conviction of accused pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles for the serious illegal detention of whistle-blower Benhur Luy.
Calida and Napoles prevailed in that case, but the businesswoman has yet to walk out of prison because she still faces trial for the multiple plunder cases and was convicted for pocketing the P124.5-million Priority Development Assistance Fund allocation of Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr.
That evening, an unfazed Robredo shared a screenshot of One News’ Twitter update and laughed it off with a brief “lols.” Her daughter Tricia chimed in: “When they go low, we go lols.” Lol means laughing out loud.
Robredo’s lawyer Emil Marañon III said on Twitter that not only did the OSG betray the Comelec to side with Marcos, the government counsel “now betrays the nation once again to join Marcos in seeking the inhibition of J. Leonen, parroting even his arguments.”
“If SolGen Calida is intervening in the VP electoral case as the ‘Tribune of the People,’ then why is he siding with Bongbong Marcos who was rejected by the ‘people’ and not with Vice President Leni Robredo who was actually elected by them? So kaninong ‘Tribune’ ba talaga (So whose ‘Tribune’ is he really)?” Marañon said.
In a Nov. 10 television interview, the lawyer said Robredo’s camp would formally question Calida’s participation in the PET case as it is a private suit.
“We find it not only very abnormal but very suspicious, the solicitor general’s action. We will raise points not just to question the standing of OSG in aiding a private litigant like Mr. Marcos. Also, we’ll question the merit of the very motion to inhibit filed by the OSG,” he said.
Former SC Public Information Office chief Theodore Te, a professor of the University of the Philippines College of Law, said that “on its face, the solicitor general’s motion is politically partisan.” Te stressed that Marcos did not implead the republic as a party to his personal case.
In an opinion article for Rappler, Te said that the OSG motion may be thrown out for being an “unsolicited intervention,” as it did not bother seeking permission first to file the motion.
Te said the OSG could even be ordered to explain why it should not be cited in contempt for filing a motion for inhibition without leave of court or for citing news reports about leaked confidential documents.
He even raised the possibility of the OSG’s intervention being a ground for violation of Section 3(a) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, for allowing itself to be persuaded, induced or influenced to violate rules and regulations.
Calida also became a trending topic on Twitter. Writer Francis Baraan IV, in a post liked by roughly 1,200 users, said: “Since when did a SolGen – whose office is an office of fiduciary, public trust – become the manservant of a private citizen? Calida’s been abusing his power & position since Day 1. Fire the Marcos bitch already!”
Malacañang, however, expressed doubt that Robredo really won the elections with a slim margin of 263,473 votes and reasoned out that Calida’s involvement in the electoral protest was a matter of public interest.
“As statutory counsel, he has an interest in knowing who actually, who legally won in the vice presidential election, or we have an interest as a nation to find out if there is merit in fact in that election protest,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
“I suppose ang motion had to be filed because it is the interest of our people na malaman natin kung sino talaga ang nagwagi sa eleksiyon para sa bise presidente (I suppose the motion had to be filed because it is in the interest of our people to know who really won the vice presidential election),” Roque added.
The Comelec and Congress have officially proclaimed Robredo to be the winner alongside Duterte, who was elected using the same set of ballots.
But Roque sought to distance Duterte from Calida’s actions and said the solicitor general did not have to ask for the President’s approval before questioning Leonen’s impartiality.
“He does not micromanage. Hinahayaan po niya ang kaniyang mga Gabinete na bigyan ng atensiyon at umakto sa mga bagay-bagay na nasa ilalim ng kanilang mga ahensiya (He just leaves it to his Cabinet to pay attention and act on matters under their agencies),” Roque said, referring to Duterte.
Even if he has access to the President’s schedule, Roque said he has no information at press time about a supposed meeting between the President and Marcos.
Basis for ‘Tribune of the People’
The concept of the “Tribune of the People” is based on its roots in Section 35(11) of Chapter 12, Title 3, Book 4 of the Administrative Code of 1987.
The provision empowers the office to represent “the Republic and/or the people” in “any matter, action or proceeding which, in his opinion, affects the welfare of the people as the ends of justice may require.”
Calida’s predecessor Florin Hilbay had stood before the Supreme Court against the positions of the Comelec in the cancellation of the presidential candidacy of Sen. Grace Poe, and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in the case of the Torre de Manila’s obstruction of the Rizal Park sightline.
In the said cases, Hilbay argued that foundlings like Poe should be presumed natural-born Filipino citizens, and that the sightline could not be divorced from the Rizal Monument itself as they should be taken together as a whole national cultural treasure.
While the SC ended up siding with developer DMCI Homes in the absence of a law protecting the sightlines of historical landmarks, it cited Hilbay’s arguments multiple times in holding that Poe was a natural-born citizen qualified to run for president.
The OSG has taken up the cudgels for private persons in the past. In the aftermath of the 1995 Senate elections, it disagreed with the Comelec’s dismissal of a complaint filed by losing candidate Aquilino Pimentel Jr. against Ilocos Norte election officials in connection with discrepancies in the tallies.
In that case, the Comelec asked the SC to strike out the solicitor general’s manifestation in support of Pimentel’s petition. It argued that the politician was a “private person, thus [it is] beyond the powers and functions of the Office of the Solicitor General” to participate.
The SC refused to dismiss the solicitor general’s assertion that the Comelec’s resolution had no basis in the evidence. It stressed: “This Court does not expect the Solicitor General to waver in the performance of his duty.”
“As a matter of fact, the Court appreciates the participation of the Solicitor General in many proceedings and his continued fealty to his assigned task. He should not therefore desist from appearing before this Court even in those cases he finds his opinion inconsistent with the Government or any of its agents he is expected to represent,” the April 24, 1998 decision on Pimentel versus Commission on Elections stated.
This was actually a quote from an earlier case revolving around allegedly questionable appointments, wherein the solicitor general took the side of then transportation secretary Oscar Orbos over the Civil Service Commission.
The SC’s Sept. 12, 1990 decision on Orbos versus Civil Service Commission highlighted that it looks out for the solicitor general’s participation in cases even when he goes against the interests and legal positions of the government agencies.
The high tribunal said it considered the solicitor general’s opinions and recommendations to be “an invaluable aid in the disposition of the case.”
“As a matter of fact, the Court appreciates the participation of the Solicitor General in many proceedings and his continued fealty to his assigned task. He should not therefore desist from appearing before this Court even in those cases he finds his opinion inconsistent with the government or any of its agents he is expected to represent,” read the decision penned by then associate justice Emilio Gancayco.
The Pimentel case was one of the legal bases cited by the OSG in throwing its support to Bongbong Marcos.
Another decision that it cited was the Feb. 4, 1992 decision on Gonzales versus Chavez, in which SC associate justice Flerida Ruth Romero wrote that the OSG is “endowed with a broad perspective that spans the legal interests of virtually the entire government officialdom.”
In that case, the SC viewed the OSG as one that has “objectivity” and thus “may be expected to transcend the parochial concerns of a particular client agency and instead, promote and protect the public weal” because of its broad perspective.
Incidentally, the name Chavez refers to former solicitor general Francisco Chavez, a staunch anti-corruption advocate who actively went after the Swiss bank deposits of the Marcos family that eventually led to the graft conviction of Bongbong Marcos’ mother, former first lady Imelda Marcos on Nov. 9, 2018.
The OSG’s heft may be of use to Marcos, since without its backing, he failed in his previous attempt to change the PET member in charge of his protest.
On Aug. 6, 2018, he also accused Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa of “partiality and bias” and described former president Benigno Aquino III as the justice’s “boss” who “bear[s] a grudge” against the late dictator’s family. Marcos said the case “curiously landed on [the justice’s] lap” only four months after his appointment, seemingly ignoring the concept of a raffle.
On Aug. 20, 2018, the SC issued a statement that “[t]here has been no change in the management of PET Case No. 0005 as the request was denied unanimously,” without identifying Caguioa as the member-in-charge at the time.
On Aug. 28, 2018, the PET unanimously denied the motion for Caguioa’s inhibition and warned Marcos that “any unfounded and inappropriate accusation made in the future will be dealt with more severely.”
The tribunal dismissed Marcos’ allegations as a “good reading as a conspiracy theory.” It added that Marcos’ narration “may even provide fodder for discourse in social media, but his theories, when used for ground for an inhibition of a Member of this Tribunal must transcend fiction.”
Marcos’ lawyer Vic Rodriguez said Leonen, out of delicadeza, should not have accepted the role as member-in-charge of the election protest against Robredo because he has reportedly shown bias against the Marcoses.
In an interview with “The Chiefs” aired on One News / TV 5 on Monday night, Rodriguez said, “By reason of delicadeza, he should not have accepted the job as ponencia or justice-in-charge of this case. Remember, in judicial canon, a judge must not only be impartial, but must appear to be impartial. Mere appearance.”
Rodriguez said they are now waiting for the reaction or move of Leonen to their motion for his inhibition. “If he will not make a decision, it is possible that we would elevate this to the SC en banc… the justices will decide.”
The lawyer explained that as much as possible, they did not want to reach the point of asking for Leonen’s inhibition, but they were concerned that if they did not do it, the resolution of the case would continue to be delayed until it is dismissed for being moot.
They reportedly saw signs of Leonen’s bias against the Marcoses, such as his scathing pronouncements in his dissenting opinion in the burial case of the late dictator.
Almost five years since the Marcos camp filed the case, they regard as a delaying tactic the order seeking comments from the Comelec and the OSG on whether the PET has jurisdiction over a vice presidential electoral protest case.
“The only thing we wanted was to have a fair case. We are not even asking that they proclaim (former senator) Marcos the winner. We just want to be given the chance to present our evidence because they have jurisdiction” over the case, Rodriguez said. – With Evelyn Macairan, Helen Flores