By Raïssa Robles
You will see that what Solicitor General Jose C. Calida did recently for Napoles is nothing new. It isn’t the first time a Solicitor General – supposedly a lawyer for the government – threw a case in favor of the accused.
A previous SolGen did the same thing for Imelda Marcos. Before this had happened I thought a SolGen was the chief government lawyer whose duty was to defend the Republic during litigation.
I hope SolGen Calida can explain how his move which favors Janet Napoles also favors the Philippine government and the Filipino people.
Calida justified his move by citing the need to uphold the rule of law in Napoles’ case. But there seems to be nothing in his mandate nor functions that says he has to uphold the rule of law for a respondent who is a private citizen, not a government unit or institution. You can read the mandate and functions of the Office of the SolGen by clicking here.
In the case of Imelda Marcos, then President Fidel V. Ramos spoke out that he had nothing to do with what his newly-appointed SolGen did. Ramos’ SolGen had the decency to resign his post afterward.
In Napoles’ case, SolGen Calida justified his move by saying that his office had to give comments on all the cases filed before the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court where the government was involved. SolGen Calida was quoted by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism as saying that: “If we do not comment and we are required to comment then we are not doing our jobs.”
There is a way to test the truth of Calida’s statement. I hope another journalist with more resources and time could do this. Using the Freedom of Information Executive Order of President Rodrigo Duterte, a request could be made with the Office of the SolGen to disclose the following:
- Since SolGen Calida took office, in how many cases was his office required to comment on CA and SC cases?
- How many manifestations and comments has the Office of the SolGen actually filed since Calida took office?
- How did the Office of the SolGen decided which cases to prioritize for its manifestation and comments?
Meanwhile, here is the story of how a previous SolGen enabled Imelda Marcos to escape jail. It is an excerpt from my book Marcos martial Law: Never Again:
Imelda Romualdez Marcos was convicted on September 24, 1993 by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan for approving an “anomalous transaction” that caused the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA), which she chaired, to lose the equivalent of $4.8 million. The LRTA Vice Chairman Jose Dans was also convicted for signing the contract on behalf of LRTA.
This transaction involved leasing out two train station terminals at below market rates to a private foundation that Mrs. Marcos had put up and headed. The Philippine General Hospital Foundation (PGH Foundation) was supposed to raise funds for the state-owned Philippine General Hospital, but the PGH hospital director told me in the early 1990s in an interview that PGH never got a centavo from PGH Foundation.
Acting on behalf of the PGH Foundation, Mrs. Marcos had signed the lease contract with the LRTA even though she was also the LRTA Chair at that time of the signing.
Instead of going to jail, Mrs. Marcos appealed the conviction. While waiting for the results of her appeal, she ran in 1995 for a seat in the lower legislature to represent Leyte and she won.
In 1996, the Supreme Court found Mrs. Marcos “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” for signing the contract. It sentenced her to 12 years in jail, and fined her the equivalent amount of the anomalous contract. The Court acquitted Dans since it found “no conspiracy” between him and Mrs. Marcos.
Despite the verdict. Mrs. Marcos still did not go to jail. Instead, she again appealed through her lawyer,
Estelito Mendoza (the Solicitor General during the Marcos dictatorship).
On January 29, 1998, the Supreme Court upheld her conviction. It even denied a second appeal from her. But still, she did not go to jail. Instead, she had filed as a candidate to run for the presidency in the May 1998 elections.
Suddenly, out of the blue, President Fidel Ramos’ newly appointed Solicitor General, Romeo do la Cruz, intervened in her case and told the Supreme Court to reverse Imelda Marcos’ conviction, citing lack of evidence.
I was closely covering this at that time for South China Morning Post and was greatly puzzled and shocked at seeing the chief government lawyer throw away a landmark case that the government had already won. In all the years that Mrs. Marcos was being tried the Office of the Solicitor General had never gotten involved in the LRT case. It was always the Office of the Ombudsman that was prosecuting the case before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
And so, I interviewed Solicitor General Romeo De la Cruz on the matter for an SCMP story. He told me then:
“Sandiganbayan erred. It should not have convicted Mrs. Marcos. It played blind to the evidence she presented. So we recommended to the Supreme Court…to acquit Mrs. Marcos.”
He also told me that he had arrived at this conclusion on “purely legal grounds” and “without asking clearance from higher officials including President Ramos”.
This was even though his office was directly under the Office of the President and it had never ever been involved in prosecuting the Marcos case before Sandiganbayan.
I asked De la Cruz how he had gotten involved and he said it was the Supreme Court which had directed the Office of the Solicitor General, and not the Ombudsman, to comment on Mrs. Marcos’ plea for acquittal.
I asked him about his background and I learned that he was a career government lawyer. Starting 1974, he had served under Marcos’ Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza — Mrs. Marcos’ lawyer in the LRT case. I also learned that when he went to the Supreme Court on Mrs. Marcos’ behalf, Ramos had newly appointed him to the post of Solicitor General.
De La Cruz tendered his resignation as Solicitor General shortly afterward, but the deed had been done.
On October 6, 1998, the Supreme Court used De la Cruz’s stunning request for acquittal as one of the grounds for acquitting Mrs. Marcos by a vote of eight in favor, five against, and one abstention.
Former Senate President Jovito Salonga noted afterward that seven of the eight justices who cleared Mrs. Marcos had owed their appointments to senior judicial positions to Ferdinand Marcos or to Estelito Mendoza, her lead counsel.
I tried verifying Salonga’s statement and found out that four of the eight justices who had acquitted Mrs. Marcos once had her lawyer Mendoza as their boss.
Reynato Puno (now a retired Chief Justice) worked under Mendoza for nine years.
Vicente Mendoza was an Assistant Solicitor General under Mendoza from 1973 to 1980.
Santiago Kapunan worked under Mendoza from 1972 to 1973.
Fidel Purisima did not work under Mendoza but owed his appointment as a judge to Marcos.
Human Rights lawyer and former Senator Rene Saguisag told me at that time, when I interviewed him, that he was disgusted by the turn of events. He said:
“Solicitor General Romeo de la Cruz’s flip-flop is a reflection of the new power situation. If, as we
understand it, he is one of the boys of former Solicitor General and Justice Minister Estelito Mendoza, the snicker or wink factor will be there. That passes for administration of justice in our benighted country.”