DOJ asks OSG to explain participation in sedition complaint

MANILA, Philippines – For the first time in a legal proceeding, the mandate of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and its authority to participate in a criminal prosecution has been questioned.

This is courtesy of the country's top lawyers who came bearing down on the OSG on Friday, August 9, in the first Department of Justice (DOJ) hearing on the inciting to sedition complaint filed against key members of the opposition.

In what was supposed to be just a cursory hearing to serve parties with copies of pleadings, noted human rights lawyer Arno Sanidad of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) raised the question of why the OSG was representing the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in a preliminary investigation.

Sanidad represents his fellow FLAG lawyers who are among the 36 respondents in the case: Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada, Theodore Te, and Fhillip Sawali.

Assistant Solicitor General Angelita Miranda told the DOJ panel that the OSG is acting on its mandate as "tribune of the people," a line often heard from Solicitor General Jose Calida in the many activities he has undertaken to run after Duterte critics.

Former senator Rene Saguisag, who was representing Senator Risa Hontiveros, then made a biting statement. "The OSG should be the tribune of the people, not tuta (lapdog) of this administration," he said. 

The room audibly reacted to Saguisag, which pushed Miranda to try and interject. "Let's be professional," Miranda said, but DOJ panel head Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Olivia Torrevilas allowed Saguisag to proceed.

The manifestation turned into a formal motion, which was quickly adopted by the lawyers of Senator Leila de Lima and former solicitor general Florin Hilbay.

Torrevillas gave the OSG 10 days to answer in writing.

OSG mandate

The primary mandate of the OSG is to represent the government in court, particulary in cases on appeal. The DOJ hearing is prosecutorial level.

Refusing an interview, Miranda later pointed reporters to Section 35 (11) of Executive Order No. 292 which empowers the OSG to "act and represent the Republic and/or the people before any court, tribunal, body or commission in any matter, action or proceeding which, in his opinion, affects the welfare of the people as the ends of justice may require."

Miranda and the OSG also represented the CIDG during the preliminary investigation of the drug complaint against alleged drug lord Peter Lim.

But Hilbay said that the OSG during his time never participated in a criminal prosecution. Hilbay also called Section 35 "a very general provision."

"I, myself, would like to have clarification on the power of the office I used to head. Noong tayo ay Solicitor General, hindi ko naisip na makialam sa investigation ng isang (When I was Solicitor General, I never thought of getting involved in an investigation into a) criminal matter," Hilbay said.

De Lima's lawyer Filibon Tacardon also pointed out that if and when the case is elevated to the Court of Appeals, it will be the OSG who shall represent the DOJ in court, creating conflict of interest.

Hilbay added that the wisdom of the OSG law was to give the office utmost freedom to act on cases on appeal, which is its primary mandate.

"Kung nakikialam na sila sa imbestigasyon pa lang, wala na 'yung kalayaan na 'yun, masisira ang intensyon ng batas (If they are already meddlingin the investigation level, they lose that freedom; they will go against the intent of the law)," Hilbay said.

Saguisag said, "(The OSG) should not sandbag itself into becoming the defender of the attempt of the administration to eliminate all dissent and dissenters."

The DOJ has so far received 15 motions, all requesting to suspend the proceedings until the CIDG can provide additional evidence. The CIDG has 5 days to do so.

At the moment, the CIDG's complaint is solely anchored on the affidavit of star witness Peter Joemel Advincula alias Bikoy who accused former senator Antonio Trillanes IV of masterminding an alleged plot to link President Rodrigo Duterte and his family members to drugs. He accused the other respondents, including Vice President Leni Robredo, priests, and bishops of involvement in the supposed Duterte ouster plot.

The next hearing is on September 6.  Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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