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All the president’s men

04 June 2018

The first full-year reports of the Commission on Audit on the Duterte government described in documented details irregularities in some agencies, So far, these reports have claimed the head of Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo, who was replaced quickly by Agriculture Undersecretary Bernadette Fatima Romulo Puyat. Pressure is on for others to follow Teo’s fate — including President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter Sara, the mayor of Davao, who was questioned for spending P1 billion on casual employees at the city hall.
Solicitor General Jose Calida and ex-Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo.

But opposition senators are aiming their guns at the government’s chief lawyer, who is facing corruption charges before the Ombudsman.

Solicitor General Jose Calida, who engineered the removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on quo warranto proceedings, is accused of conflict of interest because his family-owned security agency got P150 million worth of government contracts.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Duterte should not only fire Calida and other officials who had been removed on charges of corruption, but also charge them in court. 

“I challenge President Duterte to prove his anti-corruption rhetoric,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Calida should resign out of delicadeza if Duterte would not fire him.

Calida and his family reportedly owned Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency that allegedly bagged P150 million in contracts from various government agencies.

The allegation was detailed in a complaint filed against Calida by businesswoman Jocelyn Marie Acosta-Nisperos before the Ombudsman.

Despite the claim of Calida’s camp that he was no longer connected with the security agency, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the Solicitor General should step down.

Malacañang came to Calida’s defense, saying there was no conflict of interest in the deals in question.

Duterte spokesperson Harry Roque said the solicitor general’s enemies were only out to get back at him for successfully ousting Sereno through a quo warranto petition.

Calida has kept mum on allegations of corruption being hurled at him, saying he would defend himself in a proper forum.

In her complaint, Nisperos said Calida failed to divest his 60-percent capital stock in their family business, the security firm Vigilant Investigative and Security Security Agency Inc. (VISAI), when he was appointed as Solicitor General in 2016.

Calida’s wife Milagros and their three children each own a 10 percent stake in VISAI.

Nisperos said VISAI bagged contracts from four agencies —the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), and the National Parks Development Corporation (NPDC) — due to its connection with Calida.

Nisperos also accused Calida of having an affair with his 22-year-old executive assistant, who allegedly received P1.8 million in public funds as compensation.

She said Calida, who was confronted by his wife Milagros upon learning of their affair, and his girlfriend have taken a leave of absence since their break-up.

“When Calida's wife found out about the affair and the corruption, she confronted him in his office last April 23. Calida and his alleged EA have since then taken a leave of absence from the OSG,” Nisperos said.

“By divesting P1.8 million from public funds to whom he is having an illicit relationship with, Calida is guilty of malversation that is punishable under the (Revised Penal Code),” she added.

Nisperos, however, admitted having no evidence on the alleged affair aside from her supposed “verified sources.”

“I acknowledge we do not have hard evidence when it comes to the relationship. But the eyewitness reports are strong, very credible ang witnesses. We beseech the Ombudsman to investigate this relationship,” she said.

Apart from his conflict of interest, Hontiveros also questioned Calida’s previous links with high-profile personalities in conflict with the law. “We cannot tolerate public officials who coddle and give special treatments to drug lords and high-profile criminals, or in Mr. Calida’s case, a solicitor general who lawyers for plunderers like pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and the Marcoses, and a Solicitor General whose personal businesses profit from the government,” Hontiveros said.

The senator also called on Duterte to stop recycling corrupt officials or the practice of reappointing dismissed government officials.

“Recycling corrupt public officials is recycling corruption. Corrupt public officers, who have been shielded from calls of transparency and accountability, are non-recyclable,” she said.

Pangilinan voiced a similar call. “If DoT Secretary Wanda Teo resigned because the DoT/PTV 4 favored her Tulfo brothers’ TV production company to the tune of P60 Million worth of government contracts then Solicitor General Jose Calida, the lawyer of the government, should resign as well for P150 million worth of government contracts in the DoJ (OSG is an attached agency), Pagcor, NEDA etc. that went to the security guard agency belonging to his wife and children (kasi nag resign na daw siya),” the senator wrote on his Facebook page.

“Family TV Production Company. Family Security agency. Same same. Halos times 3 nga lang ‘yung halaga nung kay Calida,” he added.

Teo stepped down from her post at the height of the controversy hounding the Department of Tourism (DoT) over its P60-million advertisement deal with the state-run, People’s Television Network Inc. (PTNI). The ad placement reportedly went to a program produced by Teo’s brother, Ben Tulfo, and co-hosted by another brother, Erwin Tulfo.

Other government officicals who faced adverse COA reportsa were:
• Resigned justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre under whose reign th Department of Justice was flagge for P27-million worth of payroll without supporting documents, and P65-million worth of accounts maintained without authority. But he says he “has no participation whatsoever” in the transactions.
• Government Corporate Counsel Rudolf Philip Jurado, who has been fired by Duterte for issuing a legal opinion that led to the approval of a 75-year permit for a casino operator inside the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (Apeco).  He said COA earlier issued an Audit Observation Memorandum dated March 12, which said lawyers of the Office of Government Corporate Counsel have been receiving, among others, “secret allowances” directly from some GOCCs.

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