Recently, Congress decided to strengthen the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) by passing the proposed OSG law. The Senate and the House of Representatives gave their own versions of the bill, and later came to a compromise, after the bicameral conference committee approved the reconciled versions of the bills, incorporating the following salient points of the proposed new OSG Law.
Primarily, the law expands the powers and authorities of the OSG, without overlapping with the mandates of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) and the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC). Likewise, the proposed law seeks to equalize the benefits accorded to the members of the judiciary and the Office of the Ombudsman to those with the members of the OSG. Under the new OSG Law, the Solicitor General shall also have “a Cabinet rank and the same qualifications for appointment, rank, category, prerogatives, salary grade and salaries, allowances, emoluments, privileges, retirement and all other benefits as the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals.”
Parenthetically, despite having common goals to empower the OSG, the two Houses appear to have varying sentiments when it comes to the consolidation of the two offices with the OSG. While the Lower House believes that the integration of the PCGG and OGCC with the OSG would result into streamlined government operations, the Upper House maintains that the unification of these three agencies would only cause overlapping functions and conflicting interests. Some sectors pushed for a simpler government bureaucracy by keeping a single government law firm, while others believe that it is better to spare PCGG and OGCC from dissolution, as the two offices have done their specialized jobs.
Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee Chairman Richard Gordon saw the significance of retaining the independence and autonomy of the three government institutions, considering these agencies have their own mandates and functions that are better left distinct and separate from one another.
OFFICE OF THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
The OSG, headed by the Solicitor General, is the primary law firm, legal officer and defender of the Philippine Government. The position was first created in 1901 by virtue of Act. No. 136. It is an independent office attached to but not a constituent unit of the Department of Justice. The OSG represents the Government of the Philippines, its agencies and instrumentalities and its officials and agents in any litigation, proceeding, investigation or matter requiring legal assistance and services of lawyers. The office also represents the State before the Supreme Court (SC) and the Court of Appeals (CA) in all criminal cases, and it appears on behalf of Government and its officers before the SC and the CA, in all civil actions and special proceedings where the Government or any officer in his official capacity is a party thereto.
Sometimes the OSG participates in actions involving the constitutionality and validity of any treaty, law or government regulation. But the OSG is required to appear in all proceedings involving any acquisition or loss of Philippine citizenship, and it represents the Government in all land registration and related proceedings. However, there are also instances when the President or the head of the government office concerned also authorizes the OSG to represent government-owned-and-controlled corporations (GOCCs).
PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ON GOOD GOVERNMENT
The PCGG is a quasi-judicial agency created in 1986 by then President Corazon Aquino through the issuance of Executive Order No. 1, following the EDSA People Power Revolution early that year. Its main function is the recovery of ill-gotten wealth accumulated by former President Ferdinand Marcos, together with his family, relatives, subordinates and associates, or more known as his “cronies.” The PCGG is also in charge of the sequestration of all business enterprises and entities owned or controlled by them during the Marcos regime. For the past years, the PCGG has recovered a total of P171 billion worth of ill-gotten wealth and it targets to collect P40 billion more in 2020.
OFFICE OF THE GOVERNMENT CORPORATE COUNSEL
Established in 1935, the OGCC serves as the principal law office and counsel of GOCCs, their subsidiaries, government financial institutions, government corporate offspring, government instrumentalities with corporate powers and government acquired asset corporations. The office exercises its mandate to advocate the GOCC’s interest in cases filed for or against them, and regardless of the nature of the controversies involved.
The OGCC likewise has control and supervision over the legal departments of different government corporations. In a case, the Higher Court held that there are permissible levels of delegation of authority the OGCC may cede to the legal department it supervises (Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Teresita Panlilio-Luciano, G.R. 165428, 13 July 2005). In fact, in a Memorandum Circular issued by then President Joseph Estrada in 1998, it provides that in exceptional cases, the written authority of the Solicitor General or the Government Corporate Counsel, as the case may be, and the written concurrence of the Commission on Audit are required prior to the hiring of a private lawyer or law firm.
In cases involving major legal issues affecting GOCCs, the OGCC is also a recognized source of legal advice. As the primary counsel of various GOCCs, the office is likewise authorized to resolve and arbitrate issues between and among GOCCs, as it is upheld in jurisprudence that GOCCs are permitted to settle and adjudicate disputes, claims and controversies through arbitration and administrative processes (Philippine Veterans Investment Development Corp. vs. Velez, GR No. 84295, 18 July 1991).
The foregoing lays down only few of the many and different functions exercised by the three government agencies. Considering the complexity of the tasks at hand and the level of specialization, skills and training that the jobs call for, it is imperative to streamline operations without compromising the delineation of the functions of the three offices, to avoid the duplications of their obligations. While the absorption of PCGG and OGCC to the OSG may result in “a leaner, cleaner government bureaucracy,” in the words of Solicitor General Jose Calida himself, it also runs the risk of increasing the load and worsening the backlog of the OSG. Presently, each OSG lawyer handles 1,400 total active cases. It is difficult to imagine how the office would be able to fully address the legal concerns and protect the interests of the Philippine Government and its agencies, once it is also given the additional task to deliver legal services to around six hundred (600) GOCCs, whose legal needs are currently being catered to by the OGCC.
At the outset, it appears to be more organized for the government to have one law firm. But strengthening further institutions that contribute to the government may be a wiser move instead of abolishing or cramping them altogether on a government agency that is already overloaded with other governmental concerns and only has limited manpower and resources. Considering the specialization of the OGCC in corporate law practice and its long exposure to GOCCs, and given PCGG’s good performance in running after ill-gotten wealth, the dissolution of the PCGG and OGCC and the transfer of their mandates to the OSG may just bring more harm than good. Hence, the presence of the OSG, PCGG and OGCC should remain distinct and separate. At any rate, these institutions are all expected to continue to exercise their powers and mandate to administer justice on behalf of the Philippine Government, in one way or another.