The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved on third and final reading the measure seeking to strengthen the functions of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), including taking over the Presidential Commission on Good Government's (PCGG) task to recover ill-gotten wealth accumulated during the Marcos dictatorship.
With a vote of 162 in the affirmative, 10 in the negative and zero abstentions, the chamber approved House Bill 7376, which also effectively abolishes the PCGG and the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel and transfer its powers to the OSG.
The bill's authors, including principal author Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, write that its goal is to "eliminate the overlapping of functions and consolidate the legal services in the government into one...and to concentrate and enhance the efforts of the government to fully and effectively recover ill-gotten wealth and properties."
Under the bill, at least 50 legal divisions in the OSG will be created, which will be headed each by an Assistant Solicitor General and will consist of at least 10 lawyers and other necessary personnel.
It likewise states that the legal representation of the government, its agencies and instrumentalities including GOCCs and officials and agents acting in their official capacity and the functions of the PCGG, will be consolidated in the OSG.
Last year, the PCGG defended its continued existence amid calls for its abolition, showing how much of the Marcos family's ill-gotten wealth it has recovered despite its measly budget. In 2012, the commission said, it took back P57.10 billion from the Marcoses with a budget of only P93 million.
"Aside from the fact that it was awarded as the best DOJ [Department of Justice] performing agency for three straight years, what other government agency can effectively raise non-tax revenues similar to the numbers [shown]?" the PCGG said, in response to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno's remark that the commission was no longer needed.
Malacañang has denied that there were political motives behind the push to abolish the PCGG, saying that the Duterte administration just wants to "right-size" the government and trim redundancies.
However, the current Solicitor General, Jose Calida, headed a group called the Alyansang Duterte-Bongbong that pushed for the tandem of then-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. during the elections.
In response to the filing of HB 5233, also authored by Alvarez with the intent to abolish the PCC and expand the OSG's functions, Calida said last year, "I am now a government official. 'Yung election before has no more bearing on my duty as a government official so it doesn't matter to me."
'Tatanggalan ng ipin'
Progressive and opposition lawmakers, however, opposed the approval of the bill, saying that it would only hamper the government's efforts to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses.
"Papahinain, papalabnawin, tatanggalan ng ipin ng panukalang batas na ito ang gobyerno sa kanyang napakabigat na tungkulin na bawiin ang ill-gotten wealth, ang nakaw na yaman ng mga Marcos," ACT Teachers party-list Representative Antonio said in registering his opposition to the bill.
"Kaya malinaw po na bahagi ang panukalang batas na ito, partikular ang abolisyon ng PCGG sa nakita na nating itinutulak ng Duterte administration na rehabilitasyon ng pamilya Marcos," he added.
For Anakpawis party-list Representative Ariel Casilao, the approval of the bill is an outright attempt at historical revisionism.
"The PCGG represents, not only as a government institution that retrieves or recover the ill-gotten wealth of the deposed dictator," he said.
"Kaya sa tingin ng kinatawang, isang malaking kalapastanganan ng makasaysayang papel ng mamamayang Pilipino na buuin at habulin ang anumang kayang habulin sa yumaong diktador," he added.
As of late 2016, the PCGG was dealing with more than 200 pending cases on the estimated $10-billion loot, which includes Swiss accounts, properties and assets, jewelry sets, and artworks. — BM, GMA News