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Sotto casts doubt on reports on Calida’s security firm’s multi-million deals with gov’t agencies

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By Xave Gregorio

Senate President Tito Sotto cast doubt on the truthfulness of news reports uncovering documents which show that Solicitor General Jose Calida and his wife’s security agency bagged multi-million peso contracts with several government agencies.

“‘Pag ka may mga kontrobersiyang ganyan, ang unang alamin mo muna is totoo ba? Pangalawa, iligal ba? ‘Di ba?” Sotto said Monday (May 28) in a media briefing in his office.

“Baka mamaya hindi natin sigurado kung ano ang nasa likod niyan eh. So I’d rather not indulge in that particular issue,” he continued.

Several news outlets, including Politiko, have reported that the Calidas’ security firm, Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency, Inc. (VISAI), got multi-million contracts with several government agencies after the Solicitor General’s appointment.

Among these government agencies are the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC), the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), the House of Representatives and the Department of Justice, where the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) is an attached agency.

Despite several reports citing numerous documents, Sotto said, “It’s very difficult for me to come out with an opinion when I don’t know the facts eh. I don’t know the real facts, I should say.”

The Senate President also said he is unsure whether there was conflict of interest in the contracts and if these were illegal.

Some of the documents which surfaced were also referenced in a complaint by a supporter of Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was ousted as chief justice due to a quo warranto petition filed by Calida, filed with the Office of the Ombudsman against the government’s top lawyer.

In her complaint, private citizen Jocelyn Nisperos-Acosta alleged that Calida violated the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees due to VISAI’s contracts with the NPDC, NAPC, the National Economic Development Authority and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation.

Section 9 of that law states that public officials must “avoid conflict of interest at all times” and mandates them to resign from any position in private businesses in 30 days after assuming office or divest shareholdings or interest in 60 days after assuming office.

While Calida says there is no conflict of interest as he has divested his shares from the company, a document from the Securities and Exchange Commission submitted by Acosta with her complaint showed that the Solicitor General owns 60 percent of capital stocks in VISAI as of September 29, 2016.

Amid these reports, Senator Kiko Pangilinan has called for Calida’s resignation, while Senator Risa Hontiveros urged President Rodrigo Duterte to fire and file charges against him.

However, Calida kept mum on these calls when asked by Senate reporters.

Instead of giving calm comments, the visibly irritated top lawyer pushed barriers and camera tripods away and yelled brief responses.

Calida was at the Senate on Monday in time for the chamber’s deliberations on a bill strengthening the OSG and the Senate rules committee meeting on the proposed resolution questioning the Supreme Court’s ousting of Sereno.

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