Calida won't resign as SolGen or divest from security firm

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This story was updated to include a statement from Malacañang Palace.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 31) — Solicitor General Jose Calida said he will neither resign nor divest his stocks in his family's security firm, which obtained ₱261.39 million worth of contracts with various government agencies.

When asked if he ever considered resigning to save face, Calida said, "No. Why should I?"

SolGen Calida also maintained that there was no need to give up his stocks as there was no conflict of interest between the company's deals and the operations of his office.

"The option of divestment arises only when there is conflict of interest. Not speculative conflict of interest... Since there is none, the law says I can resign only, which I did. There is no need to divest," he told CNN Philippines' The Source in an exclusive interview.

His statement comes after it was revealed that Calida's family business, Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency Inc., entered into a total of 14 contracts with government agencies, worth a total of about ₱261.39 million when he was already Solicitor General, according to data from the Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) and the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

The notice of Calida's resignation as president and chairman of Vigilant was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on July 13, 2016. However, Calida still keeps 60 percent of the shares.

His wife has since assumed his position in the company. She and their two children still own the remaining 40 percent of the firm.

Calida is open to divesting from the security firm if Department of Justice (DOJ) finds anomalies in the two contracts and decides to file a case against Vigilant.

"If there will be an actual conflict of interest, then I will divest within 60 days from that day... But it's not the potential — it must be an actual conflict of interest," said Calida.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra backtracked an earlier statement, saying he is now open to investigate the validity of the security firm's dealings with DOJ worth ₱12 million, which were signed when Calida was already a Solicitor General.

Other agencies Vigilant had dealings with are the House of Representatives, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, National Parks Development Committee, National Economic and Development Authority, NAPC, and National Electrification Administration.

Calida maintained that a large fraction of the ₱261.39 million went to operating expenses. He neither went into detail with the contracts nor divulged how much the take home pay was.

"Vigilant is just one (of our sources of income). It's not our only bread and butter. I was a practicing lawyer since 1974. We live a comfortable life," he said.

He added everything was above board, and he declared his financial interests in the company in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).

"Did I commit graft? No, I did not," said Calida.

He added he did not even discuss the controversy with President Rodrigo Duterte.

"This does not concern the President. My conscience is clear, and there's no reason why I should bother the President with this problem," he said.

While Guevarra said he is open to investigating Calida, the Solicitor General still enjoys the support of Malacañang. Duterte has maintained that he would not fire Calida.

As Malacañang said it would keep its hands off a possible Senate probe, it maintained the Department of Justice is a better office to handle the matter.

"I think is the better course of action para malinaw na [so it's clear] once and for all kung talagang nagkaroon ng [if there really was] conflict of interest," Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Thursday.

Duterte's administration has also declared a war on corruption, as evidenced by the string of sacked presidential appointees and government officers who are accused of corrupt practices.

Calida evades detailing contracts, profits

Calida has also sidestepped questions regarding details of his company's contracts, not even giving the number of contracts the company bagged from government agencies or their total cost.

When asked whether the contracts Vigilant won after he was appointed Solicitor General averaged the same as from before he assume the post, he maintained he did not know the exact figures since he resigned.

"As far as I was informed, for this year, there was one bidding that we won in 2018. In 2017, maybe two," he said. "I don't really know the exact figures because I'm no longer part of Vigilant management."

Calida did say that Vigilant lost three government bids since 2016 — two at the Philippine Sports Commission and one in PAGCOR-Malate.

"Let me tell you, we don't always win when we join... In fact, since I assumed my office, we lost three biddings," said Calida.

The Solicitor General also maintained that a large fraction of the ₱261.39 million went to operation expenses, such as salaries and security equipment.

"I think there's some sort of innuendo there... the amount we allegedly bagged is not really accurate. That is the approved budget for the contract. That is not our profit," he said.

When pressed for a range or estimate of the profit, Calida only answered, "It depends on the amount that you have bidded."

No conflict of interest

Calida also explained his previous stance that there was no conflict of interest in the deals.

"If the transaction requires the approval of my office, that is a conflict of interest," Calida said.

"In Section 7B (of Republic Act 6713), it says there is conflict of interest if the private business is licensed by the government office like OSG. I do not regulate, supervise, or give licenses to security agencies to operate. Ergo, there's no conflict of interest here," he added.

The sections Calida cited of R.A. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, detail transactions considered unlawful for government officials. Section 7(a) prohibits officials from having "financial or material interest in any transaction requiring the approval of their office."

Section 7(b)(1) also provides that public officials cannot "own, control, manage or accept employment... in any private enterprise regulated, supervised or licensed by their office."

This, Calida explains, is what makes his case different from former Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo. Teo resigned after her Department was found to have entered an advertisement deal with state network PTV-4, providing ₱60 million to her brothers Ben and Erwin Tulfo's show.

'No moral dilemma'

The Solicitor General insisted that there was no moral conflict either, saying there is no question of delicadeza in his family's dealings with the government.

"As far as I'm concerned, I've not done anything wrong and there is no issue of morality here," said Calida.

He also maintained his position did not give him any undue advantage over other bidders, as he trusted government checks and balances.

"Sometimes the bidding is done by the (Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System), which is under the Department of Finance, not necessarily the procuring entity. There are many safeguards," said Calida.

Calida explained that the reason why his company entered into government bidding was because private companies could not afford to provide security guards decent wages, overtime pay, and night shift differential dues.

"There is an assurance that the security guards will be given what is due to them," said Calida. "They should be given also other benefits required by law, which private companies have no financial capability to pay."

He added that closing shop now would be worse for their workers.

"If we close shop, many guards will lose jobs. We cannot afford that. Nakakakonsiyensiya na iyon [That's on my conscience]," he said.

Watch the full interview with Calida her