Alvarez's House lawyer allowed to 'assist' in Floirendo trial
MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan allowed a member of the legislative staff of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to "assist and coordinate" with Office of the Ombudsman prosecutors in the graft trial of Davao del Norte 2nd District Representative Antonio Floirendo Jr.
"Attorney Edgardo de Jesus and Attorney Paul Joseph Mercado are allowed to sit beside and assist the assigned prosecutors, who shall, at all times, be in control of the prosecution of the present case," the Sandiganbayan 6th Division said in a minute resolution dated May 23, but released to media only on Thursday, May 31.
De Jesus and Mercado are the lawyers of the complainant in the graft case, which is Alvarez. Mercado is part of the legislative staff of the Office of the House Speaker, according to a pleading filed by Floirendo.
Floirendo slammed the move as Alvarez "trying to take over and influence the prosecution" of the case. (READ: Graft complaint vs Floirendo not about feuding girlfriends – Alvarez)
Floirendo and Alvarez used to be longtime friends from Davao, and both allies of President Rodrigo Duterte.
What's the case all about? In March 2017, Alvarez filed a graft complaint against Floirendo for having financial interest in the government lease of penal colony land to Tagum Agricultural Development Company (Tadeco), which is owned by Floirendo's family.
In January 2018, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales charged Floirendo with graft and transmitted it to the Sandiganbayan, where the latter entered a not guilty plea last week. Ombudsman prosecutors handle the case in court.
From the court's order, it appears that the Ombudsman prosecutors were the ones who filed the motion for Alvarez's lawyers to "assist and coordinate."
Is it regular? Yes, private lawyers sometimes act as private prosecutors if they are deputized by state prosecutors and permitted by the court.
However, in this case, the Sandiganbayan noted that Alvarez's lawyers were not deputized to act as special prosecutors. This means their participation will be limited.
"In no case shall Attorneys De Jesus and Mercado actually take part in, and appear on behalf of the Office of the Ombudsman in the proceedings," the court said.
Is a House lawyer allowed? The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees prohibits government employees like Mercado from engaging in private practice of their profession "unless authorized by the Constitution, law or regulation, and provided that such practice will not conflict or tend to conflict with their official functions."
According to the court order, Mercado was granted authority to engage in limited practice of his profession by the House secretary general. As documents show, Mercado is acting as a private lawyer for Alvarez in the Floirendo case.
In his opposition, Floirendo said the prosecutors and the lawyers did not make "even a single explanation how there will be no conflict between Attorney Mercado's job as Supervising Legislative Staff Officer III in the Office of the House of Representatives Speaker and as a Private Prosecutor at the same time."
"Worse, considering that the trial of this case before this Honorable Court is always scheduled during weekdays at 1:30 in the afternoon, the undersigned is of the view that Attorney Mercado's presence in this Court during such times will already be in violation of the Memorandum dated March 1, 2018 which prohibits him from engaging in limited practice during office hours," Floirendo added.
The Sandiganbayan did warn Mercado: "He must ensure that such assistance will not impair in any way his efficiency nor be in conflict or tend to conflict with his official functions and his official work hours as Supervising Legislative [Staff] Officer III and no government funds will be utilized in such assistance."
The court order was signed by Associate Justices Sarah Jane Fernandez, Karl Miranda, and Maryann Corpus-Mañalac. – Rappler.com