The House Committee on Justice on Wednesday approved the substitute bill 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.
At their meeting on Wednesday, the House panel approved the committee report sponsored by Leyte Representative Vicente "Ching" Veloso on the still unnumbered bill, which consolidates proposed legislation to strengthen the OSG including House Bills 350, 547, 3275, 4748, 5216, and 5233.
All bills seek to enhance the efforts of the government to fully and effectively recover ill-gotten wealth and properties, as well as ensure the efficient investigation and prosecution of cases.
The consolidated bill will have the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel and the PCGG abolished and their functions be transferred to the OSG.
House Bill 5233, for one, was authored by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and House justice panel chair Reynaldo Umali.
In his sponsorship speech, Veloso said the consolidated bill was supposed to be approved by the House panel as early as August 2017, but was moved to a later date due to the concerns of the members on the merger of the PCGG and OGCC with the OSG.
These concerns, Veloso said, primarily referred to the PCGG and OGCC officials who would be affected by the abolition of their respective offices.
Veloso said the subcommittee then met on October 3 to prepare a new substitute bill incorporating the proposed amendments of the House members.
Updates on the improved consolidated bill include mandating a special task force of at least five divisions to be primarily responsible in performing the PCGG functions.
"This means that at least 50 lawyers from the OSG will be tasked to recover ill-gotten wealth and pursue cases that have already been initiated by the PCGG," Veloso said.
Section 22 of the bill was also updated to include the absorption of officials and employees of the PCGG and OGCC who would prefer not to avail the retirement or separation benefits
This, "as long as they possess the necessary eligibility and qualifications for the corresponding positions in the OSG," Veloso said.
As of late 2016, the PCGG was dealing with more than 200 pending cases on the Marcos family's estimated $10-billion loot, which includes Swiss accounts, properties and assets, jewelry sets, and artworks.
Following its approval in the committee, the bill will then move to plenary deliberations for approval on second and then on final reading. — MDM, GMA News