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SENATE APPROVES BILL EXPANDING POWERS, CAPABILITIES OF OSG – GORDON

The Senate approved on third and final reading a bill that will expand the powers and capabilities of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) – including reforms allowing the OSG to hire more lawyers in its ranks – to boost the office’s efforts as the government’s principal law office and legal defender.

Senate Bill No. 1823 was sponsored by Senator Dick Gordon, chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and was approved with 16 affirmative votes, zero negative vote and no abstention.

The said bill took into consideration seven other Senate bills on the issue introduced by Gordon, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Sonny Angara, Loren Legarda, Antonio Trillanes IV, Francis Escudero, Ping Lacson and Manny Pacquiao, who serve as co-authors of the measure.

According to Gordon, the bill will primarily amend Executive Order No. 292 or the Administrative Code and Republic Act No. 9417, to introduce provisions that directly address the most important challenges faced by the OSG – such as those involving the hiring of new lawyers, skills training and specialization, and modernization of equipment, among others.

“The Office of the Solicitor General is in dire need of competent, dedicated and honest lawyers to perform its mandate of being the People’s Tribune and the legal defender of the Republic of the Philippines. We need to aid the OSG to take on this formidable task,” the seasoned legislator said.

“More and better-trained OSG lawyers means lower caseload for each lawyer. A lighter caseload would mean lesser postponements of hearings, pleadings would be filed on time.”

The veteran lawmaker explained the bill expands the powers of the OSG to “conciliate, mediate, administratively settle, or adjudicate all disputes, claims, and controversies involving mixed questions of fact and law, or questions of fact only, solely between or among the departments, bureaus, offices, agencies, and instrumentalities of the national government, including constitutional offices or agencies.”

To address the problem of too few OSG lawyers who are overloaded with cases, the bill mandates “competitive” retirement perks and other benefits for OSG members to help recruit new lawyers and make them stay in the agency.

Among the new perks to attract more lawyers to the OSG include retirement benefits equivalent to those received by the National Prosecution Service, lump sum gratuities, and death benefits for senior officials of the OSG (the Solicitor General, Assistant Solicitors General, and State Solicitors), “provided that they will not represent interests adverse to those of the public.”

The bill likewise calls for the institutionalization of intensive training of OSG personnel – which includes the provision of a legal internship program for law students – to develop capacity and “ensure those who are trained cascade what they learn and stay in the OSG.”

“More and better-trained OSG lawyers means lower caseload for each lawyer. A lighter caseload would mean lesser postponements of hearings, pleadings would be filed on time.

“More and better-trained OSG lawyers means lower caseload for each lawyer.”

Ultimately, this would help in the faster disposition of cases,” the senator said.

The measure will also allow the OSG to hire foreign counsel based on who, in the OSG’s opinion, could best represent the interests of the Republic.

The bill will increase the share of the OSG in proceeds from litigations so it could fund training of employees, modernize office and equipment, etc. that may lead to better performance of OSG lawyers and helping improve court dockets.

Gordon said the reforms are badly-needed if the government is to address and rectify the pace of disposition of cases handled by the OSG, noting that at present the ratio of pending cases per OSG lawyer “is at 1,415 total active cases per lawyer.”

 

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