By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Sandiganbayan Sixth Division has directed Mayor Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan of Shariff Saydona Mustapha town in Maguindanao to hire a new lawyer since his current counsel, Atty. Jo Ellaine Collado, has been appointed as Legal Officer of the province of Zambales.
Collado informed the anti-graft court of her appointment during a hearing on September 2, 2019. Despite her appointment, Collado manifested that she wants to continue being Ampatuan’s lawyer and she even submitted the approval issued by Governor Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. of her request to engage in the private practice of law.
However, the anti-graft court cited Section 7(b)(2) of R.A. 6713, which prohibits public officials or employees from engaging in the private practice of their profession unless authorized by the Constitution and existing laws and provided, that such practice will not conflict or tend to conflict with their official functions.
While Collado submitted Ebdane’s approval, the court noted that she did not cite any laws or regulations that authorize Provincial Legal Officers to engage in the private practice of law.
To the mind of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), there is no issue for Provincial or City Legal Officers and government lawyers to engage in private practice of law. “However, it bears stressing that said DILG opinions do not bind this Court,” the resolution read.
“Atty. Collado, by representing accused Ampatuan, is representing interests adverse to the People of the Philippines and the Philippine government in general. This Court finds that Atty. Collado’s continued representation of accused Ampatuan in the present criminal cases constitutes conflict of interest and will be prejudicial to the best interest of service,” it added.
Ampatuan has been slapped with 137 counts of falsification of public documents, four counts of malversation, and four counts of graft in connection with the anomalous use of public funds for the repair of school buildings in the province.
The money, amounting to P72,256,140, went to fictitious lumber companies with the use of falsified disbursement vouchers. These fictitious and non-existent companies included Andong Lumberyard and Construction Supply, Nasser Lumberyard and Construction Supply, Ismael Lumberyard and Construction Supply, and Usman Lumberyard and Construction Supply.
The 11-page resolution was written by Sixth Division Chairperson Sarah Jane Fernandez with the concurrence of Associate Justices Karl Miranda and Kevin Narce Vivero.