Solon seeks creation of Office of the State Counsel in the DOJ

ILOILO CITY Rep. Jerry Treñas said there’s an urgent need to upgrade the Legal Staff of the Department of Justice to be known as the Office of the State Counsel citing its pivotal role in the country’s international commitments and economic development.

“The current Legal Staff of the DOJ are our indispensable silent workers,”Treñas declared.

Treñas is author of HB 6632 or the State Counsel Act of 2012 which would create the Office of the State Counsel to be headed by a Chief State Counsel, under the supervision of the Secretary of Justice.

Republic Act 2705, enacted on June 18, 1960, saw the creation of the Legal Staff headed by the Chief Legal Counsel with the assistance of 30 attorneys. It was mandated to assist the DOJ Secretary in the performance of his/her duties as Attorney General of the Philippines, and as ex-officio legal adviser of government corporations or enterprises.

Treñas noted that the Legal Staff then was mainly responsible for the issuance by the Secretary of Justice of various written legal opinions requested by government entities, instrumentalities and offices.

However, he pointed out that over the years the Legal Staff (LS-DOJ) has evolved and been involved in more undertakings of different fields. It adjudicates and arbitrates conflicts or controversies between or among government offices and agencies.

The LS-DOJ resolves the legality of tax ordinances or measures, reviews citizenship and immigration cases, implements the anti-dummy law, negotiates and executes executive agreements and treaties, and determines the status of refugees in compliance with the country’s commitment to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1954 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

“Today, the LS-DOJ is engaged in more government programs and international undertakings unprecedented in its history,” the authors said.

Its indispensable participation is seen in matters affecting not only foreign trade, financing and investments in the country, but also in international cooperation relating to extradition, mutual legal assistance, trafficking, financial crimes and irregular migration, Treñas added.

The multifaceted and demanding role required of State Counsels of the Legal Staff, which has been unheralded and overlooked over the years, can efficiently and effectively be met by recognizing the exceptional role of the office, strengthening its functions, expanding and streamlining the office, augmenting benefits and upgrading employee skills, he said.

“The current Legal Staff is undermanned and in dire need of organizational upgrading in order to function optimally,” Treñas said.

Treñas also said there is a pressing necessity to, among others; augment the salaries of the State Counsels who are already overburdened due to the unforgiving demands of their work.

“Inevitably, the Legal Staff has been unsuccessful in retaining and maintaining the best legal minds, and thus continues to suffer from professional exodus to more economically rewarding offices,” Treñas lamented.

To mention a few who worked in the Legal staff and rose to prominence in the legal field are Supreme Court Justice Florentino Feliciano, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Supreme Court Justice Teresita Leonardo- De Castro, former Supreme Court Justice Leonardo Quisumbing and former Supreme Court Justice Minerva Gonzaga-Reyes.

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