New chief state prosecutor vows independence

Posted at 02/18/10 9:02 PM

MANILA, Philippines - He admits being close to Carlos de Leon, the other half of the power couple in Malacañang who vets appointive officials, but he says it doesn't mean he will be beholden to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Newly-appointed Chief State Prosecutor Claro Arellano believes that his credentials bagged him the post, not his closeness to the powers that be.

He also vows to uphold the independence and integrity of his new post. (Read: New chief state prosecutor urged to keep office 'clean')  

“We started together as state prosecutors at the Department of Justice,” Arellano says in an interview with abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak, referring to de Leon.  “But even without his endorsement, I think I deserved (to be appointed to) the position.”

Last Monday (Feb. 15), President Arroyo swore in Arellano, replacing retired Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño, who held the post for 13 years. He edged out two other potential candidates: Department of Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor and Senior Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Severino Gana.

As chief state prosecutor, Arellano will supervise around 1,750 government prosecutors nationwide as head of the National Prosecution Service (NPS).

The post of chief state prosecutor was one of several vacancies that President Arroyo could legally fill up before she steps down from office on June 30.

In the coming elections, the job of the chief state prosecutor has become more crucial and strategic. In partnership with the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) Law Department, the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor will supervise the investigatory and prosecutorial functions of the Comelec on election offenses.

Prosecutors are also members of the City Board of Canvassers, the Provincial Board of Canvassers, and the District Board of Canvassers for the legislative districts of Metro Manila.

From the ranks

Prosecutors welcomed the appointment of Arellano, saying he “is one of us.”

Arellano rose from the ranks—as a state prosecutor, regional state prosecutor, and chief prosecutor of the Quezon City Prosecutors' Office.

He wears his new hat backed by 22 years of public service.

Arellano joined the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 1998. Three years later, he was appointed regional state prosecutor for Region 4. It was during this provincial stint that his career was defined.

He was part of the team of prosecutors that pinned down former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez for murder. He was also involved in tightening the case on the Payumo massacre.

At the same time, he was the director of the Witness Protection Program of the government that sheltered Vizconde massacre star witness Jessica Alfaro. Arellano says he stayed with the witnesses in their secret hideouts.

At the Quezon City chief prosecutor, the highlight of his career was the successful prosecution of the Philippines' first plunder case.

“I guided our prosecutors over this case,” Arellano says. A Bureau of Internal Revenue cashier was the first to be convicted for plunder.

The Quezon City portfolio is one of the most coveted slots for prosecutors, but also one of the most intrigue-laden. Arellano said this pressure-filled job also prepared him for his new position.

It was earlier reported that Arellano was facing administrative cases, but Arellano stresses he had already been cleared by the DOJ and the Ombudsman. (Read: Arroyo seen to name loyal chief state prosecutor)

He says such cases come with the territory. “You cannot please everybody.”

In a joint statement, the Chief Prosecutors Association (CPROSA) and the National Prosecutors League of the Philippines said Arellano’s appointment “would surely enhance professionalism in the prosecution service as a distinct public career.”

They added: “We are happy he could easily relate with the prosecutors with full grasp and understanding of their various needs, problems, difficulties and concerns in the discharge of their public task. “

Improving professionalism in NPS

Arellano assumes his post at the NPS with a scandal that has tainted the office's image.

Before he retired, Zuño was slapped with graft charges and got entangled in a controversial drug case involving other prosecutors. (Read: Zuño: Public service can be ungrateful)

The scandal reinforced the perception that government fiscals can be bought at the right price.

How would he handle erring prosecutors?

Arellano says he would impose “zero tolerance” on irregularities, but not without observing due process.

He says his management style is to allow his subordinates greater leeway in exercising their functions and responsibilities.

At the Quezon City Prosecutors Office, he devolved powers by creating 7 divisions, with each division engaged in different functions. The organizational chart was supposed to have been copied by Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera for the NPS.

“I know how to delegate. I have trust and confidence on my men,” Arellano says.

Foremost in his agenda is for Malacañang to sign the bill increasing the salary of prosecutors in order to stem the exodus of fiscals from the judiciary.

He says that good prosecutors, after honing their craft, leave the judiciary, causing a brain drain in the NPS. At present, a new prosecutor receives only a P26,000 monthly salary.

Arellano says an attractive salary would entice prosecutors to make a professional career in the NPS.

Not to mention uplifting their morale.