ENSURING JUSTICE FOR EVERYONE
Assistant Solicitor General Angelita V. Miranda talks about ensuring the administration of justice.
By Godfrey T. Dancel
PHOTOGRAPHY BY IVAN LLANETA
When Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) Angelita Villanueva Miranda—whose name literally means “a messenger of God who is worthy of admiration”—speaks, people listen. Beyond the soft, unassuming voice is a woman of real substance, a living testament to how personal success could be used in the service of one’s fellowmen.
THE REPUBLIC’S DEFENDER, THE PEOPLE’S TRIBUNE
Since her appointment as one of 30 ASGs in 2016, Miranda has been one of the more visible ASGs, or top lawyers of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG). Her involvement in various cases has showcased the important role the OSG plays in the administration of justice in the country. With such, people have become interested in knowing about the OSG.
“The OSG has two primary functions. It is both the Republic’s defender and the People’s tribune,” Miranda states. “As the Republic’s defender, the OSG is the principal counsel for the State, and represents the Government of the Philippines, its agencies and instrumentalities and its officials and agents in any litigation, proceeding, investigation, or matter requiring the services of a lawyer. As tribune of the People, the OSG is the bastion of justice. The OSG ensures that justice will prevail. When a criminal case is decided against the accused and the latter appeals his conviction, the OSG always represents the People when the case is elevated to a higher court. However, while the OSG represents the People, it will still evaluate whether the required quantum of evidence has been met, that is proof beyond reasonable doubt. If the evidence on record is bereft of moral certainty that the accused is guilty of the crime, the OSG will not hesitate to recommend for the accused’s acquittal.”
The legal eagle highlights the unique function of the OSG as People’s tribune. “The OSG acting as the tribune of the People, insulates itself from political pressure and acts on its own volition. At times the OSG takes a contrary position to its traditional clients—the government agencies —in order to advance the welfare of the People, and promote the general interest of the State as a whole.”
“The OSG is involved in a variety of cases ranging from criminal cases on appeal, nullity of marriage, land registration, adoption, special proceedings, and all cases involving constitutional issues. For its part, the Office of the Prosecutor handles criminal cases in the lower courts. But once these are elevated to the Court of Appeals (CA) and the Supreme Court (SC), it is the OSG that represents the People of the Philippines,” Miranda explains.
LEAVING THE SHORE FOR THE OCEAN
“You cannot appreciate the beauty of the ocean unless you have the courage to leave the shore.” This quote serves as Miranda’s guide in her endeavors.
“I’m so motivated by that,” she says of the quote. “You see, I had a very challenging childhood due to the inequalities of life, but I dared to leave our hometown, to see the beauty of the world. I struggled hard to finish my education, and to accomplish what I have and what I am today. My success did not come easy but it was mainly because of my dedication to pursue higher learning, and with a firm belief that God will always be with me in all of my pursuits in the legal arena.”
Miranda had to leave Barangay San Antonio in Donsol, Sorsogon, to pursue her college education. It was no easy sailing for Miranda, the youngest in a brood of nine. “I had to apply for a scholarship. And then I qualified for a Civil Engineering course at Bicol University, under the ‘Study Now Pay Later’ plan. So that was my initial step to enter college,” Miranda recalls. She later on transferred to Far Eastern Air Transport Incorporated (FEATI) University in Manila, taking her even farther away from home. “And after that, one of my sisters, an accountancy graduate, encouraged me to shift to BSBA Accountancy for a better opportunity and as a prelude to a higher educational undertaking.” Seeing accountancy as a possible tool for financial stability, Miranda pursued such at the New Era University, where she was a dean’s lister and graduated in 1983. “After that I went into business,” Miranda says, beaming as she shares how profitable her business became. “But then again, there were challenges like bouncing checks, so I asked myself, ‘Ano ba talaga ang batas (What does the law actually say)?’ One person owed me Php500,000 at that time, 1988, and issued a bad check. That incident prompted me to pursue legal education by taking up Bachelor of Laws at the Faculty of Civil Law at the University of Santo Tomas (UST).” Miranda attributes her success, first, to her being God-fearing, and her dedication to whatever undertaking she gets into. Miranda shares, “Anuman ang inyong ginagawa, gawin ninyo nang buong puso na parang sa Panginoon kayo naglilingkod at hindi sa tao (Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for people).”
PARAGON OF EXCELLENCE
Miranda truely has excelled—and still does. After becoming a lawyer in 1998, Miranda joined the OSG, and demonstrated her legal prowess. Her intelligence, dedication, and willingness to learn did not escape her superiors, who took due notice and gave her the chance to bloom. Slowly but steadily, she rose through the ranks, from the entry-level position of associate solicitor to ASG, just a step below the highest position in the OSG. Today, Miranda—affectionately called Justice Angie—is a paragon of dedication to public service and excellence in the legal profession. With her much-deserved fame, Miranda has, over the years, been considered for other positions outside the OSG. However, the very nature of her job has kept her from accepting such offers. “Maybe it’s the work. I think it’s really the work that goes with it, the mandate, because imagine [the OSG is both] the People’s tribune and Republic’s defender. Also, I just thought that being a member of the bench would limit what I have started and accomplished, and what I further seek to achieve in serving the Republic best,” she shares. One thing for sure though, is Miranda’s love for the OSG and those who make up the office. “I love the people. I treat my lawyers as family,” she says. “They are really good at their jobs.”
ENSURING THE REPUBLIC’S VICTORY
Together with fellow top-notch lawyers, Miranda has successfully defended the Republic of the Philippines in a number of high-profile cases. One of these is the Philippine International Air Terminals Company (PIATCO) case, involving the operations of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3. She was part of the OSG team that successfully defended the government in the case filed by PIATCO at the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington D.C., USA. In 2018, Miranda was one of the ASGs chosen to represent the government in the case filed by Shell Corporation BV and Shell Malampaya LCC against the Philippine government at ICSID. The case involves over USD 53 billion in income taxes levied by the government on Shell and its partners in a consortium involved in a natural gas project in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). The case is still pending at ICSID. Her successful prosecution of high-profile drug suspect Kerwin Espinosa earned Miranda and her Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Felix Angelo Bautista (FAB) Division team an award in the OSG’s Program on Awards and Incentives for Service Excellence (PRAISE) Committee Strategic Security Sectoral Performance Award in 2018. A year later, Miranda and her team successfully defended then-President Rodrigo Duterte and other high-ranking government officials in writs of amparo and habeas data cases filed by the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and human rights alliance Karapatan before the Supreme Court.
Not quite known to many Filipinos, the OSG, through Miranda, also plays a vital role in the campaign against the 53 long years of communist rebellion in the country, as well as the continued operation of suspected communist front organizations. This role of hers is by virtue of her being the head of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s (NTFELCAC) Legal Cooperation Cluster (LCC).
The NTF-ELCAC is the task force formed in 2018 by Duterte as he institutionalized the government’s Whole-of-Nation Approach in resolving the problem of communist insurgency. “As chair of the Legal Cooperation Cluster, I lead the legal offensive against communist terrorist groups and provide legal guidance to all other NTF-ELCAC clusters,” Miranda summarizes her role in the much-talked about government body. Staying true to her role at the NTF-ELCAC LCC has meant Miranda regularly “eats criticisms for breakfast.” Asked how she deals with criticisms and controversies, the outspoken lawyer says she has mastered how to handle such “with grace and [with appropriate actions based on] the provisions of the law.”
INSPIRED BY THE BEST
“To be candid about it, I have lots of inspirations,” Miranda shares when asked about the people she looks up to. “You know why? Because [different] people inspire me in different ways.” She cites former Solicitor General and present Energy Regulatory Commission Chairperson Agnes Devanadera because “she gave me lots of chances to shine.” Miranda also holds another former Solicitor General and erstwhile Commission on Audit (CoA) Chairperson Jose Calida, in high esteem, especially because of his simple but effective “Win, win, win!” mantra. Miranda, herself now an inspiration to younger lawyers at the OSG, reveals that she is drawn to people with “brilliant minds.” Among these are SC justices, “especially if they write beautiful decisions” as these inspire her to ensure the delivery of justice and serve the people even more.
She also mentions a former chief executive as being one of her inspirations, “In fairness to all the presidents, I do love President Rodrigo Duterte.” She relates an incident that happened before the Duterte administration, where the Philippine delegation to the review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) were looked down upon, leaving her longing for the time when Filipinos would be accorded due respect in bilateral or multilateral negotiations. “The VFA was being reviewed in Hawaii, and I was part of the Philippine delegation. I was representing the OSG then. With me was the then-head of the International Law Unit of the Judge Advocate General Office and now my fellow Assistant Solicitor General Karen Abad Ong, who was representing the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP),” Miranda recalls. “Our suggestions and opinions were discarded when we were insisting that a particular provision should be followed to protect Filipinos, especially the members of the AFP. And then, one American general said, ‘Ah, you don’t want to take our aid. So, it’s up to you.’ It was an arrogant utterance which was uncalled for. But during the time of President Duterte, no such similar incident was allowed to happen because of the President’s toughness and readiness to protect the Filipino people.” Over and above these, Miranda draws inspiration and happiness from family and friends who have been with her throughout her journey. “I have an adopted son, who is eight years old. I am also blessed to have my siblings and my mother. My mom, by the way, is 99 years old and is still very active. I am equally blessed to have friends like Justice Ong,” she shares.
SERVING THE REPUBLIC, SERVING GOD
Indeed, it takes a special kind of public servant-lawyer to lead a team in one of the most important legal offices in the land. Miranda is definitely cut out for the job. Miranda describes herself as a “stickler for excellent sevice who employs a participative or democratic type of leadership.” She adds, “I make things done irrespective of the situation, and explore those roads less taken, so to speak, without offending the basic tenets of our social order. And, in recognition of our inherent limitation that no one has a monopoly of best judgment, I seek my team’s bright ideas.” “Yes. I’m very strict,” Miranda admits. But she is quick to add that it is because for her, “serving the Republic is serving God. So, we’re not going to short-change the Republic and the Filipino people. You’re paying taxes. So I see to it that all the work be done, and excellently at that.” “But then again, there’s always love,” she avers, referring to how she relates with her lawyers and staff. “Yes. And I do more of coaching and mentoring because I want them to know the essence of public service, and that is, a public office is a public trust.”
GIVING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
For Miranda, leaving Donsol does not mean turning her back on her townmates. Even as she left the shores of her hometown long ago, Miranda makes it a point to look back and give back. “Actually, I’ve been going back and forth there,” she reveals. “In fact, because for me, education is the best way to alleviate poverty, [I have decided to help deserving students get a good education]. So I have some scholars and some of them have graduated already. And with this, their lives have changed for the better.” With her legal expertise, clear sense of right and wrong, as well as gift of words, Miranda would do well as an elected government official. Asked whether she plans to one day seek an elective post, she gives an emphatic “No.” “I can continue my public service without seeking an elective office,” she asserts, adding that engaging in politics runs counter to her religious beliefs as a proud member of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC). This leads one to ask, does Miranda need to leave the legal profession to be of service to more Filipinos? She need not look far, actually. Her six-year stint as ASG has been nothing but fabulous—not just because of her being the head of the FAB Division but due to her many accomplishments—and she is a natural candidate for the agency’s top post. Miranda’s journey has taken her from Donsol to Makati, where the OSG compound is located. Being still in progress, this journey could take her a little farther, to the heart of Manila, particularly one august building complex along Padre Faura St. where the country’s top legal minds decide on the most important of cases. “Well, all lawyers dream that,” she says of being an SC justice. “If it’s the will of God, [I will be willing and ready to take on the job. That is] the pinnacle of success for lawyers.” Meanwhile, we can worry a little less about the administration of justice in the country. As Miranda assures, “The OSG will be right beside you to advance and promote your welfare.”
“Serving the Republic is serving God. So, we’re not going to short-change the Republic and the Filipino people. You’re paying taxes. So I see to it that all the work be done, and excellently at that.”