CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – The squabble between Senate President Frank Drilon and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is giving fits to overseas Filipinos, who are willing to join and vet honest and qualified people to act as placeholders when a big number of Senators and Congressmen will start to take a difficult trek to jail when the Ombudsman elevates plunder and graft charges against them before the Sandiganbayan.
Although, Jesus said, “no one can be a prophet in his own homeland,” some overseas Filipinos in the United States and Canada, who feel voiceless and powerless in Congress despite the so-called sectoral representatives that never consult with them, find inspiration from the Propaganda Movement launched in 1872 by Filipino student exiles in Europe led by Jose Rizal, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Mariano Ponce and Marcelo H. Del Pilar, who advocated for a representation of the Philippines in the Spanish Cortes (Parliament).
These overseas Filipinos are just too willing to submit names to Congress, who can replace the soon-to-be suspended Senators and Congressmen for a peaceful power transfer while debates follow whether to hold a special elections for their replacements or just wait out for the 2016 presidential elections to fill up the huge power vacuum.
I believe my favorite Senator Santiago is on track when she advocated for an automatic suspension of Senators and Congressmen if they are charged by the Ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan with plunder or graft for as long as their crimes are punishable by more than six years in prison.
Section 11 of Art. VI of the Philippine Constitution is very clear: “A Senator or Member of the House of Representatives SHALL (underscoring ours), in all offenses punishable by not more than six years imprisonment, be privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session… .”
This section was the basis of the 1991 Anti-Plunder Act in which the accused shall be automatically suspended from office when the Ombudsman files plunder charges in court.
On the other hand, Senate President Drilon is leaning on Rule 34, Sec. 97 of the Senate rules, which state that “upon the recommendation of the committee on ethics and privileges, the Senate may punish any member for disorderly behavior and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of the entire membership, suspend or expel a member. A penalty of suspension shall not exceed 60 calendar days.”
But this rule is merely iteration or an implementing rule of Subsection (3) of Sec. 16 of Art. VI of the Philippine Constitution, which says, “Each House MAY (underscoring ours) determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its Members, suspend or expel a Member. A penalty of suspension, when imposed, shall not exceed sixty days.”
CRIMINAL VIOLATIONS VS. ETHICAL RULES
For me, a closer look at “Section 11 of Art. VI” means that it deals with “criminal” offenses like plunder and graft violations while “Subsection (3) of Sec. 16 of Art VI” deals more with ethical “house” rules. A latter example could be a penalty for unexcused absences like Rep. Manny Pacquiao, who should not receive his salary when he trains for his fight while Congress is in session. Or if a celebrity senator or congressman films a movie or commercial, even if it is a PSA (public service announcement), where they could get paid in taxable cash or in kind, they should not get paid when they are absent during Congressional session.
Besides, in the hierarchy of numbers, “Section 11 of Art. VI” takes precedence over “Subsection (3) of Sec. 16 of Art. VI,” especially if there are no inconsistencies on these fundamental laws.
Letting a Senator or Congressman attend session while he is being tried before the Sandiganbayan will be unfair to the Filipino people, who expect these lawmakers to give an undivided attention to craft laws. These lawmakers should not be distracted from the preparation of their defenses while on trial.
By putting these lawmakers to jail, they (lawmakers) will always move for a speedy trial. On the other hand, if they are allowed to attend sessions, these lawmakers will not only exert undue influence on the Sandiganbayan judges trying them but they will make sure they use all the tricks in the book to delay their trial until some of the witnesses get sick or dies. That is why it is very important that there should be a law that should be passed to compel witnesses to perpetuate their testimonies first before they face trial so prosecutors can have a fall back position on their testimonies in case witnesses are incapacitated in the course of the trial.
I doubt if these senators or congressmen will do a Zubiri. Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri did the unthinkable in 2011 when he became the first sitting Filipino senator to resign.
Instead of hanging on to the Filipino mantra of kapit sa patalim o kapit tuko (hanging by his fingernails), Senator Zubiri, facing accusations of fraud in the 2007 elections, delivered a privilege speech, saying, “I am resigning because of these unfounded accusations against me, and this issue has systematically divided our nation and has cast doubts in our electoral system which have affected not only myself, this institution but the public as well.”
Zubiri could have delayed his departure from the Senate by prolonging his defense before the Senate Electoral Tribunal until his term is over. But he told his detractors, quoting General MacArthur, “I am not actually retreating; I am merely advancing in another direction.”
Immediately after his speech, then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile took the stand and commended Zubiri for what he called was a great show of moral courage.
Enrile said, “Never had I thought that I would witness today a show of moral courage…Many people in this life possess physical courage, but rarely did I see a man stand up to what he believes in.”
Enrile, the most senior member of the upper chamber, said he thought it was the first time a senator has resigned under such circumstances.
Will the aging and sickly 89-year-old Enrile and other Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla, Jr. and other congressmen, charged along with scam-in-chief Janet Lim-Napoles, “advance in another direction” by taking the “morale courage of resigning” like Zubiri before the Ombudsman so they can prepare for their defense?
Or should they prolong their agonies until the Sandiganbayan determines the probable cause or dismiss the charges against them? In the case of Enrile, who is as old as Pope Benedict, will he give up his senatorial seat while awaiting trial, in the same way that Benedict, who was allegedly hounded by cover-up of “sex scandals” of priests, invoked physical challenges as the reasons for stepping down from the papacy?