POSTSCRIPT / October 7, 2007 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why allow the Senate to supplant judiciary?

CONFUSION: There is something grievously wrong when VIP complainants now go to the Senate, not to the regular courts, to prosecute their enemies and ventilate grievances.

These are some of the more obvious reasons for this functional confusion:

1. Some people think they cannot get justice from the courts anyway, so they go elsewhere, including that marketplace called the Senate. (In desperation, others take the law into their own hands, which is worst.)

2. Some people who know they have a weak case, but have strong faith in their wealth and influence, find it easier to manipulate a case in the Senate than in a court of law.

3. There is a breakdown in the public faith in government institutions and in officials who presume to govern them. A free-for-all is raging.

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SHAM HEARING: I am no great fan of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, but I believe he should not allow himself to be pilloried in the Senate on allegations that have not been shown to have probative value.

Why should Mike Arroyo allow himself to be a party to a sham hearing? It is a sham, because the Senate under its present leadership has usurped judicial powers. It presumes to rule on the guilt or innocence of people summoned to appear before it.

If Joey, the son of Speaker Jose de Venecia, has proof that the President’s husband had told him to back off from the aborted National Broadband Network project and that he thus committed an offense, Joey should go to court.

Is Joey peddling his sour grapes to the Senate because of Reason No. 2 above? 

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CLOSED SESSIONS: Some senators have seen the creeping confusion with the violation of their internal rules, particularly those governing executive sessions.

After grilling former NEDA Secretary-General Romulo Neri for almost 12 hours two weeks ago, the senators were salivating for more blood.

They called him to an executive session, where they expected him to “spill the beans” on the NBN project behind closed doors.

Not a word about what had happened behind closed doors was supposed to be leaked. But two days later, a newspaper reported what supposedly happened in the meeting, which turned out to be a false account.

The news report said that Sen. Joker Arroyo had intervened in the proceedings by demanding that Neri be provided with a lawyer before he talked during the executive session.

* * *

PROBE SOUGHT: Surprised to read the story quoting four unnamed sources, Joker said he had never blocked Neri’s testimony.

Many of those present said Neri was just too sick (he was running a fever and vomiting) to answer any more questions. So the executive session adjourned in just 10 minutes.

Equally surprised was opposition Sen. Francis Escudero, who told reporters what actually happened. He said the senators decided to send Neri home to rest because of his sorry condition.

Joker has earned bipartisan support in pursuing this investigation of the false report. Opposition senators Panfilo Lacson, Noynoy Aquino and Escudero have joined senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Miriam Defensor Santiago in calling for an investigation.

* * *

SOTTO LAW: Joker pointed out that under Section 128, Rule XLVII, of the Senate, the chamber must respect the confidentiality of executive sessions, unless two-thirds of its members vote to reveal what had happened.

The penalty for violating this rule is expulsion, which would also require a two-thirds vote of all Senate members.

The courts have long recognized that the President should be able to consult his advisers without fear of disclosure of their advice. Leaking confidential consultations would stifle candor and healthy, free-wheeling discussions.

The newspaper that published the false report, on the other hand, cited the old “Sotto law” (RA 53), which protects print journalists from being compelled to identify their source of news given in confidence.

* * *

DOUBLE STANDARDS: The way the Senate went to great lengths to protect the confidential nature of its executive sessions betrays a double standard.

While they want everyone else to respect the confidentiality of their executive sessions, some senators have no qualms about disregarding a similar privilege accorded the Executive Branch as shown by the way they had badgered Neri to talk about his private conversations with the President.

They want Neri to disregard his oath of office as a Cabinet official and violate the trust bestowed on him by the President while complaining about the supposed breach in their executive sessions.

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2010 AGENDA: One problem with the opposition-dominated Senate is that its members are preoccupied with their respective political agenda for 2010.

The opposition wants to wring confidential information from Neri to link President Arroyo to the controversial NBN deal thinking that in the process, they will reap free publicity in the run-up to the 2010 elections.

These senators need not wonder why Neri had behaved as he did, true to his character as a proper member of the Cabinet. He was just following the Code of Ethics and Professional Standards that Cabinet officials have sworn to observe.

Neri’s decision to keep his lips sealed was just doing the right thing as spelled out under RA 6713.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 7, 2007)

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