POSTSCRIPT / December 3, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Being a gov’t big shot gives ample protection

CHANGE NA!: Filipinos desperately looking for authentic agents of change cannot ignore the bursting upon the scene of the TRANSFORMERS.

They are Sen. Dick Gordon running for president, and ex-MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando for vice president. Both are no-nonsense action men who have shown political will to do right away what is right — even if not popular.

Gordon and Fernando filed their certificates of candidacy on the last day Tuesday under the banner of the Bagumbayan-Volunteers for a New Philippines party.

Gordon said: “Bayani and I are here to TRANSFORM this nation. What we’ve done for Subic and Marikina, we will do for the nation. What we’ve done during Pinatubo and Typhoon Ondoy, we will do for any province during a calamity. We have faced challenges and conquered them. The spirit of the Filipino has been tested and proven. We’ve built model cities, and we’ll build a model country where justice, peace and order will prevail.

“The time has come for action and results. This is a partnership of proven change, transformers of hearts and minds, builders of character and communities for a better Philippines. The future of our country is in our hands. Together, we can build a Bagumbayan.”

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ULTERIOR MOTIVE: President Gloria Arroyo’s decision to run for a congressional seat in Pampanga has kicked up spirited discussions on her supposed ulterior motive of evading prosecution after she loses presidential immunity at the end of her term.

Sen. Miriam Santiago even lectured on what everybody already knows: that a congressman (which the President will become in June next year) is not immune from criminal prosecution except for a few minor offenses under certain conditions.

The lady senator, one of my favorites (I will vote for her), pointed out that an immunity enjoyed by congressmen is against libel, among other crimes, in connection with statements made from the floor or in a committee hearing.

An elderly senator (his name escapes me), belittling the supposed Arroyo intention of evading prosecution, noted wryly that maybe the only offense she could get away from as a congressman is one for a traffic violation.

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LIMITED IMMUNITY: Some of the discussants seem to have allowed tunnel vision to set in, shutting out a wider view of protection from criminal prosecution and focusing only on the more obvious parliamentary immunity, which is limited.

To refresh our memory, let us read again Section 11 of Article VI (The Legislative Department) of the Constitution:

“A Senator or Member of the House of Representatives shall, in all offenses punishable by not more than six years imprisonment, be privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session. No Member shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in the Congress or in any committee thereof.”

The first sentence in that section refers only to offenses punishable by not more than six years in jail, and this only while the Congress is in session.

The second sentence refers only to the lawmaker’s utterances in the Congress or in any of its committees. Outside the legislature, he is as vulnerable as the rest of us – at least in theory.

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VULNERABILITY: Senator Santiago et al. are right. Nowhere is it said or implied that a former Chief Executive who becomes a congressman or senator can no longer be prosecuted for offenses committed during his/her term as president.

But vulnerability is the problem of the future ex-president – not ours. If President Arroyo wants to become a congressman, for whatever motive, and her constituents in the second district in Pampanga vote for her, that is their common lookout.

Election is a political question better left to the candidate and the voting sector concerned to resolve.

Many people are actually growing weary of the politics of hate and retribution.

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MUTUAL PROTECTION: In discussing protection from prosecution of lawmakers holding key positions, we should not refer only to Section 11 above-cited. That is a minor reference point.

We should view the subject in the context of the overall, not just legal, milieu within which power players operate. In the Philippine setting, the elements of influence, pressure and money — and the entire panoply of corruption — color the picture.

In this country, the crooks and grafters in high places protect one another regardless of party affiliation. There is honor among th… them.

Despite the high-pitched denunciation of alleged corruption involving incumbent officials, the likelihood is for the rage to simmer down once new officials take over and the whiff of scandal is blown away by time.

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POWER POOL: Successor officials cannot be relied upon to prosecute with zeal and vigor errant predecessors – except probably if the incoming officials were the direct victims of the outgoing thieves.

Such “sporting” gesture of going slow on the peccadilloes of one’s predecessor is the rule. Kasi, next time around it will be the turn of the newly installed thieves to seek leniency of their successors.

It help tremendously if the official seeking protection or leniency holds a position of influence and power — such as the Speakership of the almighty House of Representatives or the presidency of the venerable Senate.

In fact, just being one of more than 250 congressmen in that pool of power near the garbage dump in Payatas is already ample protection for most indiscretions. What more if one is the Speaker!

From his/her powerful perch, the Speaker will hardly need Section 11.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 3, 2009)

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