💬 Face the Issue (Part 1)

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues of the 14th Congress of the Philippine Senate, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege. 

The great American poet, Robert Lee Frost once wrote – “The best way out is always through.”

A leader of men, as we all ought to be in this august chamber, must face and confront an issue, explaining his side, grappling through it like a real leader.

Sinuman sa atin ang maging tampulan ng mga katanungang kailangang sagutin o panagutan, marapat lamang na tayo mismo ang sumagot. Hindi dapat na i-asa sa ilang kasamahang itinuturing na kapantay nating lahat sa loob ng kapita-pitagang bulwagang ito. Sapagka’t tayong lahat ay inihalal ng sambayanang Pilipino. Tayong lahat ay tinitingala ng sambayanan bilang mga tunay na lider — marunong manindigan, may sariling isip, may sariling pananagutan. Kung nais nating maging lider, huwag tayong magtago o mangunyapit sa pundilyo ng pantalon ng ilan nating mga kasamahan.

At sakaling may hamon sa ating integridad, dapat lamang na tayuan, harapin at sagutin natin ang mga tanong na tanging tayo lamang, higit kaninuman, ang may kaalaman at kakayahang sumagot. Gusto nating ituring na pinuno, matuto tayong tumayo sa sarili nating mga paa. Doon tayo sa harapan, huwag sa likuran o sa isang tabi lamang. Maliban na nga lamang kung tayo ay nagpapanggap at nagkukunwaring may kakayahang mamuno. At lalong hindi nararapat na daanin sa dami ng salapi para lamang mapagtakpan ang maaaring napakalaking kasalanan sa taumbayan.

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, it was unfortunate that I was not in the session hall, as I had to attend an urgent meeting outside the Senate premises, when the distinguished minority leader took the floor and questioned certain actions taken by the Committee on Ethics and Privileges which I chair.

In the succeeding discussion, I will address the points raised by the honorable gentleman from Cagayan de Oro City.

Before that, Mr. President, let me state for the record that I had on at least two occasions, as the Senate records will bear me out, pleaded right here in this same hall to allow the members of the minority bloc to nominate their representatives to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges. On as many occasions, they refused to heed my appeal. I now wish to take the opportunity to reiterate that appeal. My reason is as simple as it is significant – the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges is the only committee given the mandate and power to adjudicate and put a peer to trial. It is the only committee that can recommend to the rest of us the dismissal, suspension and other sanctions that it may deem proper to impose on an erring colleague based on the facts and evidence presented before it.

We all have different obsessions. Some can get obsessed with power; some with fame; Rare, if I may observe, are those obsessed with paranoia.

Out of the three, I truly believe paranoia requires the most in dedication and commitment. Indeed, paranoia requires skill.

Mr. President, after almost eight years in this office, I have realized that making laws is the easy part of being a Senator. Navigating the political landmines is the difficult part.

As Chairman of Ethics Committee and, on behalf of its members, I am aware that I have to temper the duties of my office and strike a balance between duty and perception, especially when dealing with a respondent with appointed seconds inside and outside this hall, lest I be accused of political railroading.

Ginoong Pangulo, habang ang komite ay nagpupulong sa Laurel Room ng Senado noong Miyerkules ng tanghali, sa labas naman ay may mga dalawampung naka-maskara na may dalang mga animo’y laruang pugot ang ulo at ibinibintang sa inyong abang lingkod ang pagpaslang sa halos lahat na yata ng napatay sa Pilipinas. At, bakit nga ba tinakpan nila ang kanilang mga mukha? Kasing duwag ba sila ng nagbayad sa kanila upang mag-martsa at sabayan ang pagdinig ng Committee on Ethics and Privileges?

Mr. President, since on this matter at least, we are obsessed with procedures, let us talk about procedures.

First of all, for the record, the Committee on Ethics and Privileges has never, I repeat, never issued a report, much less a committee report on the standing complaint of Senator Ma. Ana Consuelo Madrigal against Senator Manuel B. Villar, Jr.

What was circulated is a mere order. An order that was the result of a careful study by the committee’s general counsel; an order that simply states that the complaint lodged against the Senator from Las Piñas is sufficient in form and substance; an order that according to the Rules of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges that was published in the Official Gazette on March 23, 2009 in compliance with the requirements of the law, had to be promulgated and adopted in a regular committee meeting held last April 15, 2009 before it could finally become valid and enforceable; an order that would accord Senator Villar the right to file his reply within five days upon receipt, to determine if a preliminary inquiry will take place or not.

In other words, the committee meeting held on April 15, 2009 was not a fait accompli. (At lalong hindi ito moro-moro.) Rather, it was undertaken either to ratify or reject that order.

And again, for the record, even when a complaint is determined to be sufficient in form and substance, such as in the case of Senator Madrigal’s complaint, such determination does not necessarily result in the respondent’s guilt.

Under Section 22a of Rule 4 of the Ethics Committee, the next step is for the committee to conduct a preliminary inquiry. A preliminary inquiry includes an opportunity for any known respondent to present either a written statement or to respond orally to questions of the committee.

Apparently, some equate the mere determination by the Committee that the complaint complied with form and substance, with already credible evidence that provides substantial cause for the same committee to conclude that a violation within its jurisdiction has already been committed.

Sadyang napakahaba pa ang tatahaking landas at marami pang gagampanang gawain ang komite bago makaabot, kung sakali man, sa pagsusumite ng isang report na pag-uusapan at pagbobotohan pa nating lahat sa plenaryo.

It should best serve the interest of all parties concerned, most especially the Senate as an institution, for a respondent in a valid complaint to just answer whatever accusations are leveled against him before the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, instead of resorting to squid tactics aimed at muddling the issue and trivializing the very foundation of the code of conduct and ethical standards that bind each and every one of us.

Halimbawa, isa sa mga alegasyon sa naturang reklamo ni Senadora Jamby Madrigal ay ang pagkaka-aksaya ng 1.2 bilyung pisong naibayad na ng pamahalaan sa lupang pag-aari ni Bro, Mike Velarde na siya sanang gagawing daan mula Sucat Road sa Paranaque City patungong Coastal Road.

AD-LIB

Ito ay sa dahilang ayon sa alegasyon ni Senadora Madrigal, ang isang road-right-of-way project mula Sucat Road sa Parañaque City patungo sa Coastal Road ay nagawa pang ilihis diumano ng isinasangkot sa kasong ito na si Senador Manuel B. Villar, Jr., gamit daw ang kanyang impluwensiya at kapangyarihan bilang isang mataas na opisyal ng pamahalaan, upang diumano’y matamaan at madaanan ang mga lupaing sinasabi sa reklamo na pag-aari niya o ng kanyang mga korporasyon nang sa ganun ay tumaas ang halaga ng mga ito, diumano para sa pansariling interes at pakinabang.

Dahil hindi natin alam kung totoo o hindi ang mga alegasyon sa reklamo ng kagalang-galang na Senadora mula sa Bikol at Pampanga, hindi ba mas maganda kung ang mabibigat na akusasyong tulad nito ay sagutin na lamang ni Senador Villar sa tamang pamamaraan at sa harap ng komiteng naatasan ng Senado upang alamin ang katotohanan, sa halip na malihis pa ang isyu sa mga usaping wala namang batayan?

Anyway, the order that has been the concern of Senator Pimentel, and perhaps some members of the minority, is not only within the parameters of the rules of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, but also standard practice in other institutions performing similar duties and functions.

With all due respect to the gentleman from Cagayan de Oro, I would like to correct the misimpression created by his statements on the floor last Wednesday. I would like to believe that he was grossly misinformed when he stated, as lifted from the transcript of last Wednesday’s session which I will quote – “For example, (this is Senator Pimentel speaking) I would really find it difficult to accept the proposition that we can issue already a committee report for signing the day before a meeting actually takes place…”

He kept on referring to that circulated order as a committee report.

No sir! It was NOT a committee report that was circulated last April 14.

Even the distinguished majority leader, Senator Miguel Zubiri may have also been misled into believing that what he signed was a committee report when he manifested on the floor, also last Wednesday, and I quote – “It was not my intent to sign any document, a committee report that had no committee hearing at that point in time.”

No sir! It was NOT a committee report that the distinguished Majority Leader, signed. The gentleman from Bukidnon need not have sounded apologetic or remorseful for signing that document.

Accusing this representation and the rest of the members of the Ethics Committee of issuing a committee report without observing due process is most unfair, to say the least, Mr. President.

Not being a lawyer should not divest most of us in this hall of the knowledge of a simple procedure. And appropriately so, I refer the chamber to the official statement issued by Supreme Court spokesman, Atty. Jose Midas Marquez, in relation to the celebrated Limkaichong case. He said, “A draft, whether signed or unsigned, remains a draft until promulgated. It has to be promulgated before we can call it a decision. So the leak was just a draft. It’s not yet a decision.”

And up until a decision has been promulgated, the matter should remain internal among the members of the Court.

In the same manner and following the same principle, the order (not a committee report) circulated to the members of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges on April 14, 2009 was to be treated as a draft, whether signed or unsigned, and should remain internal among the members. Let me repeat, among committee members only.

It is not for public consumption until after proper promulgation and serviced to the parties concerned. It doesn’t help any if a so-called “angel” leaked the copy of that un-promulgated order.

In a leak following the Limkaichong-Paras election case, it is worth mentioning here that former Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruben Reyes was sanctioned by his peers for violating the confidentiality of internal matters still undergoing deliberations by the Court. Signed by the majority of the magistrates, the Court maintained that unless adopted in an en banc meeting, there was no decision to speak of. Hence, the statement of the Court’s spokesman which I quoted earlier.

Who is to say we cannot hold all Senators to the same high standards of integrity and propriety?

To further illustrate my point, when I was still a member of the Senate Electoral Tribunal deliberating on the Pimentel vs. Zubiri electoral protest, it was standard practice of the Tribunal to circulate orders and resolutions relevant to the said election case to the members for their signatures ahead of the scheduled meetings. These orders were then deliberated upon for ratification or rejection during the meetings called for the purpose. (Kung hindi ganito ang patakarang sinusunod ng tribunal, marahil, magpahanggang sa mga oras na ito ay hindi pa natatapos ang pangunahing hakbang sa protesta ni Atty. Koko Pimentel laban kay Senador Zubiri. Marahil magpasahanggang ngayon ay hindi pa tapos rebisahin ang mga boto sa dalawampu’t limang bahagdan ng mga presintong kasama sa protesta ni Atty. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.)

Let it be known that up until that leak provided by that “angel” happened, no one in the media or in the public knew about the details of the order dated April 15, 2009. Precisely, we in the Committee know and respect the meaning of sensitivity and confidentiality.

It is unfortunate that there is at least one colleague in this chamber who takes pleasure at using every opportunity to twist the issue into a dirty political game.

It is said, the undeserving maintain power by promoting hysteria. And shame on him who wants to drag well-meaning Senators into the muck.

Mr. President, I have in my hands copies of letters from the Ethics Committee of the 12th Congress, regarding a complaint filed against me by a group who called themselves the People’s Consultative Assembly before the same Committee on Ethics and Privileges. This was in connection with the sworn statements executed by some nasty, lying characters led by Angelo “Ador” Mawanay. In a letter dated October 9, 2001, the Committee forwarded the details of the aforementioned joint complaint-affidavit. In another letter dated October 17, 2001, I was officially informed that the Committee had already conducted a preliminary discussion on the matter, and that I had to file my counter-affidavit in a preliminary inquiry. Yet, as can be seen from the records produced from the Senate archives, no meeting was held to tackle the complaint against me. Worse, the Ethics Committee of the 12th Congress did not bother to inform me beforehand that the complaint as filed was sufficient in form and substance. Moreover, the Senate Ethics Committee at that time did not care to find out that the Ethics Committee had no jurisdiction in the first place to tackle the complaint. Why? The accusations contained therein, never mind if the allegations were as incredible as they were ludicrous, were supposedly committed before I took my oath as a Senator of the Republic!

Mr. President, I did not run to my minority leader for help in 2001. I did not ask any peer to heckle for me. I did not mobilize marchers and protesters to muddle up the issue. I did not cry foul. I quietly filed my reply in the best way I knew how – by invoking the rules of the Ethics Committee, even when it was obvious that lapses were committed against my interest. I acted the way a leader ought.

And, as I am still conscious of those lapses, inadvertent and otherwise, committed by some of my colleagues in 2001, I assure you, Mr. President, distinguished majority leader, distinguished minority leader and the rest of our colleagues, that I have been very careful not to commit the same.

I am disappointed that at least one colleague has resorted to the same dirty politics that this administration plays on us and the Filipino people.

Mr. President, I am here to do my job, to make laws. Whatever number of friends I have earned the privilege of having here is an added bonus. But even those friends understand we have to be Senators first and camaraderie should be of lesser moment.

Before I end this privilege speech, with your indulgence, Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, let me perform a simple duty.

Under the rules of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, particularly, Sections 12 and 13, I would like to state for the record the following, thus –

Section 12. PAPERS REQUIRED TO BE FILED AND SERVED. Every motion, judgment, resolution, order, pleading subsequent to a complaint, written motion, notice, appearance or similar papers shall be filed with the committee and served to the parties affected.

Section 13. MODES OF SERVICE. Service of pleadings, motions, orders, judgments and other papers shall be made either personally or by mail.

Mr. President, may I be allowed to leave the podium momentarily to personally serve the promulgated order of the Committee dated April 15, 2009 on Senator Manuel B. Villar, Jr. or his duly authorized representative.

I now defer to the collective wisdom of this august body in determining whether a member or members of this chamber committed improper conduct with the leak of the said order to the media.

I so move, Mr. President.

*****

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