I AM concerned with the conduct of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee at its proceedings nowadays.
Several identical orders were unilaterally issued by Chairman Teofisto T. Guingona, Jr., citing Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin S. Binay, Jr., and others in contempt of the Committee and ordering their arrest and detention for not appearing at the scheduled hearings of the Committee despite due notice.
Chairman Guingona presumably based his order on the amendment to the Rules of Procedure Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation which provides that “the Chairman with the Concurrence of at least one (1) member of the Committee, may punish or cite in contempt any witness xxx who disobeys any order of the Committee x x x.”
This amendment was adopted by the Senate on February 6, 2013 before the close of the 15th Congress.
Before that, the rule was “the required vote necessary for a Senate Committee to punish any witness for contempt was ‘a vote of a majority of all its members.’ ”
The question arises. Is the Guingona order valid? That the Chairman and one member can act for and in behalf of the 20-member Blue Ribbon Committee and order the arrest and detention of a resource person?
It cannot be overlooked that a detention order arising from a contempt citation is punitive, a deprivation of liberty. When that happens, the protection that one cannot be deprived of liberty without due process of law kicks in.
One can scan past Senate committee reports that have found officials or persons guilty of certain offenses but about all the Senate does and can do is to recommend to the Ombudsman or the DOJ that they investigate the case. But it does not mete out the punishment.
This is as it should be because Blue Ribbon Committee Rules specifically provides that “where evidence of malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance is uncovered in the course of the Committee’s investigation, the matter may be referred to the Ombudsman or the Department of Justice or any appropriate investigative agency as the case may be.”
The problem is that this proceeding has lasted too long already. The Blue Ribbon Rules provide that “reports on bills and resolutions referred to the Committee shall, as far as practicable, be completed and approved within thirty days from such referral.”
This case started on August 20, 2014 and has lasted 5 months already. Since then it has had 13 long hearings and 2 ocular inspections. This is the longest Blue Ribbon Committee hearings in its 60-years history. Yet the subcommittee thru media announced that there would be four to five hearings more which would run until April and May 2015. That would be a 9-month hearing.
So far, no report, even partial, has been submitted. Only 3 out of the 20-member Blue Ribbon Committee participate in the hearings. Three are detained, and 14 are indifferently being absent.
Can 3 speak for the 20? It’s time the Senate revisit the Rules. Have they been followed, violated, or abused? This cannot go on unanswered or uncharted.
Joker P. Arroyo served as Chairman, Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, in 2001-2008.