LET me begin with a quotation from a speech delivered by then US Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield, which remains as relevant to the American Senate as it is to the Philippine Senate today:
“The constitutional authority and responsibility of the Senate depends on a high degree of accommodation, mutual restraint and a measure of courage – inspite of our weakness in all of us.
“In the end, it is not the Senators who are of fundamental importance. In the end, it is the institution of the Senate. It is the Senate itself as one of the foundations of the Constitution. It is the Senate as one of the roots of the Republic.”
Interestingly enough, a book entitled, The American Senate: An Insider’s History by Neil McNeil and Richard A. Baker describes it as if it were the Philippine Senate. “Ever since its creation, the Senate has been a source of national pride and national frustration. It has risen to meet enormous challenges and, crippled by its inherent flaws, has fallen periodically to a state of functional paralysis.”
As for membership, the two senates include “statesmen and politicians, brilliant legislative tacticians, fiery demagogues, time servers – a genuine cross section of the nation’s political classes.”
Unfortunately, both senates have since fallen to a state of one common denominator – the downfall of civility and the loss of parliamentary courtesy. And in their place is the emergence of unparliamentary conduct.
Lately, the Philippine Senate has become an arena of everyday politics. The most fundamental provision of the Rules of the Senate have either been deliberately ignored or intentionally forgotten by members not to mention the chamber’s leadership.
Members of Congress, specially the Senate, are expected to know Art. VI (Legislative Department), Sec. 16 (3) of the Constitution, which reads as follows: “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of its Members, suspend or expel a member.”
With legislation as its primary function, the Senate is therefore, a deliberative and debating body. Most of the time, Senators are expected to argue and deliberate, but always bound by the rules of parliamentary proceedings. Legislative inquiries are called in aid of legislation.
When the Senate President calls the Senate to order until adjournment for the day, the Rules of the Senate applies. And when the integrity of the Senate or a Senator is at issue, Rule XXXIX, Question of Privilege, may be raised by any member. Sec. 107 becomes applicable: “Questions of privilege are those affecting the rights, privileges and reputations, conduct and dignity of the Senate or of its members, as well as the integrity of its proceedings.”
Although the freedom of a Senator to speak cannot be curtailed during sessions, he or she is still bound to observe the proper rules of parliamentary debate. Rule XXXIV (Secs 93-97): Unparliamentary Acts and Language, is so clear and precise:
Sec. 93. Acts and language which offend a Senator or any public institution shall be deemed unparliamentary.
Sec. 94. No Senator, under any circumstances, shall use offensive or improper language against another Senator or against any public institution.
Sec. 95. When a Senator, by word or deed, violates any Rule of the Senate, the President, motu propio or at the instance of any other Senator, may call him to order. The Senator concerned shall immediately take his seat if he happens to have the floor; and, in case the point of order raised has been sustained by the President or Presiding Officer, said Senator shall not continue speaking without the consent of the Senate. The motion permitting the Senator concerned to continue speaking shall be resolved without debate.
Sec. 96. When a Senator is called to order by using unparliamentary language, any other Senator may ask that the objectionable words be read for the information and decision of the Senate.
Sec. 97. Upon recommendation of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, the Senate may punish any Member for disorderly behavior and, with the concurrence of two-thirds (2/3) of the entire membership, suspend or expel a Member. A penalty of suspension shall not exceed sixty (60) calendar days.
One therefore could not understand why the Senate President, motu propio, does not apply the pertinent provisions of Rule XXXIV, or the Majority Leader, on his own accord, does not raise a point of order, citing the same Rule, when Senators deliver their respective unparliamentary and uncivil speeches. For sure, both Senate leaders are cognizant of Rule XXXIV, for them to allow the speeches to go out of hand. Why no “point of order?”
Are they negligent of their respective duties? Are they intimidated by the speakers, thus surrendering their respect for the Senate?
Let me end this essay where I started, again by quoting former US Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield:
“In the end, it is not the Senators who are of fundamental importance. In the end it is the institution of the Senate.
“When the institution crumbles, so does our Republic.”
For the sake of the institution, one hopes that civility, respect and propriety return to the Philippine Senate.