IT is amusing to watch President Rodrigo Duterte and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in their “war of words.” In all the exchange of fire and smoke, neither can see or hit the target.
Reacting to a remark made by Morales in an interview with a Japanese broadcaster that DU30 is “goading people to kill people,” the President challenged Morales to show him a law that states that he should not issue threats against criminals.
Said Duterte: “Ombudsman Morales, find me a law which says I cannot threaten criminals… Find me a law which would bar me from saying, ‘I will destroy you if you destroy my country.’ Because if you can do that, I will step down tomorrow.”
I have no wish to make the President step down tomorrow, but I think he should be informed that there is a law that forbids him as President from issuing threats to kill. And the law is no less than the Constitution, specifically Article III, “Bill of Rights”.
Constitution says ‘No’
In Article III, Section 12, the Charter reads:
“1) Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice…
”2) No torture, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiate the free will shall be used against him. Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited.”
In my book, “threat” means threat, and no means no.
Elsewhere in the Bill of Rights, the Charter provides in Section 1: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” This logically includes not being threatened with death by the state or by a public authority.
The Charter, of course, makes no mention of “goading.” That’s another word, and perhaps another argument.
Gordon committee and Pimentel committee are alike
Turning to another topic, I think the public will be able to comprehend current issues more surely, if it makes a simple adjustment of perspective on what is happening in the two houses of Congress: Johnny Pimentel’s committee on good government and accountability is the House counterpart of Richard Gordon’s blue ribbon committee in the Senate.
Both committees are now in the news: the Pimentel committee for the detention of the Ilocos 6 and for threatening to detain Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos; and the Gordon committee for threatening to reopen the Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano massacre, with former President Benigno Aquino 3rd as star witness.
The blue ribbon monicker for the Senate panel is an anachronism that has the unique distinction of being both “third-world” and “old-world.”
The full name of the Senate blue ribbon committee is the Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations of the Senate of the Philippines. It is the committee tasked with investigating the alleged wrongdoing of the executive, its officials, and its attached agencies, including government-owned and -controlled corporations. It performs the oversight function of the legislative over the executive, but the primary purpose of inquiry is the suggestion of new laws, or the discussion of amendments to existing laws.
Story of ‘blue ribbon’ moniker
There is a little story on why it came to be called “blue ribbon.” In 1949, Cavite Rep. Justiniano Montano was included in the Liberal Party’s Senate ticket. He supported Jose T. Cajulis of the Nacionalista Party in the elections to the House seat which he was leaving. The Liberals’ candidate beat Cajulis, and Montano won in the Senate election.
In the Senate, Montano formed a clique called “The Little Senate” with like-minded Liberal senators, and he began attacking President Elpidio Quirino, who was also a Liberal. Montano then created the blue ribbon committee in the Senate, vesting it with the power to investigate alleged irregularities in the executive branch. The name was presumably taken from US government practice wherein a blue ribbon panel or commission of experts is often appointed by a government body or executive to investigate, analyze or study a situation or problem. (From Wikipedia: the term blue ribbon, which has come to be a symbol of high quality, comes from the Blue Riband, a prize awarded for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by passenger liners, and prior to that, from Cordon Bleu, which referred to the blue ribbon worn by a particular order of knights.)
The blue ribbon committee became the most powerful congressional committee, investigating alleged criminal misconduct by government officials in aid of legislation. The committee was not given the power to detain witnesses and resource persons, except in cases of contempt of Congress.
The Senate has adopted rules to limit the abuse of the committee’s investigative power. These rules include the following guidelines: that all investigations should be “in aid of legislation”, that the right against self-incrimination of witnesses should not be violated, that the right to counsel should be respected, that the rules of procedures should be published and that persons concerned should be informed of the rules, and that the investigation should not serve a member’s personal aggrandizement.
Plunging to the depths
We have seen congressional oversight plunge to the depths in recent years, as a ruling administration has used it to carry out political objectives.
In the Senate, the blue ribbon committee was used by the Aquino regime, with Sen. T.G. Guingona as inquisitor, to take down Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, and former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile from their pedestals.
The same committee, with Sen. Antonio Trillanes as inquisitor, was used by the Aquino administration to burn the public standing of former vice president and then leading presidential candidate Jejomar Binay for alleged corruption in the construction of a parking building at Makati City Hall.
These aberrations arose because of the temptation to opportunistically exercise legislative tyranny, while the administration party had the numbers in the Congress.
They were similar to President Aquino’s unconstitutional schemes to impeach first, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, and then, Chief Justice Renato Corona.
These events transpired because as then House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte declared: “It’s a game of numbers, and we have the numbers.”
The 16th Congress is now trying to do the same, and probably more.
House Majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas with the assist of congressman Pimentel seek to use the oversight power to pillory Governor Marcos and her local government in order to gain an advantage leading into the 2019 mid-term elections.
Senator Gordon wants to take advantage of widespread public belief in President Aquino’s guilt in the Mamasapano incident to grab the spotlight and effect a quick decision on Aquino‘s responsibility.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rdshould have grown by now in their spectacular leap from the countryside to high office to recognize the essential distinction between:
1. Congress’ constitutional right to investigate the executive; and
2. The flagrant abuse of that right by encroaching on the powers of the executive and judicial branches.
There is absolutely no constitutional sanction for this derangement of functions.
President Duterte may not clearly see the usurpation of his power because 1) his party cohorts are committing the abuses; and 2) the master of vindictiveness, Noynoy Aquino, is the object of abuse.