The bullies are Senators Antonio Trillanes 4th and Alan Cayetano, as well as the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee itself. It should be more appropriately named the Yellow Ribbon Committee, since under this Administration, it has acted merely as President Aquino’ demolition crew.
That ‘somebody’ is Vice President Jejomar Binay, who had refused to let himself be humiliated by a modern version of the Spanish Inquisition, where one is presumed guilty, and where there is even no clear procedure for proving one’s innocence.
Binay correctly refused to be fooled by the argument that he must prove his innocence by following the Senate’s order for him to appear at the hearings. Do that in a kangaroo court?
And as the public has gone tired of the hearings, getting sick of a heavily-indebted gambler’s accusations, and irritated at the arrogance of the two brash senators, the Committee appears to have blinked, with its chairman, Teofisto Guingona 3rd, saying two days ago that he would no longer “invite” the Vice President to the hearing.
An Ernesto Mercado, who has admitted stealing hundreds of millions of pesos when he was Makati vice-mayor, hurls accusations against the vice president who had stopped dead the ex-vice mayor’s political career because of his graft, and there is no procedure for cross-examining him by the accused representatives? Huge video screens are used to label the Vice President a thief, and this is called a hearing “in aid of legislation?”
We should be grateful, though, that Trillanes and Cayetano demonstrated so amateurishly their vitriolic bias against Binay and showed too transparently that their motive was not in “aid of legislation,” but to get rid of the vice president as a contender in the 2016 presidential election.
Because of their arrogance and total disregard of fair play in the hearings on Binay, Trillanes and Cayetano have unwittingly torn down the Senate Blue Ribbon’s disguise as a body of the legislative branch undertaking investigations in order to assist the entire Senate in making laws.
All of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s investigations since its reincarnation after Marcos’ fall in 1986 have not resulted in any piece of legislation, contrary to its raison d’etre. In a few instances, it did prod the Ombudsman to investigate and file charges over an anomaly that had been the subject of the Committee’s hearings. None of these, though, has led to convictions.
Few cases filed
There are a few cases after Committee hearings that were filed at the Sandiganbayan, the prime example for which is the infamous pork-barrel scam. However, it wasn’t the Blue Ribbon Committee that unearthed this elaborate graft scheme, but the Commission on Audit and one of the criminals turned whistle-blower. The Aquino government merely used the Blue Ribbon Committee to convict the accused (mainly Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla) in the public mind through trial by publicity in order to defang them.
It wasn’t the Blue Ribbon Committee that unearthed the alleged high-level corruption at the Armed Forces of the Philippines, especially in its comptrollership. It was the defense department and the Ombudsman during President Arroyo’s Administration, starting in 2003 after the sons of Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, deputy chief of staff for comptrollership, were caught by US Customs carrying undeclared cash of $100,000.
Look at the history of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee after the restoration of democracy in 1986, and it has really often been a political weapon. The difference is that past Blue Ribbon Committee members were not as crass as the two bullies now. Two examples:
• In order to advance the accusation that the Corazon Aquino regime didn’t really stand on high moral ground, but was merely a “Kamag-anak, Inc.” Administration, then Senator Juan Ponce Enrile asked the Blue Ribbon Committee in 1988 to investigate the alleged takeover by Cory’s cousin Ricardo Lopa of 36 companies held by Marcos brother-in-law Kokoy Romualdez.
• Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who believed Fidel Ramos cheated her in the 1992 presidential election, asked the Blue Ribbon Committee to investigate Ramos for graft involving the 1998 Centennial Celebration funds.
What happened to these cases, and the many probes by the Committee?
Nothing. After the media lost interest in the cases, the issues faded from the public mind. I don’t think you, dear reader, even knew there were such Blue Ribbon investigations.
Every time some controversy emerges, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman salivates at the prospects of media exposure and calls for an investigation – from the alleged sexual harassment by a consular officer of Filipinas in the Middle East, to Roberto Ongpin’s alleged behest loan from a government bank and SUVs donated to bishops needing them in the boondocks. Again I emphasize, nothing has really come out of such Blue Ribbon probes, unless the investigations were already well under way as carried out by law enforcement bodies. How could anything come out of these probes when not a single evidence presented in these hearings stood the legal requirements?
I haven’t heard of a Blue Ribbon Committee in any other country with a similar role—and shameful behavior—as our Blue Ribbon Committee. What our Blue Ribbon Committee has been doing —the kind of investigations as that on Binay’s alleged hidden wealth is an outright violation of the republican principle of separation of powers among the three branches of government.
As the Supreme Court pointed out in the Lopa case, citing a US decision that ended such activities by a US Congress body: “Congress is not a law enforcement or trial agency. These are functions of the executive and judicial departments of government. No inquiry is an end in itself; it must be related to and in furtherance of a legitimate task of Congress. Investigations conducted solely for the personal aggrandizement of the investigators or to ‘punish’ those investigated are indefensible.”
My colleague Yen Makabenta, in a recent column, drew attention to US history in which the only woman senator then, Margaret Chase Smith, boldly started to stop what was the equivalent of our Blue Ribbon Committee hearings at that time in America – the McCarthyist frenzy accusing hundreds of patriotic Americans of being communists.
Smith’s now classic speech against McCarthyism was titled: “Declaration of Conscience,” and she might have well been referring to our Blue Ribbon Committee hearings on Binay’s alleged wealth:
“I don’t like the way the Senate has been made a rendezvous for vilification, for selfish political gain at the sacrifice of individual reputations and national unity. I am not proud of the way we smear outsiders from the Floor of the Senate and hide behind the cloak of congressional immunity and still place ourselves beyond criticism on the Floor of the Senate.”
Binay, of course, was just defending himself by wisely refusing to be grilled by Trillanes and Cayetano. Yet, by defying the Blue aka Yellow Ribbon Committee, he could have been inadvertently playing the role of Sen. Smith, boldly standing up to those punks, the bullies in the Senate.
The Blue Ribbon Committee has been just a waster of time and taxpayers’ money. As San Beda College Graduate School of Law dean Ranhilio Aquino-Callangan quipped: “Investigating ill-gotten wealth, graft and corruption, plunder, is not what we elect legislators for.” “If this is the job they want to do, they should apply to be prosecutors of [the Department of Justice], not senators or congressmen!”
FB: Rigoberto Tiglao