The House of Representatives has the sole authority to suspend its members, a Congressional leader said on Thursday.
Rep. Romero Quimbo of Marikina City, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, questioned the 90-day preventive suspension order slapped on former President and Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Pampanga by the Sandiganbayan.
This was the same statement given by Sen. Ralph Recto regarding calls for the suspension of Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr. who are currently detained while the Sandiganbayan is trying plunder and graft charges against them.
For its part, Malacañang welcomed the suspension order imposed by the Sandiganbayan on Arroyo. “We recognize the right or power of the court to take such an action and we will respect their decision,” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told a press briefing.
“The principle here is accountability and disciplinary action. Those are the bases for the suspension order,” Coloma added.
Arroyo, who is under hospital arrest in the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City for plunder, was served the suspension order due to graft charges she is facing in connection with the botched $329-million National Broadband Network-ZTE deal.
She was ordered to “cease and desist from performing and/or exercising the functions and duties, as well as receiving and/or enjoying the salaries, benefits, privileges of her present public position or any other public office or position he may now or hereafter be holding. . . . or a period of 90 days.”
But, “we cannot enforce [the suspension]automatically because that would mean depriving her constituents of representation, especially during the budget hearings. The House is the sole judge in removing its members and it is a power we hold dearly not because we want to protect each other, but because we need to ensure that the people’s right to be represented won’t be stifled,” Quimbo, a lawyer, said.
The Marikina solon served as president of the Home Development Mutual Fund during the Arroyo administration.
Article 7, Section 16.3 of the Philippine Constitution states that the House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its members, suspend or expel a member. A penalty of suspension, when imposed, lasts for 60 days.
Under the law, the Sandiganbayan can issue a suspension order against the defendants in graft cases it is trying provided that a valid information is filed before it. Suspension also seeks to prevent suspected grafters from exercising undue influence on possible witnesses.
Quimbo, however, argued that a preventive suspension of Arroyo was hard-pressed to serve its purpose since the offenses charged against her were not committed during her tenure as a Pampanga representative.
“The suspension order is served [to the accused]so that the evidence won’t be concealed and that the prosecution will have unimpeded access to the witnesses. In this case, the graft case against her has nothing to do with her position as a lawmaker,” he added.
Since the House of Representatives was restored in 1987, its leadership has only served a suspension order once—in 2012—and that was because the involved lawmaker has intimated that he would not contest the suspension.
The suspended lawmaker is Rep. Pedro Acharon of South Cotabato who was accused of graft over allegedly unauthorized travel orders that he issued to local officials as the Mayor of General Santos City in 2006.