THE SENATE of the 17th Congress made the headlines in 2016 not because of its good performance in crafting and passing new laws beneficial to the country and its citizens, but mostly because of several issues, notably the private life of a lady senator, that hounded the chamber since it convened last July.
From choosing a new Senate president to investigation into the spate of extra-judicial killings and summary executions to the passing of one of the most prominent members of the Senate, the chamber has been among the main news items in print, broadcast, and even on the internet.
With the victory of Rodrigo Duterte in the May 2016 presidential election, senators started their search for a new Senate president who will replace then-outgoing Senate chief Franklin Drilon, of the Liberal Party (LP).
Senators Aquilino Pimentel 3rd and Alan Peter Cayetano, who Duterte allies, both eyed the top post in the Senate, but after months of negotiations, it was Pimentel who was chosen by 20 of the 24 senators.
Cayetano’s concern about Sen. Leila De Lima leading the Senate justice committee materialized after the latter filed Senate Resolution 9 asking her own committee to investigate the rampant extra-judicial killings (EJKs) amid the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs.
De Lima cited the alarming incidence and pattern of summary killings carried out by law enforcement agents on suspected criminals, on top of an equally growing number of EJKs by vigilante groups.
According to her, in just 13 days from the presidential inauguration on June 30, the death toll due to EJKs had already reached 136.
Some lawmakers, including Sen. Panfilo Lacson, had expressed objection over the planned Senate probe as it might affect the momentum of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in fighting illegal drugs.
The investigation into the EJK was a controversial one as it involved the ouster of De Lima as chair of the Senate justice and human rights committee, the same committee that cleared Duterte of any involvement in the EJK.
De Lima as chair of the justice committee only held three hearings including the one where the committee presented confessed killer Edgar Matobato. Matobato testified before the Senate and claimed he is a member of the so-called Davao Death Squad, a group that carried out the killings of criminals in Davao City, where Duterte was mayor for many years before he became President.
De Lima’s presentation of Matobato seems to be reason why her colleagues in the Senate moved to oust her as chair of the committee and replaced her with Sen. Richard Gordon.
De Lima’s problems
Her ouster as chair of the Senate justice and human rights committee was just one of the many controversies she has faced in 2016, including that accusation of being the “mother of the drug lords.” The House of Representatives even conducted its own probe on the proliferation of illegal drugs at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) during De Lima’s stint as Justice Secretary.
The House justice panel, in its hearings, did not only allow the presentation of convicted drug lords as witnesses against De Lima, but also granted them immunity. De Lima never showed up in the House inquiry despite the invitation of the committee that even threaten to show the alleged sex videos supposedly of the senator and Ronnie Dayan, her former bodyguard-driver whom she admitted of having an affair with.
Dayan was arrested by the police in November and was presented before the House justice committee. He admitted that it was De Lima who told him not to appear in the hearing and instead go on hiding. De Lima is currently facing three ethics complaints and several complaints before the DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman.
Espinosa’s death probed
The Senate committee on public order and safety chaired by Lacson also led the investigation into the death of Albuera, Leyte, Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., who was killed inside his jail cell last November.
Members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Region 8 (CIDG 8) led by Supt. Marvin Marcos claimed that they went to Baybay City, Leyte jail to serve a search warrant on Nov. 5.
Lacson’s committee conducted series of hearings into the incident and even invited suspected drug lord Rolando “Kerwin” Espino Jr., son the slain mayor who accused Marcos and some member of the CIDG 8 as among those who received money from him. Marcos and his men are currently facing multiple murder cases filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Passing of Santiago, Maceda
The year 2016 also saw the passing of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ernesto Maceda, former Senate president. Santiago died Sept. 29 after a battle with lung cancer while Maceda, 81, died in a hospital due to multiple organ failure.
Despite her illness that prevented her from attending Senate sessions and hearings, Santiago still managed to file the most number of bills in 2014 and even joined the May 2016 presidential race with former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. as her running mate.