SEN. Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Friday called for an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into elective officials’ practice of barricading their offices and calling for mass action to resist suspension or removal by authorities.
In a resolution she is set to file on Monday, Santiago urged her colleagues in the Senate to determine the need for a law punishing officials who launch mass protests to bar the service of their suspension or removal orders.
“I am alarmed that the brazen act of resisting suspension is becoming normal practice. What makes elective officials think that they are indisputably entitled to their offices? They are not absolute rulers, they are subject to the law,” the senator said.
Her statements came as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Ombudsman’s power to suspend Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr.
In March, Binay refused to vacate his office despite being preventively suspended.
HIs supporters also allegedly barred agents of the Department of Interior and Local Government from entering Makati City Hall to implement the suspension.
The authorities were forced to post the suspension order instead of serving it.
Interpellated by justices in the Supreme Court, Binay lawyers admitted that the Makati mayor defied the Ombudsman, and did not leave his office pending a temporary restraining order from the Court of Appeals.
“While officials are entitled to relief from penalty, in the form of temporary restraining orders or injunctions, they must seek such from the proper venue and, pending such relief, humbly step down from office,” Santiago said.
Aside from the case of Binay, also cited in Santiago’s resolution were the cases of ousted Laguna Governor ER Ejercito, who the Commission on Elections in 2014 found guilty of overspending, and Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, who was suspended by Malacanang in 2013.
“In all these cases, the officials facing penalty insisted on due process yet refused to respect the same. This contradiction only shows how self-serving our elective officials have become,” the senator said.
Santiago added that barricades in favor of elective officials being penalized threaten to disrupt the delivery of public services.
She cited the case of Makati, where employees were confused between orders from Binay and then acting Mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña.
The senator warned that such practice inevitably erodes the punitive power of government authorities such as the Office of the Ombudsman, the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Interior and Local Government.
“If left unchecked, this deplorable practice will embolden officials to be corrupt. We must protect the integrity of institutions that mete out penalties in upholding the constitutional principle that public office is a public trust,” Santiago said.
She, however, noted that any measure the Senate will contemplate against the practice of resisting suspension should focus on prohibiting elective officials from supporting or financing mass barricades for their benefit, especially using public funds.
“The right to assemble is enshrined in the Constitution. But in cases like this, we should ask: Did the supporters assemble voluntarily or were they paid or given incentives? If it is the latter, were public funds used?” Santiago said.
The senator, who remains on medical leave because of her lung cancer, stage four, earlier filed Senate Bill 2716, amending the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act to make public officials liable for offenses committed in past terms.
Santiago said the bill rejects the so-called doctrine of condonation, a legal view invoked by the Binay camp in claiming that the Makati mayor should not be prosecuted over alleged overpricing of the Makati City Hall Building 2.