Sen. Vicente Sotto III’s argument that parliamentary immunity protects him from the ethics complaint filed against him by 37 bloggers and professors may not be as airtight as he thinks.
"No, of course not, since the Constitution says a senator cannot be held responsible in any other place clearly implying that in the Senate he can be held responsible," Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago told GMA News Online on Tuesday.
Sotto and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile earlier cited a provision in the Philippine Constitution that said a senator cannot be held liable for things he said while in the chamber. Sotto continued to forward his argument in a Tuesday privilege speech.
"You are making laws hindi ka pwedeng i-confine kahit nga libelous o ano sabihin mo rito you cannot be held liable in any place dahil yun ang binibigay na elbow room sa legislative, iba po ang pananaw sa academe. Sa academe kasi yung pangongopya bawal at kung anu-ano yung bawal pero dito ho sa senado ibang usapan po yun."
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According to Article 6, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution, "A senator or member of the House of Representatives shall, in all offenses punishable by not more than six years imprisonment, be privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session. No member shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in the Congress or in any committee thereof."
Lawyers Ibarra Gutierrez, counsel to the ethics complainants, and Theodore Te, professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law, told GMA News Online that Sotto and Enrile were wrong in their interpretation of the provision.
"Immunity applies to cases filed ‘in any other place’ such as a regular court. It does not apply to the Senate itself, which, under its own rules, can sanction a member for improper conduct. This is long established doctrine," said Gutierrez.
"It appears that there is jurisdiction if the venue is the ethics committee because it is internal to the Senate...[so] it would appear that [their] reading is not accurate," added Te.
Santiago was of the same mind and concluded that the parliamentary immunity defense would not hold before the ethics committee.
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Meanwhile, Sen. Franklin Drilon explained to GMA News Online that the purpose of the Senate ethics committee is to give people a venue to air their grievance against any senator.
"That [through the ethics committee] is the way to be questioned in the Senate. But Sen. Sotto cannot be questioned anywhere else except in the Senate through the ethics committee, that's what the Constitution says," he said.
Enrile had also said that, though the complainants are free to file a complaint before the ethics panel, there is no guarantee it will be fruitful.
Both Drilon and Santiago said that it is in the hands of the ethics panel chair.
"I will leave that to the chair of the ethics committee to decide on whether we should take cognizance of a case based on alleged plagiarism, whether it is sufficiently substantial in his view. Presumably, either he has to make a decision or we’ll have to take a vote," Santiago said. — DVM, GMA News
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