Seares: May Niña Mabatid be held liable for sex-lies-tape City Council speech?

Pachico A. Seares

Here are the things that Cebu City Councilor Prisca Niña Mabatid did in delivering a privileged speech last Nov. 26, for which her critics “slammed” and threatened her with sanction:

[1] She re-played an “illegally recorded” phone conversation between her and two women employees who had complained they were sexually harassed by a City Hall official who was a Mabatid political leader in the last election. She said she had the permission of those who took part in the phone talk. One of the women victims said the councilor did not, a news story said.

[2] Aside from replaying the tape, she did not submit to the secretariat a transcript, along with the copy of her speech, which Vice Mayor and City Council Presiding Officer Mike Rama said was a violation of house rules.

[3] She named the complainants in the sexual harassment case, whom media did not identify by name. Rama didn’t say if it was also a violation but victims of sex abuse cases are generally protected by anonymity. An offense requires only one other person to hear the disclosure; a news report said that about a hundred people heard Mabatid’s speech.

Internal offenses

Acts 2 and 3 were offenses against the City Council, which the legislature may handle among its members, with or without a complainant. The majority Barug may opt to let the incident slide and vanish to help its ally Mabatid, one of only two survivors in BOPK’s 2019 election sweep in the north district.

Rama gave the public a clue when he said “it was good” that Mabatid asked for the removal from City Council records the names of the sex abuse victims and content of the tape, indicating that Mabatid’s lapses are deleted as well.

But perhaps not the matter about the tape.

To curb spying

Without “authorization” from all parties to the conversation, the taping or recording, re-playing, possessing and disclosing a transcript are all prohibited acts under Republic Act 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Law. The 1965 law was intended by principal sponsor Lorenzo Tañada to regulate incidents of “government officials spying on each other.”

Mabatid didn’t say who recorded her phone talk with the two women, why, and when she did it. Was it done after she realized that meddling with the sexual harassment case wouldn’t look good for her as chairperson of the City Council committee on women and children? Intent could still be suspect even if the women victims consented to the recording.

Although the alleged spying here is on two employees, the concern is still job-related as the figures in the controversy are all connected with City Hall. Besides, the Anti-Wiretapping Law doesn’t distinguish whether the tapper and the tapped are public employees or private citizens.

Parliamentary immunity

The lesson learned, as Rama indicated, is the appropriate use of the privileged speech. Wasn’t Mabatid’s purpose unseemly?

It was personal all right but it was to defend herself from the accusations of her former friends in Barug. As to the “improper” use of recorded conversation and disclosure of the women victims, the presiding officer could correct the errors right then and there. But Mabatid beat him to it – after the acts were done.

On so-called parliamentary immunity, we don’t know if there is such a thing among local legislators. The Constitution’s edict that no one shall be “questioned or held liable in any other place for any speech” in Congress applies only to senators and House members, not to any “Kon” or “Board.”