Cayetano clips own powers to decide on ethics complaints

INSTEAD of a “one man rule” to decide on ethics complaint against fellow lawmakers, on Thursday the Senate committee on Ethics and Privileges clipped the powers of its chairman by delegating decision making to all members in making a final report.

According to Senator Alan Peter Cayetano this was approved in principle during preliminary hearing in the formulation of new rules governing the ethics complaints against fellow senators. Only Cayetano and Sen. Gregorio Honasan were present during the hearing.

“It is better to have the collegial body decides on cases rather than a one man rule that could be turned over in the plenary,” Cayetano said.

Aside from ethics complaints against his sister, Sen. Pia Cayetano and Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III on plagiarism, there are two other cases filed against Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago regarding her alleged misbehaviour during the impeachment trial; and Antonio Trillanes IV on back channelling in China for maritime disputes.

“Under the present rule, the Chairman will decide if there is a probable cause on the complaint. The problem is when the chairman decides to dismiss the case, but the majority will turn over your decision, mawawalan ng credibility ang Chairman,” Cayetano said.

Aside from Cayetano and Honasan, the members of the committee are Senators Joker Arroyo, Loren Legarda, Lito Lapid, Ferdinand Marcos and Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

“On the other hand, kapag sinabi ng Chairman na “Kasuhan ‘yan,” sinabi naman ng majority “Babaliktarin kita,” again, lahat n g speculation nandoon, na pinagtatakpan ang kasama,” he added.

Cayetano said that when all members decided on a particular case, the chairman, who will report the findings and recommendation to the plenary, will get favourable votes from majority members of the House.

Also, Cayetano said the jurisdiction of the Committee shall cover only those alleged acts and/or omissions committed by any member of the House during the term of the present Congress.

“One is that if six years ang term mo, at ang ginawa mo ay within your six years, pwede kang kasuhan. Pero hindi puwede ‘yung ginawa mo 20 years ago. Kasi kung ganoon, walang katapusan ‘yon,” he said.

Aside from these two amendments, the committee approved the following rules subject to final ratification by all members, to wit:

1.       Responsive Pleadings – Respondent/s are allowed to file responsive pleadings within 10 working days from receipt of notice;
2.       Committee Report – In case of the preliminary inquiry report, instead of the Chairman making the report, the Committee will make the report. The Committee shall meet, discuss and prepare its findings.
3.       Quorum –   The presence of one third of all the regular members of the Committee (instead of at least 2 members) shall constitute a quorum. The presence of ex-officio members may be considered in determining the existence of a quorum.
4.       Members’ eligibility to take part in the proceedings – This refers to the determination on whether or not the Respondent who happens to be a member of the Committee may take part in the proceedings.
5.       Disclosing witnesses –  The amendment requires for a majority vote OF ALL THE MEMBERS of the committee before disclosing in public the names of the witnesses summoned by the Committee, before the date of the witness’ scheduled appearance except if specifically authorized by the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson acting jointly.
6.       Admissibility of evidence – Under this amendment, admissibility of evidence shall be decided by the Presiding Officer unless overruled by a majority vote of ALL THE MEMBERS of the Committee.
7.       Adoption of the committee report –   the Committee Report shall be adopted by a majority vote of ALL the members of the Committee and not just a majority of the members present.
8.       Rulings – Under this amendment, a ruling on any request presented before the Committee shall be adopted by a majority vote of ALL the members of the Committee and not just a majority of the members present.
9.       Amendments to the Rules – Any amendments to the Rules may be made at anytime, pursuant to a majority vote of ALL the members present given that there being a quorum.
10.   Open public hearing –   “We will have open hearings unless majority of members, for certain reasons, decide to have it as a close hearing – similar to the impeachment trial wherein open hearing was practiced but for certain reasons and situations, a caucus is conducted.”

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