April 14, 2024

“What are we in power for (para que estamos en poder)? is a rhetorical question made famous by former Senate President Jose “Peping” Avelino.
With the way things are shaping up in both houses of Congress, I am now inclined to believe this is becoming the rule rather than the exception.
In the six years that I served in Congress with the likes of Juan Ponce Enrile, Joker Arroyo, Nani Perez, Dante Tinga, and many more good legislators, I never saw the power to cite a resource person in contempt.
Contempt is overused and abused by the present crop of solons.
Take the case of Cagayan Gov.Manuel Mamba, also a “classmate” like President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. in the 9th Congress, invoking the subjudice rule as a reason not to answer questions. He was cited until the Supreme Court has ordered his release and members of Congress, to save face, released him before the order can be served. They all seem to enjoy threatening and bullying people.
The latest victims are SMNI anchors Lorraine Badoy, former spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and Jeffrey Celiz, a former Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army cadre.
Badoy and Celiz got their ire of Congress because of the latter’s refusal to disclose the identity of his source, who revealed a purported P1.8 billion travel fund of the House Speaker.
His reason, Sotto Law, as amended by the Shield Law, protects journalists from revealing their sources.
Badoy was detained for not being clear on her answer about advertisers, but what is its relevance? Both went on a “hunger strike” to protest the “travesty” in the proceedings.
Their spouses filed a petition for certiorari and a writ of habeas corpus before the SC questioning their detention.
In the interregnum, a manifesto of support demanding the immediate release of Badoy and Celiz of almost 150 alumni of the Philippine Military Academy demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the two.
“Their detention is not only illegitimate but also emblematic of a distressing trend of authoritarian overreach. They called for a full and transparent accounting of the actions leading to this egregious detention. Those responsible for this overstep must be held to account,” reads the manifesto.
The PMA cavaliers also urged “a swift return to the principles of democratic governance in the House of Representatives and the institution must not be allowed to devolve into an instrument of political suppression.
The PMAers vowed that “in the face of this affront to our democratic way of life, we stand firm. Let it be known that our will cannot be bent, our voices cannot be muted, and our fight for justice will not be deterred. The HOR must heed the call to right this wrong, lest it be forever marked as an enemy of the people it purports to represent.”
Among the officers and gentlemen who signed were Esperon; Monteagudo; Jalad; Lapeña; Morente; Razon; and Parlade, Jr.
I wonder how the representatives, especially those who graduated from the same academy felt the virtual slap in their faces. Thus, taken aback and before getting another beating from the SC, the duo was released on humanitarian grounds “in the spirit of the Yuletide season”. Cowards!
Last March, the SC has voided the arrest of Pharmally executives cited in contempt by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee for “being evasive”.
The SC said the Senate committed grave abuse of discretion as they violated the constitutional right to due process and the opportunity to be heard.”
SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said “Even inconsistent answers were equated by the Committee with “testifying evasively”. Whether a witness genuinely did not know or did not recall the answer or was evasive in answering a question is largely a matter of judgment or opinion. The determination requires “an assessment of the totality of the evidence presented to determine whether a witness speaks truthfully or merely trying to evade answering the question directly.”
Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo pointed out the broad definition of “giving false and evasive testimony.”
The witnesses must at least be given a chance to explain why their testimony is not false or evasive. While the power of contempt is inherent, it should not be abused and foisted upon invited resource persons who are being forced to testify and subjected to ego-trip-indignities and insults in violation of their fundamental rights.