Bullying takes place when one or more people use their superior strength or similar advantage against another person for the purpose of extracting money, concessions or information.
Nobody likes bullies. They are villains.
Last Friday, several senators purportedly conducting an investigation “in aid of legislation” bullied several witnesses whom they summoned to their fishing expedition.
Those witnesses are officials of the Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation. Senators identified with the political opposition, including red sympathizers among them, claim that Pharmally sold face shields to the government at very high prices during the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
The bullies include Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon.
Drilon, Pangilinan and Hontiveros are in the political opposition and are determined to discredit the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, considering that the election campaign season is just around the corner.
Lacson and Gordon are eyeing the presidency in the 2022 elections.
In a police custodial interrogation and in a criminal trial, the rights of a person subjected to questioning must be respected.
If the person interrogated refuses to answer questions, the use of force, threats and intimidation against him to extract any information, especially a confession, violates his constitutional rights.
The Constitution mandates that any person under any form of investigation has the right to remain silent, and any confession obtained from a witness in violation of his right to remain silent is inadmissible in evidence.
Therefore, unless an actual criminal case has been filed in court against him, a person being interrogated during any investigation cannot be locked up in jail, or threatened with incarceration, simply because he refuses to answer questions.
Coercing a witness to answer questions under pain of getting incarcerated and similar threats is akin to extracting a confession from a prisoner by using mental torture.
In criminal trials, a witness cannot be asked leading or loaded questions, or be subjected to badgering. Arguing with a witness, even if the witness is the accused himself, is not allowed. Protracted questioning is not permissible.
Contempt of court is punished with a fine imposed by the court. In rare instances, contempt of court is punished by outright detention, but only for manifest disrespect for the court, and not because a witness refuses to answer questions.
From the way the Senate investigation was conducted, the senators bullied their witnesses, Pharmally director Linconn Ong in particular, to get the “confessions” they badly wanted to hear, but in violation of the rights of the witnesses.
The senators asked leading questions, argued with the witnesses, and promised “leniency” if the witnesses cooperated.
They also threatened the witnesses with outright imprisonment either at the Pasay City Jail or at the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa if they refused to answer questions.
The Senate investigation lasted for several hours, and the witnesses were obviously intimidated for most of the time. Even if some of the witnesses manifested, either expressly or tacitly, that they were already very exhausted by the prolonged questioning, their plea was practically ignored by the bullies.
In the end, the senators were finally able to extract, through threats and intimidation, whatever answers they desperately wanted to hear from witnesses who felt absolutely helpless during the so-called investigation they were subjected to.
What took place in that Senate investigation was nowhere near “in aid of legislation.” It was plain and simple bullying precisely because it was conducted in violation of the rights of the witnesses.
Even if the rules of the Senate allow that type of investigation, those rules are unconstitutional.
As lawyers, the bullies Drilon, Pangilinan, Lacson and Gordon ought to know that what they did is unconstitutional, and that whatever “confessions” they extracted from the witnesses are legally worthless.
Like their colleague Hontiveros, the Drilon-Pangilinan-Lacson-Gordon gang forgot what the Constitution provides.