Veteran street parliamentarian, the late Senator Joker Arroyo has a lot of beef about the highly politically-charged Senate public hearings, which is apropos to this day.
Joker, a former chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, was addressing then the subcommittee hearings on the alleged overpriced Makati City Hall 2 building that the troika of Senators Koko Pimentel, Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV had spearheaded to pin down Vice President Jojo Binay, whose popularity rating had soared beyond the level of the President at that time, the late Noynoy Aquino.
Joker branded the proceedings as biased, while questioning the process and rules that he called questionable.
His assessments find relevance with the ongoing series of hearings conducted by the same panel on the stretched out issue of alleged anomalies on the purchase of medical supplies last year at the start of the pandemic.
“It’s not the Blue Ribbon as it was before. It has turned into a one-sided affair,” he noted.
“I think that they should take a second look about how they conduct the proceedings as the integrity of the Senate is affected,” Joker noted.
He then called for a reform of the rules “and make it fair.”
Among the rules that Joker then criticized were the issue of quorum, non-submission of panel reports, utter disregard of requirements on affidavit, encroachment of mandate and redundancy of proceedings involving issues pending in court.
Joker said the Blue Ribbon panel has 17 regular and ex-officio members, which total 21 senators, but under the rules that exist up to this day, even two can constitute a quorum. “Think about it, two out of 21 members will constitute a quorum,” he said.
Likewise, he pointed out that any legislative proceeding under the rules cannot be stopped by a parallel investigation conducted or pending before the Office of the Ombudsman or the Department of Justice.
The forming of a subcommittee to probe the alleged Makati City Hall anomaly was introduced by Trillanes and was promptly approved by the Blue Ribbon panel, then headed by Senator TG Guingona.
The reason for the existence of the subcommittee was that the main panel’s schedule was full, or that it was loaded with work.
“They created a subcommittee, why? Because they could not get a bigger (attendance) in the full committee,” Joker explained.
The fact that the subcommittee hearings were held prior to the 2016 polls bore striking resemblance to the proceedings against former Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. on the C-5 extension road controversy prior to the 2010 elections.
The current inquiry on medical supplies is similarly situated as it was executed before next year’s presidential polls.
The probe on Villar was under the Ethics and Privileges Committee, but ended up as a full-blown investigation by the Senate Committee of the Whole.
The controversy whipped up in the Senate was widely believed to have resulted to the erosion of Villar’s ratings from his initial frontrunner position.
Disregard of the rules on affidavit, which Joker introduced when he was still the panel chair, is also rampant.
“The rule is that an affidavit must be given in advance, whenever possible in three days. The purpose is to enable committee members to know what participants are going to state in writing,” Joker indicated.
The requirement seeks to prevent a witness or resource person from modifying or changing statements by requiring their written testimony.
Also dispensed with, according to Joker, was the right of the witness and counsel to cross-examine accusers.
“The witness and counsel shall not have the right to examine or cross-examine witnesses. Imagine that, someone says you’re a crook, but that accuser cannot be cross-examined,” he emphasized, and in the current situation, the probe ends up as a monologue.
Nothing has changed since Joker gave his brutally frank assessments on the holding of “investigations in aid of legislation” seven years back.