At least 6 senators face ethics complaints in 2017

MANILA, Philippines – The year 2017 saw the seemingly continuous filing of ethics complaints against senators – some by lawmakers themselves against colleagues while others by pro-administration camps against some opposition senators.

So far, at least 9 complaints have been lodged against senators – 3 against detained Senator Leila de Lima, two against Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, and one each against Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, and Senators Risa Hontiveros, Richard Gordon, and Panfilo Lacson.

The Senate committee on ethics and privileges has jurisdiction on all matters relating to the conduct, rights, privileges, safety, dignity, integrity and reputation of the chamber and its members.

This stemmed from the constitutional provision allowing Congress to “punish its members for disorderly behavior” through censure, suspension, or expulsion.

But for the past decade and numerous complaints in between, the chamber has so far censured only two senators – former senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Heherson Alvarez.

At present, the Senate committee has started hearings to determine whether the complaints have form and substance and whether the body has jurisdiction on the issues.

It has so far dismissed an ethics complaint against Sotto, chair of the panel, and two out of 3 complaints against De Lima. The panel also ruled to shelve the ethics complaints filed by former customs chief Nicanor Faeldon against Trillanes and Lacson.

De Lima

Three ethics complaints have been filed against De Lima, the fiercest critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, in late 2016. The Senate panel started hearing these in 2017.

On January 23, the committee found one of the 3 complaints against De Lima sufficient in form and substance and ruled that it has jurisdiction on her alleged "interference" in a House inquiry after advising her former boyfriend, Ronnie Dayan, to skip a congressional hearing.

The panel, however, cleared her of the two other charges – immorality and drug protection complaints – filed by lawyer Abelardo de Jesus and migrant worker Ronillo Pulmano, based on President Rodrigo Duterte's statements.

These ethics cases, however, are the least of De Lima's worries. She has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame since February for multiple criminal charges over alleged drug links. (READ: From power to prison: How 2017 changed the life of De Lima, family)

Trillanes

Trillanes, another Duterte critic, faced two ethics complaints in 2017 – one from a former friend and one from a colleague.

Faeldon filed a complaint  against the senator, his ex-friend, over the latter’s allegation that he was involved in corruption in the Bureao of Customs.

Faeldon asked the Senate panel to suspend Trillanes "at the very least" or expel him from office.

The former BOC chief cited 3 grounds: Trillanes' improper and unethical conduct through scurrilous, consistent, and personal attacks; the senator's abuse of rights and privilege; and his alleged serious misconduct.

The Senate ethics committee, however, decided to shelve Faeldon’s complaint after he repeatedly refused to attend the Senate investigation into the P6.4-billion shabu shipment and corruption in the agency, prompting the Senate blue ribbon committee to cite him in contempt.

The second complaint was filed by Gordon after a heated argument with Trillanes, who called the former’s Senate blue ribbon committee a “committee de absuwelto" for initially refusing inviting presidential son Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and presidential son-in-law Manases Carpio to a Senate probe.

In Gordon’s 23-page complaint filed last week, the senator said Trillanes has a “pattern of unbecoming conduct and insulting language.”

The Senate ethics committee found Gordon’s complaint sufficient in form and substance and asked Trillanes to submit his counter-affidavit.

Trillanes, in response, filed a counter ethics complaint against Gordon, as well as a plunder complaint before the Ombudsman over alleged irregularities involving the Philippine Red Cross chaired by Gordon.

Hontiveros

Hontiveros is the third opposition senator who faced an ethics complaint this year.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II filed the case against her following her release of Aguirre’s photo caught texting former Negros Occidental Representative Jing Paras to expedite cases against the senator.

Aguirre claimed Hontiveros violated the anti-wire tapping law and his privacy. The senator, however, said the photo was not deliberately shot and was taken during the course of a public Senate hearing.

Aside from this, Aguirre filed a criminal complaint against Hontiveros for alleged violation of the anti-wiretapping law before the Pasay City Prosecutor's Office.

The Senate minority bloc slammed the complaint and said it is "a clear case of political harassment and intimidation" in an attempt to silence the opposition and independent institutions like the Supreme Court, the Ombudsman, and the Commission on Human Rights.

The committee has yet to decide on the complaint.

Sotto

In May, members of women's groups filed an ethics complaint against Sotto, chairman of the committee, for his "demeaning" remark against single mothers during a Commission on Appointments (CA) hearing.

The complaint stemmed from Sotto's comment on former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo's personal life. He told Taguiwalo, a solo parent, that single mothers are "na-ano lang (just got knocked up)."

The complainants said Sotto's comment showed that he views single mothers "as less than others, demeaning and disparaging women in the same position and making them easy targets of jokes and ridicule."

In a move seen to appease single mothers, Sotto met with a group of single mothers called the Federation of Solo Parents and vowed to push for their benefits.

In the end, the committee junked the complaint against Sotto, citing lack of jurisdiction on the issue as it happened during a CA hearing.

It was Lacson, committee vice chair, who handled the case since the chairman was the subject of the complaint.

In 2012, an ethics complaint was also filed against Sotto over plagiarism charges involving his speech on the reproductive health bill, but it did not prosper.

Gordon

Trillanes filed a counter-ethics complaint against Gordon for committing "slander" and “unparliamentary acts.”

Gordon first filed an ethics complaint against Trillanes, who, in turn, threatened to file plunder charges against the older senator over alleged corruption in the Red Cross.

In his 27-page complaint before the Senate ethics committee, Trillanes accused Gordon of slander for burling allegations against him and detained Senator Leila de Lima during several hearings.

Trillanes said Gordon called him a peddler of gossip in a Senate blue ribbon hearing on the P6.4-billion smuggled shabu on August 31.

The ethics committee has yet to rule on the complaint.

Lacson

Faeldon filed an ethics complaint against Lacson after the lawmaker delivered a privilege speech implicating him in corruption in the BOC when Faeldon led the agency.

In his complaint, Faeldon slammed Lacson for the “lies” in his privilege speech. Lacson accused Faeldon and other BOC officials of receiving “tara” or bribe money in exchange for smooth transactions on shipments.

Faeldon had repeatedly denied the senator’s allegations and accused Lacson’s son, Panfilo “Pampi” Lacson Jr, of cement smuggling. Lacson has since denied the allegation.

It was under Faeldon’s watch that the P6.4-billion worth of shabu was smuggled into the country, the focus of congressional probes.

Since Lacson’s privilege speech, the former customs chief had refused to attend the Senate investigation, prompting the Senate blue ribbon committee to cite him in contempt.

Despite being subpoenaed, Faeldon insisted he would not attend the probe. He then turned himself in to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms for detention, saying he prefered that to facing "unfair" senators.

To date, he has yet to answer questions on how the 604 kilos of shabu from China were able to slip past Customs. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.

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