No-shows in Santiago show FridayBy Cathy Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
There may be no-shows in Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s scheduled blockbuster Friday and she says it may be all Malacañang’s fault.
None of the 11 members of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes and laws, which Santiago chairs, had confirmed attendance in its inquiry Friday on the activities of erstwhile Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno.
At least one Cabinet member, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, has declined the invitation to attend the hearing.
De Lima on Thursday said she had sent a letter of regrets to Santiago saying the inquiry conflicted with her schedule for the day. She told reporters that she had to attend two important meetings at the Palace and that she had not received authorization from President Benigno Aquino to participate in the Senate inquiry.
Santiago on Thursday said the boycott could indicate an attempt by the Palace to “sabotage” her effort to look into Puno’s alleged involvement in spurious activities, such as the illegal numbers racket “jueteng,” unauthorized logging and the questionable purchase of firearms for the government.
“If it happens, such a deliberate boycott will indicate that even my fellow senators who are members of my committee do not support my initiative. I will certainly raise a protest, but I’m thinking at the moment of what form my protest will take,” Santiago said in an e-mailed statement.
Under Senate rules, the presence of two committee members constitutes a quorum for a hearing to take place.
“If there is no quorum today, this can only mean that the senators have been ordered by Malacañang to stay away,” Santiago noted.
Members of the committee chaired by Santiago include Senators Edgardo Angara, Franklin Drilon, Panfilo Lacson, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Antonio Trillanes IV, Manuel Villar, Francis Pangilinan, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto and Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano are ex-officio members of the panel.
Santiago said many of the members said they would be out of town Friday.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Wednesday said that Santiago needed a resolution, a proposed bill or give a privilege speech to serve as basis for her investigation.
Santiago, however, explained that as committee chaireperson, she could open an investigation without any of these three conditions Enrile cited. Enrile countered that only the Senate rules and blue ribbon committees could investigate motu proprio.
Lacson warned Santiago that her threat to subpoena Puno, who has resigned, to force his attendance and a plan to cite him in contempt if he defied this subpoena would need the participation of other senators.
Lacson said only Enrile as Senate President could sign a subpoena. Santiago would also need the approval of the majority of all senators to cite Puno in contempt, he added.
Santiago wants Puno to clarify the scope of his work as interior undersecretary since he was given supervision over the Philippine National Police.
Santiago said not only was the job description “irregular” as supervision of the PNP was a responsibility of the department secretary. She also said that Puno had failed miserably in eradicating jueteng and may be protecting its operators.
Puno has not confirmed his attendance in Friday’s hearing, Santiago’s office said. The senator’s staff sent invitations to all resource persons on Monday, September 10.
No excuse for absence
If Puno is absent, “then it will show that he is a craven coward, that all charges against him are probably true, and that he is thumbing his nose at the Filipino public,” Santiago said.
“Even if Puno will claim that he does not want to answer questions because he might incriminate himself, that is no excuse for being absent. He has to be present and invoke the privilege for every question. That is not a ground for an omnibus refusal to answer all questions or to be absent,” she added in her statement.
“The invitation specifically warns that if the committee deems as necessary the testimony of the resource person, if he is absent, then the committee will issue a subpoena, which is compulsory.”
If Enrile refuses to sign a subpoena to force Puno to attend, “in effect he will disapprove the committee recommendation, which is not normal,” she said.
Apart from Puno and De Lima, Santiago has also invited to the hearing Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, incoming Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome, retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz and Robredo’s widow, Leni, who has begged off, saying she is still in mourning. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
Originally posted at 08:10 pm | Thursday, September 13, 2012