Sotto, Villar clash over ‘uninvited’ solon, ‘bypassing’ in Senate agri probe
MANILA, Philippines — A supposed “act of bypassing” in the Senate’s investigation into the country’s agricultural smuggling and an uninvited congressman triggered a clash between Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Cynthia Villar at the resumption of the chamber’s investigation.
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee of the Whole, chaired by Sotto, resumed its investigation into the smuggling of agricultural products into the country.
At the beginning of the probe’s resumption, Villar, chairperson of the Senate agriculture committee, said Rep. Eric Yap wanted to attend the hearing but was not invited.
Yap is the caretaker of the congressional district of Benguet. His name was mentioned during the last hearing on March 28, where a group of vegetable farmers and traders lamented the “inaction” of local officials to address the smuggling of products into markets.
“Gusto raw mag-attend ng meeting, hindi siya inimbita. Gusto niya raw pumunta sa meeting para magsalita rin, ayaw daw siya imbitahin,” Villar said.
(He wants to attend the meeting, but he wasn’t invited. He wanted to go to the meeting also to speak, but no one wants to invite him.)
“He called me up and I think we should give him the courtesy because he’s a member of Congress. So if he wants to attend, we should invite him or please tell your people…maybe he can attend online,” she added.
However, Sotto said the committee was not made aware that Yap wanted to attend the hearing.
“There is a difference between ‘ayaw imbitahin’ and hindi naimbita. We have not received any request from him to be invited,” Sotto said.
Sotto said he can invite Yap but said that the congressman should have informed the committee itself.
“Hindi totoo yung ayaw siyang imbitahin. I hope nobody claims that kasi wala naman kaming sinasabing bawal dito e [It is not true that we do not want to invite him. I hope nobody claims that, because we are not prohibiting that],” he said.
In response, Villar said she does not think it was “bad” that Yap called her directly since the issue of agricultural smuggling falls under her committee.
At this point, Villar said: “I didn’t mind that you formed the committee as a whole and bypassed me but, you know, if somebody calls me and he wants to be invited, I will tell you.”
“Because after all, I am the chairman of the Committee on Agriculture,” she added.
Sotto was quick to take exception to Villar’s choice of words.
“We did not bypass you. The Committee of the Whole was implemented, institutionalized during the time that it was in this plenary after my privilege speech because there were other issues other than agriculture that are involved. Particularly smuggling and as a matter of fact, the blue ribbon committee agreed,” Sotto said.
Villar, however, clarified she did not mind that the Committee of the Whole undertook the investigation.
“Yes, that’s OK, but you cannot say that we bypassed you,” Sotto said in response.
Yap was then invited virtually to the hearing.
When it was his time to speak, Yap apologized for any miscommunication, saying it was not his intention to intimate that Sotto’s committee “did not want” to invite him.
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