Senate rejects Binay bid to get questions in advance
MANILA, Philippines–Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chair of the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee, has rejected the request of Makati City officials for advance copies of questions that lawmakers may raise when the panel resumes its inquiry into alleged irregularities in the city on Wednesday.
Pimentel said there was no reason for the blue ribbon subcommittee to furnish the city officials advance copies of the questions.
“I am not aware of any right of a resource person, witness, or even a suspect in a hearing for accountability, which will give them the right to ask for advance questions, and if they’re not given, refuse to appear,” he said.
The panel’s inquiry has delved into the alleged overprice of Makati City Hall Building II and Makati Science Building.
The subcommittee has heard testimony that Vice President Jejomar Binay had amassed kickbacks from city projects when he was Makati mayor and had used dummies to hide his wealth, including condominium units and a 350-hectare agricultural estate in Batangas.
The Binay camp has strongly denied the allegations and criticized the hearings.
The subcommittee has recommended that Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr. and six others be cited for contempt for failure to attend previous hearings of the panel on alleged irregularities in Makati City.
Pimentel made the recommendation to the blue ribbon committee chaired by Sen. Teofisto Guingona III.
It is only Guingona, as chair of the mother committee, who has the power to cite anyone for contempt and to impose the penalties of warning, censure or arrest.
The blue ribbon committee would discuss Pimentel’s recommendations in a meeting on Jan. 26. Guingona on Tuesday sent a letter to committee members informing them of the development and of the scheduled meeting to tackle the matter.
Names of officials
Also recommended to be cited for contempt are University of Makati president Tomas Lopez; Makati City Administrator Eleno Mendoza; former Makati City Administrator Marjorie de Veyra; Makati Assistant City Engineer Line de la Peña; Bernadette Portollano, allegedly one of the owners of Omni Security Investigation and General Services; and Eduviges Baloloy, supposedly the personal secretary of Vice President Binay.
In a statement issued Tuesday by the Office of the Vice President (OVP), the lawyer of the city officials, Claro Certeza, was quoted as saying that “officials of Makati City Hall have no intention of defying the subpoena issued by the subcommittee.”
“However, he (Certeza) believes that they cannot be faulted for not appearing in the Senate because the request to be furnished an advance copy of the questions is yet to be acted upon by the panel,” said the OVP statement.
Certeza said he made this request to the subcommittee as early as Oct. 29 last year but the body had yet to respond to it.
High court ruling
In reiterating his request to the subcommittee for an advance copy of questions to be asked his clients, Certeza invoked the Supreme Court ruling in the case of former National Economic and Development Authority chief Romulo Neri that allowed resource persons testifying in Senate committees to know the questions in advance.
Certeza was quoted in the OVP statement as saying that the 2008 high court ruling required invitations or subpoenas issued by Senate committees to contain “the possible needed statute which prompted the need for the inquiry,” along with the “usual indication of the subject of inquiry and the questions relative to and in furtherance thereof.”
Rights of witnesses
Certeza said these were “reasonable measures for the protection of the constitutional rights of witnesses.”
“And, a subpoena issued by the Senate that merely commands a person to ‘testify on what he knows relative to the subject matter under inquiry’ gives the party served with the subpoena the right to demand that he be furnished in advance with the questions to be propounded to him,” he said.
Pimentel said the resource persons could question his decision not to furnish them advance copies of the questions all the way up to the Supreme Court if they want.
“But as a lawyer, I know of no ground to grant the request first before enforcing the subpoena … I cannot understand why Makati City officials are on a different level or plane that they have such a right,” he added.
As for the Makati officials invoking the Supreme Court ruling on executive privilege, he said he did not think it was applicable to the local officials’ case.
Grounds for contempt
In his letter to Guingona recommending that the Makati officials be cited in contempt, Pimentel cited the resource persons’ refusal to appear at the subcommittee hearings. He added that the explanations they had offered for their absences were insufficient.
They were first given show cause orders to explain why they should not be held in contempt.
Among Mayor Junjun Binay’s reasons for his absences were his jurisdictional challenge to the subcommittee, whose hearings he thinks are not in aid of legislation, and his request to be provided with an advance list of questions to be asked of him. He had only attended one hearing of the subcommittee.
Pimentel said he found these “unacceptable reasons for defying the subpoenas.”
“Please remember that a contempt of the subcommittee is a contempt of the committee, which in turn is a contempt of the Senate,” he said.
The other invited resource persons offered similar reasons for their absences.
‘Campaign of lies’
The camp of the Vice President slammed Pimentel’s recommendation to cite Mayor Binay and other city officials for contempt.
“The Senate subcommittee continues to ignore the constitutional rights of the mayor and city officials by refusing to provide them with questions in advance,” said Binay spokesman Joey Salgado.
“This clearly shows that the hearings are not in aid of legislation. They are part of a campaign of lies targeting the Vice President,” he said in a statement.
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