Alvarez calls for caucus meeting on lawmakers’ graft suspension
Speaker Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez on Tuesday called for a meeting with members of the House of Representatives to discuss the suspension for graft of some solons by the Sandiganbayan.
In an interview after the meeting, Alvarez said there was no decision yet. He said the issue was referred to the Committee on Rules.
Alvarez called for an all members meeting after the House approved on third and final reading the bill seeking to postpone the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections to 2017.
The agenda of the meeting was to discuss the preventive suspension of two of the members in the 17th Congress.
The Sandiganbayan ordered the 90-day suspension from their Congress duties Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte and Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino Jr. as they face a graft case before the court.
Villafuerte faces a graft trial over the allegedly anomalous procurement of P20 million worth of petroleum products for the provincial government when he was Camarines Sur governor in 2010.
Meanwhile, Espino was suspended for a graft charge for allegedly allowing firms to operate illegal black sand mining in the province.
For his part, majority leader Ilocos Norte Rep. Rudy Fariñas, who chairs the rules committee, said the House historically has never implemented a suspension order by the Sandiganbayan.
Fariñas said while the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act mandates that public officials facing a valid graft case may be suspended pendente lite, the 1987 Constitution also gives power to Congress to suspend its own members for disorderly behavior.
According to Section 13 of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, public officials charged with a valid information of graft will be preventively suspended from office and will lose his or her benefits at the time of his or her suspension.
According to Article VI, Section 16 of the 1987 Constitution, “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its Members, suspend or expel a Member. A penalty for suspension, when imposed, shall not exceed sixty days.”
“The historical practice is that the House has never implemented the suspension order because it stood pat on its power to suspend its own members,” Fariñas said.
“Jurisprudence says that once the information is determined valid, any public officer facing an Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act case should face preventive suspension. Repeatedly yun ang sinasabi ng Supreme Court, pero repeatedly yung House ini-invoke din na hindi, we are the only one that can suspend our members,” Fariñas said.
Fariñas said in the Congress’ history, it was only Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr. who was cited in contempt by the Sandiganbayan and ordered to pay a P10,000 fine when he refused to implement the suspension order of then Agusan Del Sur Rep. Ceferino S. Paredes, Jr. for graft in 1997.
Fariñas said there is a clash in opinion between the anti-graft law and the 1987 Constitution about the suspension of members in Congress.
“The legislature has that power, but it only pertains to disorderly behavior of members. But this one is an independent action of the court enforcing the law. So talagang magka-clash yung opinion,” Fariñas said.
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