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Sotto, Enrile: Senators can't be held liable for speeches in Senate

November 12, 2012 5:20pm

Beleaguered  Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III on Monday found an ally in Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who agreed that senators cannot be held liable for anything they say in their speeches delivered in the chamber.

"Whoever wants to question a senator of the republic should read the Constitution first, Article 6 Section 11, bago ka magsalita," Sotto told reporters in an interview on Monday.

Article 6 Section 11 states: "A senator or member of the House of Representatives shall, in all offenses punishable by not more than six years imprisonment, be privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session. No member shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in the Congress or in any committee thereof."

"We cannot be questioned for what we say inside this chamber, not because we are a special breed but because that is the immunity given by the sovereign people so that we can speak on any subject under the sun," Enrile said in a separate interview on Monday.

"Constitutional law 'yun. I said that before not because of any arrogance of power," he also said.

"That's the immunity granted by the people. If you really respect the Constitution, then enforce that rule. If you don't want it, change the system of government or amend the Constitution," he added.

However, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, also in a separate interview on Monday, said parliamentary immunity does not apply to ethics complaints.

"No, this is a self... an auto limitation imposed by senators on themselves," she said.

She noted, however, that the issue can be settled if Sotto satisfies the demands of the complainants.

"Basically [they are] just asking for acknowledgment of authorship. I don't think we should let it go any further than that," she said.

Complainants

Sotto and Enrile made their statements after local academics said they intend to file a complaint on Tuesday with the Senate committee on ethics and privileges against Sotto for alleged plagiarism in his speeches, using as part of their evidence statements of three US bloggers and the daughter of the late US Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, who released a statement accusing Sotto of plagiarizing her father. 

"The 37 complainants who will submit tomorrow are Filipino citizens, most of whom are academics from UP, Ateneo, La Salle. We're still working out the logistics as to how the US-based bloggers can join later, given the difficulties of having to execute a sworn statement before a Philippine official," their legal counsel Atty. Ibarra Gutierrez told GMA News Online in a text message on Monday.

Sotto has said that he is just being bullied because of his stand against the Reproductive Health bill.

Ethics complaints

In his interview, Enrile did note that citizens are free to file ethics complaints.

"Then they can file a case [but] what ethical misconduct is there?" he said, adding that such cases will end up a numbers game.

"If they can get enough senators to vote in their favor, that's the problem. In the end you can only kick a member out of this house if you have I think three-fourths of the members or two-thirds voting in your favor, or you can go to the people," he said.

Article VI Section 16 (3) of the Philippine Constitution states: "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 of suspension, when imposed, shall not exceed sixty days."

Enrile said that if a person commits plagiarism, the solution is to charge them with a civil suit.

"The remedy is not criminal action, it's civil action. Civil suit for damages by the person whose work has been plagiarized," he said.

Fair hearing

Senate ethics committee chair Alan Peter Cayetano, for his part, assured all complainants that there will be a fair handling of ethics cases against any senator.

"I can assure everyone of a fair hearing and dealing with all of these issues," Cayetano, who is also Senate minority leader, told reporters in a separate interview on Monday.

But he said he could not yet indicate when they will be able to tackle any complaints since his committee has yet to formulate its rules.

"I've already asked the staff to look for an available time and room and yung members para i-approve yung rules and then titingnan natin kung may mga interesado pa sa mga naunang magfile then we will try to find the time to hear all of these cases," he said.

He said there are less than 10 ethics complaints pending action before his committee.

Cayetano said that it will be up to his committee's members whether a particular act constitutes unethical behavior.

"But I'm sure with the membership of the ethics committee na very much balanced naman among the senators, we can find not only the time but the office and the resources to hear all of these," he said.

The members of the Senate ethics panel are Santiago and fellow Senators Gregorio Honasan, Loren Legarda, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Lito Lapid, and Joker Arroyo.

Sotto and Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, as Senate officers, are ex officio members of the panel. — BM, GMA News




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