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Senators dismayed over info leak from executive session

Senators on Tuesday expressed disappointment over the alleged leak of what transpired during an executive session on Monday, November 6.

This developed after Senator Jinggoy Estrada called out a news report naming senators who are allegedly supportive of reinstating the confidential funds of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd), both headed by VP Sara Duterte.

The House of Representatives has removed P1.23 billion worth of confidential funds from five agencies under the 2024 proposed budget including the P500 million allocated to the OVP and the P125 million of the DepEd.

“We never voted with regard to all the intelligence or confidential fund. In fact, we agreed unanimously to remove all CIF, not only OVP and DepEd, but all civilian agencies that have CIF,” said Estrada, adding that breaching information from an executive session was in violation of the Senate rules.

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero seconded claims the news report contained misinformation and lambasted it as mere “gossip."

“Kahit tsismis o gossip yan walang problema sakin. Ang problema paano lumabas sa isang media outlet ‘yung mga nag-transpire sa usapin kahapon. That is for me, that is the most important thing,” Estrada added.

(It doesn’t matter if it’s gossip. The question was how did the information reached a media outlet. That is the most important thing.)

Under Section 129 of the Senate Rules, a senator who breaches the secrecy of an executive session may be expelled should 2/3 of the Senate body voted for it.

If he is an official or a Senate staff, he may be removed from his post.

“I’m very disappointed….When we say executive session, we are bound by rules…We had healthy discussion, there was no voting that took place. It’s not fair to say one group was for this, one group was for that,” Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said.

Senator Pia Cayetano, one of the senators included in the report, explained why lawmakers hold executive sessions.

“Wala naman kaming balak i-sikreto. Ilalabas nga ‘yun pero minsan may mga dikskusyon na gusto marinig opinyon ng bawat isa na walang pipigilan,” Cayetano said.

(We don’t want to hold anything to secrecy. We will release that but we want to have discussions where we can hear everyone’s opinions without inhibition.)

“Nag-aalala rin ang mga senador na may implikasyon sa ibang executive session ang nangyaring leak. Karaniwan kasing pinag-uusapan sa executive session ang mga isyung may kinalaman sa national security at sensitibong impormasyon,” she added.

(Senators are worried over the implications of what happened in the next executive sessions. Usually, we talk of  issues of national security and sensitivity during the sessions.)

For his part, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa called on the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the incident, saying the source of the report should be held accountable.

“We have to made into account ‘yung tao na responsable dito. Di lang mag-issue ng stern warning sa kanila,” dela Rosa said.

(We have to make the person responsible for this accountable. We should not only issue a stern warning.)

“This is not a laughing matter. This is serious. Filipino people are watching us right now. Sabihin nila ganyan pala senado sila-sila na lang nag-uusap magli-leak pa sa media. That is very dangerous,” he added.

(This is not a laughing matter. This is serious. The Filipino people are watching us right now. They will say that we’re the ones talking with each other and we leak information to the media. That is very dangerous.)

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said: “Leaks like this will destroy our credibility, integrity and it will not prevent security agencies to give us the truth because they will have doubts in their minds whether information will be kept safe.”

The lawmakers agreed to refer the incident to the Senate Ethics Committee for an investigation.—LDF, GMA Integrated News