The Senate cited an Aegis Juris fratman in contempt after he refused to answer Sen. Grace Poe’s questions during the legislative inquiry into the death of Atio Castillo in October last year.  He was put under detention after the hearing. Balag then ran to the Supreme Court to ask for a halt order against his detention.
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SC: Senate's power of detention over persons cited in contempt 'not definite'
(Philstar.com) - August 14, 2018 - 4:59pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has ruled on the limitations on the detention of persons cited in contempt by the Senate.

In an en banc ruling last July, the SC ruled on the petition filed by Arvin Balag, the Aegis Juris fratman charged over the fatal hazing case of Horacio “Atio” Castillo III.

The tribunal held that “[t]he period of detention under the Senate’s inherent power of contempt is not definite.”

The Senate cited Balag in contempt after he refused to answer Sen. Grace Poe’s questions during the legislative inquiry into the death of Castillo in October last year.  He was put under detention after the hearing.

Balag then ran to the SC to ask for a halt order against his detention.

In December 2017, the SC ordered the “immediate release” of Balag. It stressed, however, that the court has yet to rule on the petition.

The SC en banc, in resolving Balag’s plea, said that it “must strike a balance between the interest of the Senate and the rights of persons cited in contempt during legislative inquiries.”

“The Court finds that the period of imprisonment under the inherent power of contempt by the Senate during inquiries in aid of legislation should only last until the termination of the legislative inquiry under which the said power is invoked,” the ruling penned by Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo reads.

The SC said that the Senate could exercise its power of contempt while there is a legitimate legislative inquiry.

“Conversely, once the said legislative inquiry concludes, the exercise of the inherent power of contempt ceases and there is no more genuine necessity to penalize the detained witness,” the SC said.

The SC also ruled that a legislative inquiry is terminated when a committee report has been approved or disapproved or when the Congress session expires.

On legislative hearings conducted during recess, a person cited in contempt might be detained “until the termination of the legislative inquiry, specifically, upon the approval and disapproval of the Committee Report.”

“In addition, if the Congress decides to extend the period of imprisonment for the contempt committed by a witness beyond the duration of the legislative inquiry, then it may file a criminal case under the existing statute or enact a new law to increase the definite period of imprisonment,” the SC added.

Balag and other members of the Aegis Juris fraternity are undergoing trial before a Manila court. He is facing a charge of violating the anti-hazing law. — Kristine Joy Patag

ARVIN BALAG SUPREME COURT
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