Letters to the Editor

An appeal to revisit the Blue Ribbon Committee rules

Joker P. Arroyo - The Philippine Star

Senate President Drilon says the Rules of the Blue Ribbon Committee “are proven to work” and therefore, shouldn’t be revised. For the Senate, certainly, yes. How about for the persons who are summoned to appear before the Committee? After they are subjected to a punishing interrogation, under pain of contempt, they end up publicly humiliated, and could even be detained, if sanctioned for being held in contempt. How about for the public? After viewing the spectacle of a nationally televised hearing, they are left hanging and unedified because in the end, the Committee does not prepare a Committee Report. It is like a judge who hears a case but does not render a written decision.

Senator Drilon says the Blue Ribbon Committee is not a judicial proceeding, nor is it a criminal proceeding. If that were so, it stands to reason that it should conduct its hearings with liberality, not with harshness.

Senator Drilon says the present rules are the same rules that I used when I was chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee. Not right, nor fair.

I was chair during the 12th, 13th, and 14th Congress from 2001 to 2008 or for seven years. During that period, the Committee exercised self-restraint, tempered the application of rules it inherited from the past Congresses and advocated for the humanization of the rules, but to no avail.

The Committee did not bludgeon witnesses, nor detain anyone except in one instance, only upon the unanimous vote of all the members of the Committee, not by just 2 Senators.

The Committee prepared, without exception, Committee reports for all hearings, and a disposition report for referral for issues referred to it that did not meet the requirement of a hearing.

The Blue Ribbon Rules are one for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The Committee is composed of 21 members, 17 regular and 4 ex-officio. Analyzing closely the Rules, two members – the Chairman and one other member – shall 1) constitute a quorum; 2) rule on the jurisdiction of the Committee if it is challenged; 3) punish or cite in contempt any witness; 4) order the detention of one cited for contempt.

Of course, the majority can overrule the 2-man ruling, but empirically, that never happens.

A person aggrieved by the testimony of a witness cannot cross-examine that witness. Neither can his counsel engage in oral argument with the Committee. Counsel is limited to advising to his client.

According to its Rules, the filing or pendency of any prosecution (Ombudsman or DOJ) or criminal action (Sandiganbayan or the courts) does not stop or abort any inquiry to carry out a legislative purpose, i.e., “in aid of legislation.”

Furthermore, the same rule provides that, “Where the evidence of malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance is uncovered in the course of the Committee’s investigation, the matter may be referred to the Ombudsman or the Department of Justice or any investigative agency.”

But without a Committee report, what will the Ombudsman or DOJ act on or base its investigation? Nothing. Without a Committee report, the final act of the Committee, the proceedings are bereft of any value or its stated purpose.

A comparison between Blue Ribbon Committee proceedings and the Military Commission hearings during the dreaded martial law will highlight how one-sided and oppressive the proceedings are in the Blue Ribbon Committee, ironically composed of senators of the realm who are popularly elected in democratically held elections.

One must remember that a Military Commission is a Military Court similar to a Court Martial, created by President Marcos to try people who disagreed with him about Martial Law.

The Military Commission is governed by the Manual for Courts Martial formulated from the Articles of War designed to discipline officers and men of the Armed Forces.

Ninoy Aquino, Geny Lopez and Serge Osmeña III, Joma Sison, Satur Ocampo, Ed Olaguer, Esther Misa, and many others were hailed to various military commissions as defendants. They argued that as civilians, they cannot be tried by Military Courts, which are exclusively for uniformed personnel.

The Military Commissions were composed of senior military officers, colonels, and presided by a President who had the rank of Brigadier General. All were present during the hearing, unlike in the Blue Ribbon Committee, where the mere presence of two members would be enough to proceed with the hearing.

An accused could freely challenge the impartiality of any member of the tribunal. And invariably, whoever was challenged recused himself. Ninoy Aquino challenged practically all the members; and that left Commission No. 2 with only three members. The Commission could not proceed. An accused or his counsel could confront and cross-examine witnesses against him. The Blue Ribbon Committee does not allow this.

The accused can challenge the jurisdiction of the Commission, as all of them did. Predictably, of course, the Commission ruled against the challenge, but it allowed the accused to do so without penalty.

The Senate should be a bastion of liberties. It is unfortunate that the Senate leadership should resist changes that would be in keeping with the constitutional injunction that, “the right of persons appearing must be respected.”

Finally, it is hoped that the Senate would consider my appeal with fresh eyes and revisit its Rules unblinkered by the prism of the Binay case. This, under the cautionary advice that, “Celebrated cases make poor law.”

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