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No takers for Senate ethics committee post

Posted in Senate by Erineus on April 24, 2009

By Christina Mendez Updated April 23, 2009 12:00 AM

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MANILA, Philippines – Nobody wants the Senate ethics committee.

Senators are not inclined to accept the chairmanship of the panel, amid questions over the credibility of current chairman Sen. Panfilo Lacson who issued an order to investigate Sen. Manny Villar over the C-5 Road Extension controversy.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Joker Arroyo declined the offer of heading the ethics committee tasked to cast judgment on the conduct of Villar.

Santiago said since the two warring senators – Manuel Villar Jr. and Lacson — “are both my friends” she would not accept the offer to head the committee.

Each senator had developed political colors and their “political complexions” do not subside when they are appointed to the ethics committee, Santiago said.

Estrada said he does not want to judge a fellow senator because it does not seem proper.

Sen. Arroyo underscored the need for the ethics committee and its members to be impartial in their views before a case against a colleague is even heard.

“What is more important now is whether the ethics committee is (going to be) impartial in its decision,” Arroyo said.

“The question here is that due process is simply a case of fair play, and fair play means the judge is impartial. The moment the judge is not impartial, nothing – the body loses its jurisdiction,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo also countered efforts of the majority to decide the issue by getting the consensus of the majority.

“We are not talking of numbers here. This is not a bill. It is the character of the members, the character of those who will judge because the one that judges should be as clean as a whistle. No amount of numbers can prevail over a discredited committee,” Arroyo told reporters.

Arroyo expressed doubt whether the Senate can still constitute a credible ethics committee.

“I wonder whether the ethics committee can create a membership that is not partisan. Everything we do here is partisan,” said Arroyo, adding that everything they do “naturally” has “political color.”

After an emotionally charged privilege speech on Monday, Lacson brought the resolution ordering Villar to answer allegations over the P200-million double insertion on the C-5 Road controversy within five days.

Villar did not accept the document, but Lacson maintains that it was “deemed served.”

Lacson also took exception to Villar’s accusation that the ethics committee has become a “kangaroo court.”

Minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. explained that the heated debates at the Senate have nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of Villar but on the need to follow strict procedures at the chamber.

“This has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of Manny Villar. We are talking about procedures because if we allow a tainted ethical procedure to go unrebutted then the probabilities are the ethics committee can go wild and will do everything it wants to do without consideration of the rules,” Pimentel said in an interview.

“We are not covering up for Sen. Villar. That’s what I want to say. We are only asking that if he must undergo an ethics committee investigation, he must be accorded all the rights and even the protection of the rules adopted by the committee itself among others,” Pimentel added.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile maintained that Villar could still be summoned by the committee, adding that there could be difficulty in succumbing to pressure of the minority to have a new eethics committee.

Lacson insisted that his committee “cannot be held hostage” by the maneuverings of Villar and his allies, including Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.

“If the committee will exercise its power, he can be invited, summoned. It’s up to him to ignore the committee if he does not want to participate. I do not know what the committee will do,” Enrile said.

Enrile said he does not “begrudge” the minority group for insisting that the members of the Senate ethics committee should be changed. “I will have to consult the members of the majority if they will agree. I can not decide that alone,” Enrile said.

Lacson said he is ready to face any senator who would pursue an ethics complaint that would question his integrity after he was implicated in the double murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2001 as well as his alleged role in the Best World (BW) Resources scam.

“If there is a valid complaint and if he is willing to file that complaint, then the ethics committee (may take it up), thenif I am the one accused in any complaint, then necessarily I would have to inhibit myself,” Lacson said.

Lacson said even Sen. Estrada could be investigated if someone files a complaint against him.

Estrada had admitted last Monday before the plenary that he was the “angel sent from above,” who Cayetano referred to as his source of the antedated ethics committee resolution, which was subject of the heated debates on the Senate floor.

Lacson said the ethics committee’s order, which was adopted last April 15, is deemed “as served” when he personally handed the document to Villar on the floor the other day.

Members of the Senate minority never recognized the ethics committee chaired by Lacson.

Senators say nobody actually wants the job because investigating a fellow senator will not be easy.

Villar declared he would not submit himself to the ethics committee because Lacson and his members were mostly presidential hopefuls.

The vice chairman of the ethics panel is Sen. Richard Gordon and the members are Senators Manuel Roxas II, Loren Legarda and Gregorio Honasan. The ex-officio members are Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

On the other hand, Enrile said he chose these presidential wannabes to become members of the ethics committee because they would be careful not to be accused of bias or prejudice against a fellow candidate for president.

Enrile and Lacson also said Villar must face the allegations of corruption against him squarely rather than complain that he was just being harassed politically. With Aurea Calica
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