Senate strips Trillanes of power to probe Bureau of Immigration

Camille Elemia

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It's the 2nd time that senators removed power from a critic of President Rodrigo Duterte to investigate controversies

POWERLESS. Senators, voting 14-7, removed power from Senator Antonio Trillanes IV to investigate the Bureau of Immigration, including proposals to overhaul it

MANILA, Philippines – Voting 14-7, the Senate on Monday, January 16, stopped Senator Antonio Trillanes IV from leading the probe into the Bureau of Immigration, including the proposal to reorganize the agency.

The conflict started when the body referred Senate Resolution 256, authored by Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon in the wake of corruption issues hounding the agency, to the committee on civil service and government reorganization headed by Trillanes, one of the fiercest critics of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Senator Richard Gordon insisted that the committee on justice, which he heads, should be the one to handle it.

The resolution is entitled “Resolution directing the committee on civil service and government reorganization to look into the possible reorganization” of the BI, citing the 2 immigration officials who received bribe from gambling tycoon Jack Lam. The two are fraternity brothers of Duterte and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.

Those who voted to take Trillanes out of the probe are the following: Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Cynthia Villar, Joel Villanueva, Richard Gordon, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Sherwin Gatchalian, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, and Manny Pacquiao.

The 7 who voted to retain the resolution under Trillanes’ committee are: Drilon, Minority Leader Ralph Recto, Senators Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Francis Pangilinan, and Trillanes.

After the voting, the resolution was referred to Sotto’s committee on rules for further discussion.

This was not the first time that senators removed power from a Duterte critic.

In September 2016, senators ousted Senator Leila de Lima as justice committee chair following the testimony of witness Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed Davao Death Squad hitman, against Duterte. (READ: De Lima witness: Duterte ‘ordered’ killings in Davao)

She was replaced by Gordon, who eventually cleared Duterte of any liability in the extrajudicial killings and disproved the existence of the Davao Death Squad. (READ: Senate ends probe: Neither Duterte not state sponsored killings

Ill motives?

It was Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, a known ally of the President from Mindanao, who questioned the referral of the resolution to Trillanes’ committee. He asked if it would be “prudent” that the resolution be handled instead by Gordon’s justice panel.

Gordon agreed, saying the BI is an attached agency of the Department of Justice.

He also hinted that Drilon, Trillanes, and De Lima had motives for insisting on the probe, as he cited another resolution by De Lima on the bribery scandal in the agency.

De Lima withdrew her resolution in the spirit of “efficiency,” but Gordon seemed unconvinced of her reason. For him, De Lima withdrew it because she knew Gordon’s Senate Blue Ribbon committee would have the power to investigate it.

Gordon alleged that they are really after the corruption issues, not the bureau’s “reorganization.”

“On surface, it shows the primary purpose is not to reorganize, it doesn’t say anything, it speaks about general terms reforms but nothing specific,” Gordon said.

Drilon took offense at Gordon’s statement: “The language used by the senator suggests there is a conspiracy.”

“I take exception to the statement it is a mere resolution. There is no specific proposal because that is why we file resolutions. We want to investigate in aid of legislation,” Drilon said.

Trillanes also slammed Gordon, questioning his insistence on heading the BI investigation involving people with close ties to Duterte.

I believe out of propriety, kung ayaw sa committee mo, bakit pinagpipilitan mo sarili mo? (if they don’t want it in your committee, why would you insist your inclusion?) Hindi naman ho siguro ganun pero (It’s not really like that) while the gentleman from Zambales keeps on saying he doesn’t want to cast aspersion on his colleagues, I believe that’s exactly what’s happening,” Trillanes said.

“In my case he doubts intentions of the author and the committee chairman, I can also throw same doubt to the defenders of the faith. How come they are closing ranks… to make sure this resolution doesn’t [go to] my committee?” Trillanes said, referring to the staunch allies of Duterte. –

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.