MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon on Saturday, September 17, said that every Senate committee has the power to grant protective custody to witnesses, even without the approval of the Senate leadership.
Drilon made the statement after Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III denied Senator Leila de Lima's request to secure witness Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hitman who testified on the killings of the alleged Davao Death Squad before the Senate committee on justice and human rights on Thursday.
Drilon, a former Senate President himself, said every Senate committee has the inherent power to place witnesses under its protective custody – a power that cannot be vetoed by the Senate President.
But he added that the use of Senate premises to provide protection is subject to the Senate President's approval.
“Senate President Pimentel has the discretion whether or not to place a person inside the premises of the Senate. But as whether or not one is placed under the committee’s protective custody is within the power of the committee,” Drilon said.
"The committee also has the power, and can opt to, provide protection to its witnesses even outside of the Senate," he added.
The senator added that there have been previous incidents where Senate committees have exercised this power.
At least two other senators shared Drilon's view: De Lima, who heads the committee on justice and human rights, and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
Both senators expressed disappointment with Pimentel's rejection of the request to place Matobato under protective custody.
During the Thursday hearing, Matobato provided details on killings allegedly committed under orders of President Rodrigo Duterte when he was still mayor of Davao City.
While some senators cast doubt on his claims, Drilon said that it would be prudent to withhold judgment on the credibility of Matobato's allegations.
“We cannot say, at this point, that he was lying, but neither can we accept that his testimony is the whole truth,” Drilon said.
He added, “We should allow the Committee on Justice and Human Rights to continue with its hearing and come up with a report." – Rappler.com